One of the themes that comes up over and over again in our workshops, and in our individual coaching work, is setting our relationships right. How we show up in our relationships is where the spiritual rubber meets the road, and where all our lofty and high ideas meet reality. Life, in my opinion, is a school of love, and its classrooms are our relationships.
A few days ago, I got a strong lesson in Love myself. I returned from traveling to Germany for my granddaughter’s first birthday, where I took a ride down memory lane, both with the father of my first son and with my son himself.
I became a mom at 20. For most of my unplanned pregnancy, and the first year of my son’s life, the father of my son and I lived together in an intentional communal house. He and I separated when my son was about one year old. As I found out on this trip, those are the only facts my son’s father and I agree on. We had very different perspectives on the reasons why our relationship didn’t work, why and how we separated, and what happened before, during, and after our separation.
When I was about 25 years old, I took my son with me to Canada first, and then to the U.S. For the following decade, my son saw his dad every year for extended summer vacations. When he was about 16 years old, he decided he wanted to be with his dad and moved back to Germany. He still lives there, two houses down the street from his dad, together with his wife, and with my sweet little granddaughter.
My son’s dad and I have seen each other regularly throughout the years and have had a very friendly relationship with little or no stuff–or so I thought.
On this most recent Germany trip, my son’s father made some accusatory remarks about my behavior after we separated (about 30 years ago), which he perceived as very selfish and inconsiderate. He spoke about this in front of a bunch of our friends, and my son. It stung, it hurt, and I felt embarrassed.
My instinct was to defend myself, and tell my version of the story, which was very different. I did not remember behaving at all like he described. Yet, I chose not to speak, and instead asked him if we could have a talk–just the two of us–to address his resentments.
A few days later we took a walk. We talked for about three hours about our past, and I realized how many resentments he was still holding. I was surprised and shocked to see how different his perspective on the “reality” of our time together was. Many “facts” he talked about seemed completely incorrect to me. Needless to say 30 years is a long time for facts to become nebulous and for both of our memories to make sure that those “facts” are always favorable to us.
I had a choice in that moment: I could argue my point of view and tell him the “facts” from my perspective (which would have largely come from my defenses), or I could simply “hear” him from my heart and from a place of wisdom within me. In our work we call this place the Healthy Self, and that place knew it really wasn’t about the facts so much as about how what happened affected him emotionally.
By grace, and only by grace, I managed to choose the latter. I fed back to him what I heard him say, how he felt, and what he needed that was not fulfilled. I also let him know that I remembered the facts differently and that in spite of that I was deeply sorry for any pain my actions–whatever exactly they were–had caused him. I explained that I was willing to take responsibility for my part and carry it. He relaxed, and both of our primary emotions, which originated from the wounds underneath the defenses, could be felt, heard, and released.
My son also deeply benefited from that exchange between his father and mother, and the following family meeting the three of us had. During that meeting we consciously released him from any responsibility for the relationship between his dad and me, and the consequences of our separation. We each blessed him to have a beautiful and close relationship with the other one of us.
I could visibly see the tension in his face relax and his shoulders drop. Though he remembers nothing of “the facts” himself, he unconsciously, as most children of separated parents do, carried a part of the burden.
So what is the lesson I learned that I want to pass on here in hopes it benefits you, dear reader? I realized again that there is no “objective truth” when it comes to a conflict between two (or more) people.
This is a relearning, you could say, of something I’ve seen in my many years of couple’s coaching. When each party told his or her story, I often wondered if they were even part of the same event.
But as long as we can agree on some very basic data, or even if we can’t, the important part is to “listen” to the other’s feelings and unmet needs, and to get that they actually have a side to tell too. Even if their side seems “un-factual,” “untrue,” or simply “wrong,” their feelings are valid, and we cannot argue with another’s emotional experience.
Peace and reconciliation do not come from agreeing or disagreeing, but from true listening. True Listening knows that “the facts” are largely unimportant, and that the larger Truth intend of saying “No, but …” really says “Yes, and…”
Here’s to your reconciled and loving relationships!
Make some time in your life, maybe 30-60 minutes, with a journal and pen, and write a “relationship inventory.” Make sure your parents are on that list and any past major relationships. This is often where the biggest emotional charge is. For each relationship take an honest look and discern if this relationship is set right? Do you, or the other person, carry any major resentments that are unresolved?
If you find that there is a relationship with strong resentments, judgments, or a feeling of indifference and coldness (“I really don’t care about her/him”) then it might be time to set up a “true listening” session with that person.
If appropriate, meet with them in person, and agree to “hear” each other’s sides. Agree on some very basic facts, and then focus on “hearing” the other person’s perspective, just to “get” it and feed back what you heard them say. This is not about agreeing or disagreeing but only about hearing and understanding the other.
Another way to say this is for you to be willing to “walk in their shoes” for a few minutes while you are listening.
If any or all of this is too charged, it might be best to get a third person to mediate between you and hold space for safe communication.