Build Your Leaders

Postcard from Asheville

June 2014

A Secret to Strong Relationships

I suck at relationships—or rather, I used to. That’s an old story and one I’m ready to let go.

While I’ve never written a book on relationships, I did write one on breakups; it’s a subject I know quite well. But that’s changing. I’m getting better at building strong relationships and two of the lessons that are helping me are:

One: Disagreements are seldom what they seem; they are usually indicative of something that’s much deeper.

Two: Key to resolving a disagreement is creating what I call a “safe container.”

Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, writes, "Until we address the fundamental need for connection and the fear of losing it, the standard techniques, such as learning problem-solving or communications skills, examining childhood hurts, or taking time-outs, are misguided and ineffectual."

In other words, despite what many of the relationships experts are telling us, there’s nothing more important to a strong relationship than creating a safe container;  without it all the other strategies for keeping a relationship alive and healthy are moot.

One of my favorite spiritual authors is Paul Ferrni. In his wonderful book, The Miracle of Love, he writes: “As soon as you and your partner want something different, correction is needed.” He suggests that most separation is caused by fear, and almost all fear, anger, and hurt stem from feeling unloved and unappreciated.

He continues, “Obviously, your partner is not responsible for the depth of sadness you feel. He was just the trigger. So take him off the hook, and see that the job of bringing love to the sad and wounded parts of you belong primarily to you…. Understand that all you want from your partner is reassurance that he loves you and wants to be with you.”

Ferrini then reminds us to ask for that reassurance. Ask for the words, actions, affection, eye contact, or whatever it is that helps us feel loved.

He reminds us, “If you look deeply enough, you will see that neither one feels validated by the other. If you feel validated, you would feel safe in the relationship and empowered to explore your differences without threatening each other.”

Ferrini’s advice makes good sense. I’ve been happiest in therelationships where I’ve feltthe safest.  Building safe containers is key to building strong relationships.

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