One of the students at our last class asked, in a heart-full way, after I had described an argument that my wife, Debra, and I had had, “What chance do we have, if the two of you, who have done so much work on yourselves, can still have fights?”
I said, “You and the other students in the class are a lot like me and Debra. We are all trainable. Debra and I don’t fight like we used to. We are still outspoken, but we are kinder, less apt to attack or dismiss.”
“We did the same practices we teach in the class, and they affected our reactivity immensely.”
His partner jumped in, “Yes. I think that Fred doesn’t blame me the way he used to. I see a lot of change in him.”
Practice One from "A Path for Couples"
In this practice, you notice experiences and sensations inside your body, and you describe them to your partner. You also take note of the ‘field’ between you two.
Your body has an incredible system for picking up signals from your partner. This exercise trains your awareness to read and understand these subtle messages.
The field is a subtle invisible web of connections between you and your partner. One way to understand it, or feel it, is to ask the question: “How do I feel about my partner right now?” Warm, neutral, numb, excited, connected?
The field between the two of you goes through many changes through the day, as you talk, go to work, make love, argue, etc. It is a dynamic, ever-changing sense of either connection, or neutrality or distance.
No judgment! The field evolves all the time. But sensing your connection with your partner is a key to the whole communication model described here.
If you start to notice tiny feelings of distance or anxiety, you can learn to comment on them. Then your interlocking struggles will diminish in intensity.
Practice 1 is a powerful method for learning to identify subtle internal sensations and beginning to talk about them.
May the force be with you.
- Sit with your partner. Take a few breaths together and relax. Decide who will read the instructions and who will follow them.
- If you are listening to the instructions (Partner #1), close your eyes. Don’t make any verbal responses until you are told to. The reader (Partner #2) says, “Imagine our relationship right now. How does it feel to you? Do you feel connected to me? Neutral? Distant? What does your body sense when I am near you?”
- Again, after a pause, the reader continues: “Use a few words internally (not out loud) to describe that connection? Hot, cool, close, far, loving. Angry.”
- Again after a pause, the reader says: “How has that connection between us changed in the last 24 hours? We were together, then maybe we went separate places. We had food together. We talked together, or maybe there was some silence.
Has there been any subtle shift in the way you have sensed the field between us, in your own body in the last 24 hours?” (Warmer, cooler, closer, farther away, calm, agitated, numb, neutral.)
- Reader: “Now open your eyes. Practice for a few minutes speaking out loud to me about the sensations you felt, with no blame or judgment for either of us. Don’t try to explain or tell a story, just note the sensations of connection and disconnection, using physical and emotional language.” (See Chapter 8 for notes on Language.)
- Switch roles. Partner #1 reads instructions 2-5, and #2 studies the field and comments on it.
- Share together for a few minutes what you learned. If you note the field changing during this dialogue, stop and comment on it, as accurately as you can.
(You are working on the key skills of tuning to your inner states and feelings and then describing them.)
Notes: Many of the practices in the book use a form of this powerful self-disclosure process, so here are some tips.
*** One person listens, without interjecting any comments except the reading in the exercise. The other answers as honestly as possible.
*** Usually each of you will do the exercise, so set a specific amount of time for each version of the practice. Practice 1 can be done in half an hour.
*** Be sure to bow and thank the person who shared, and the person who listened.