Personal growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it happens as we act in relationship to another. As Terry Real says, “Intimate connectedness is our birthright and optimal state. The cure for emotional problems is intimacy.”
Even when I work with an individual, I do relational therapy. I am always asking questions about how their behaviors, decisions, and beliefs affect their spouses or anyone else in their life.
One good exercise in relational therapy is to write or talk about what your partner’s experience is of being married to you. We often get stuck in what it’s like for us. This assignment takes
us out of our natural self-absorption and makes us think more relationally. Resolving problems is easier when we remember that our reality is really just our perception and that our spouse may have a very different one. And it’s just as valid as ours!
A second relational exercise involves something called CNI or Core Negative Image.
Each partner is asked to describe :
“Who your partner becomes to you in those most difficult, irrational, least loving moments.”
This often causes emotional responses when each reads his back to the other. – they usually hear a kernel of truth in their partner’s CNI perception of them.
Then instructions are to write down, “What he/she imagines their partner’s CNI is of him/her? Our self-criticisms are often worse than what our significant other thinks of us!
The point of this exercise is to :
1.Make each other’s C.N.I explicit and specific
2.Acknowledge the truth in each others C.N.I.’s
3.Identify one’s own C.N.I. ‘busting’ behaviors
4.Use the other’s C.N.I. as your personal behavioral compass.
This exercise must be done in the safety of a therapy session because it’s usually necessary to be coached on how to make the CNI specific and not general. Phrases like “you always,” “you never,” “all you ever do” are too broad.
Secondly, people need help to separate their projections of the other to their authentic observations and experiences. Most importantly it cannot be done accurately when one partner is angry, frustrated and not in an emotionally centered spot.
More next week on how to crush that Core Negative Image and promote personal growth and better relationships.