How does your survival suit impact your relationships?

What I have come to learn from my work with couples is that what often disconnects us is our reactive survival dance. Each of us has learnt a way of protecting ourselves that is rather like putting on a survival suit.  Some of us resemble a turtle by our behaviour of withdrawing from difficult conversations or conflict. Others like an Octopus, loud and flailing, trying to get heard and understood. From either of these places we know how to defend, attack and protect the most vulnerable aspects of ourselves. Often the way we protect ourselves has been learnt from childhood, either continuing the patterns of our caregivers or, as a result of having made a silent vow to ourselves to act differently. What we don’t stop to consider is if that well-worn suit supports us in having the quality of relationships we so long for in the here and now.

Often from behind this defensive façade we feel lonely, unseen and even more detached from the very people we are desperate to be in connection with. I work more and more with partners, siblings, parents, work colleagues and friends who have reached a place of desperation and who are at a loss of how to communicate effectively with each other.

What prevents most people from moving forward when there has been conflict is the desire to be ‘right’, which in turn makes the other person by default ‘wrong’. When we are in conflict with another we often assume we know what they are thinking or what they are going to say. We have made up stories about their behaviour and are reluctant to consider their point of view. This makes communication impossible and is often the first stumbling block when trying to resolve differences.

I see my role as a teacher, teaching people the ‘three invisible connectors’: the Space, the Bridge and the Encounter.  We don’t often stop to consider the space that sits between us, which is our relationship. Truly connecting with one’s partner is being willing to metaphorically ‘cross the bridge’ to their world, being curious and open to learning about their inner landscape. Listening with compassion is being a ‘visitor’ and learning the culture of the ‘other’. Speaking intentionally, in a clear and concise way is being a ‘host’ and sharing one’s truth and vulnerabilities enables the encounter.

When we invite someone into our world as a Host it reminds me of Otto Scharmer’s U theory. The U theory of Otto Scharmer says that if we allow ourselves to go to the deepest truth of ourselves, it’s like coming down the left side of a U. At the bottom of that U are our core truths, some of them riddled with pain, some of them riddled with confusion, some of them riddled with frustration. It is the truths we’ve not been able to speak. And when we can speak them, we start moving to the other side of the U, the right side of that U. And that, Otto Scharmer says is ‘the future calling us’.

To be willing to Host a visit from someone is being willing to enter the U, and to go to the very bottom of the U, to sense what is at our deepest core and to share that with our visitor, so that we can come out of the other side, being better understood, feeling heard and moving from all the negativity that can be so destructive in our relationships.

By visiting your host you need to do more than just be an empathetic listener. Being a visitor is about ‘generative listening’. Generative listening is the kind of listening that allows us to land deeply into the world of the other, to surf the waves of their emotion, to see the landscape of their face as if for the very first time, essentially learning the geography of their soul.  In order to do this we need to be willing to leave behind all our own thoughts, assumptions and judgements, thus making ourselves truly available and curious to hear what the other is saying.

My role is to bring awareness to the couple present, whether they be intimately involved or not, the guiding principle being that what disconnects us is our reactive survival dance. What connects us is the mutual embrace of three invisible connectors: the Space, the Bridge and the Encounter.  I support the visitor in bringing their presence in the ‘now,’ and the host in speaking their truth no matter how dark, shameful or painful that might be. I see my role as being in the service of unravelling the ‘survival knot’ between two people, because in that unravelling there is the often unspoken becoming spoken, and the possibility then of healing past hurts and misunderstandings that have prevented us from being the very thing most of us yearn to be ……. in connection.








< Back