Something that I encounter almost every day in working with couples is the problem caused by internal story-telling. We all make up stories. We make up stories about ourselves, about others, about why people do what they do, why we do what we do. We are tremendously effective at this process, and we do it constantly. The problems with doing this arise when we take action based on the story that we have told ourselves without questioning whether that story is based on more than our own perceptions.
Here is an example: A husband won’t start driving until his wife has put on her seatbelt. The story he tells himself is that he is making sure everyone is safe. The story his wife tells herself is that he is treating her like a child and that she knows about putting on seat belts and will do it, but not because he makes her. Because she tells herself this story, she is huffy with her husband; he doesn’t know why, and the day starts poorly.
Here is another example: A woman has a need for what she calls a positive environment, which for her means no complaining or negative comments. Her husband is a bit sarcastic and likes to complain about traffic, the weather, whatever. When her husband makes these comments, the wife tells herself that he is doing this on purpose to annoy her, that he has no consideration, he clearly won’t listen to her, that he doesn’t love her, and maybe they should get a divorce. The husband, on the other hand, is telling himself that he can say what he wants to say, he won’t be controlled and attacked, she doesn’t understand him at all, and maybe they should get a divorce.
Internal story-telling results in chasms and canyons in relationships! The way to manage these problems is to make the stories external – say out loud your thoughts and intentions. For example: I am worried about your safety and because of that I would appreciate it if you would put on your seat belt before we start driving. This is so that I will be comfortable. It is not about you. Or – when you won’t leave the driveway before I put on my seatbelt, I am uncomfortable because I feel controlled. Is there another way we could work on this? Could you help me understand your thinking?
Making the internal story external saps its power and helps everyone clarify perceptions. Give it a try!
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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