Sunday, October 16, 2011

WISDOM 101: The Paradox of Letting Go

In my first post on control, I promised to give you the secret to resolving control issues. I saw the cute picture of the two chicks fighting over the worm which made me think of the early stages of marriage and I digressed a bit.

Here's the secret to resolving control issues and hopeless power struggles. Let go. State your preference. State it clearly and, if you can, in a gentle voice. And then let it go. To borrow from the wisdom of the 12 Step Programs, Don't Try to Force a Solution. It never works.

Take the couple on the left, Harriet and George. Let's say that Harriet has been gnashing her teeth and tearing out her hair, distraught that George is a clicker hog. She has begged, threatened and cajoled him to share the clicker with her. The more she begs and cajoles, the more he becomes silent and withdrawn. His knuckles grow white clenching the clicker.

If I were Harriet's marriage therapist, I would suggest that she make an I-statement and express to George how she feels. I would suggest she do it in a gentle voice and not in the heat of battle. I always remind my clients that John Gottman, the well known marriage researcher and guru to marriage therapists, has learned through thousands of hours of observing couples that a marital exchange with a harsh start up is doomed to a downward spiral. It will go nowhere.

If Harriet were to start her conversation with George by saying, Dude, you're a stubborn mule. Hand over the clicker, that would not be a great opener. Gottman and I would agree on that.

On the other hand if Harriet starts out, Honey, I know how much it means to you to hold the clicker, but from my point of view it's not fair. I feel kind of helpless and annoyed and it's not much fun for me to watch TV with you George is more likely to hand over the clicker with the I statement request then with the stubborn mule request. But, I would predict he won't hand it over right away. George is a titch oppositional and it is entirely understandable that he needs to hand it over on his terms.

As Harriet's marriage therapist, I would suggest that she chill a day or so and see what happens. I understand that chilling in a marriage context is not easy.

If several days have passed and George has still not handed over the clicker, I would suggest a final move to Harriet. I would suggest that Harriet up the ante a bit. She could try something like Honey, I know how much holding the clicker means to you. I told you the other day, it's not fun for me when I never get to hold the clicker, now comes the or else part, if you don't let me hold the clicker I will go upstairs and watch TV by myself where I can hold the clicker. I'd rather watch it with you.

Wait and see what happens. State your preference, then let it go. If that does not work, set a non-aggressive consequence something along the lines that I mentioned above. I'm betting George comes around and the couple enjoys a bit of intimacy in front of the TV.

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