Improving relationships--a review
There are so many things a person can do to better relationships. Most are common sense: avoid threatening or putting others down by using titles or by being formal in speech or mannerisms, smile, dress like they do, let others help you and give you information, learn information you can share with them, work together on joint projects, do fun things together too, avoid competition and criticism, help them solve problems, reward their efforts and express your genuine appreciation, and give them your time. Most of us were already "experts" at gaining attention and winning affection by the time we were three or four; we just need to use the skills we have (and control our negative feelings). If you don't have the social skills, see chapter 13 and, if possible, join a support group.
Sustaining A Long-term Relationship
Thus far, we have discussed some of the problems and skills involved in finding and developing meaningful relationships. Keeping an ongoing relationship alive requires additional work and different skills because there are so many pitfalls. We have lots of barriers to true communication; we take each other for granted; we come to feel things are unfair; we have quarrels; we try to control and manipulate each other. Some of these problems will be discussed in this section. In the next section, we will deal with sex role conflicts and chauvinism at school, work, and between countries. In the next chapter we discuss marriage and other intimate relationships.
Why can't we communicate?
Science and wise people know there are several communication barriers. First, other people won't hear you if you threaten them or make them defensive. Many things are threatening or unpleasant, including someone acting "superior," being ordered around, being "evaluated," etc. Second, we often hear what we want to hear. Especially in highly charged discussions (politics, money, abortion, religion), we can't see the other viewpoint. Third, many of us are sloppy talkers and listeners. We don't express our opinions clearly. We become uninterested, distracted, or self-preoccupied and just don't hear what was said. Fourth, one person in a conversation may be "playing games," as discussed above. This stops honest communication. Fifth, some friends or companions have decided (without discussing it) that "we won't talk about that." Thus, this forbidden topic is never dealt with. It might be a drinking or sexual problem, money management, his/her flirting, or anything. Sixth, there are all kinds of conflicts that interfere with communication: competition, attempts to get one's way, argumentativeness, "if it weren't for you" games, hostile humor, teasing, etc., etc.
Becoming aware of the source of the barriers in your case is critical, so they can be stopped. Replace the destructive communication with relaxed but active listening, clear expression of feelings, and genuine empathy. Let's discuss some of these barriers.
Being "taken for granted"
A common event in a long-term relationship is taking each other for granted. Friends may become less considerate of each other and impose. Lovers become less enthralled, less thrilled, less attached, and less interested in each other. When this happens, lovers often feel unloved. That's not necessarily the true situation. The love may have just moved into a new phase. It is amazing how we can feel and show little love when together with a loved one but suddenly become aware of how much we love, need, and want him/her just as soon as he/she leaves for a trip (or shows interest in someone else).
Cathrina Bauby (1973) says passive withdrawal (non-communication) is a major problem in long-term relationships. Sometimes this "silence" is a result of being taken for granted and sometimes it is a result of brewing but suppressed anger. It seems like a natural human process to "adapt," i.e. just not notice things that occur over and over, including our spouse regularly doing considerate things for us. We have to remind ourselves to express our appreciation; after several years, there is no strong drive compelling us to show our love. In other relationships, there may be a strong mixture of love and hate. The result may be a hot and cold relationship or a canceling out of + and - feelings and, thus, apathy or indifference or "being taken for granted." There are several remedial steps for apathy: (1) communicate more and listen more empathicly, (2) do more together that is enjoyable and/or strengthens the love, (3) reduce your alienating or irritating behaviors, (4) learn to be more tolerant of his/her irritating behavior (via desensitization or private venting), (5) learn how to fight fairly (chapter 7), and (6) challenge your irrational expectations (chapter 14).
For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
But though my beauty meet no eye it still doth glow.
Though my truth meet no ear it still doth shine.
But when my love meets no heart it can only break.
No two people want the same thing, not at every choice point. So, there are unavoidable conflicts in all relationships. Of course, both people may hide and deny the conflicts. Sometimes, one person is a martyr and will always give in without a whimper (maybe with an ulcer or a heart attack). In other pairs, one person is the dominant one and must win every conflict, even if he/she has to be deceptive or make nasty personal threats. All three are bad approaches to conflict. There are two much better approaches: (1) agreeing to a fair compromise (getting half of what you want), and (2) developing a creative solution in which both people get most of what they want. Obviously, the latter is ideal but it will not always be possible. Consider using a win-win negotiation (method #10 in chapter 13), or the "fair fighting" (method #5 in chapter 13) if you are intimates in a long-term relationship.
The only gracious way to accept an insult is to ignore it; if you can't ignore it, top it; if you can't top it, laugh at it; if you can't laugh at it, it's probably deserved.
Control by others; control of others
Many of us experience strong needs to control others. We want others to see things and do things our way. We want to sell them something. Shostrom (1968) described several types of manipulators:
- The dictator: wants to control others by orders, i.e. by virtue of his/her authority, position, status, or rank. Such a person believes he/she knows what is right and what you should do.
- The weakling: controls or defies authority by using his/her weakness, sometimes in powerful ways, such as "Oh, I forgot," "I didn't understand," "I just can't do it," or "I'm so nervous." This is passive-aggressiveness.
- The calculator: sees the world as a contest of wits. He/she is constantly plotting, conning, pressuring, persuading, selling, seducing, or trying to outwit others.
- The clinging vine: wants to be cared for, dependent, submissive, and faithful. As a helpless, grateful, cuddly child, he/she gets others to do a lot for him/her. See chapters 5 and 8.
- The bully: uses his/her anger, toughness, viciousness, and threats to intimidate others and get his/her way. The "tough guy" and "the bitch" are common characters. See chapter 7.
What can you do about being manipulated? First, recognize what is happening. Second, stand up for your rights. Think and decide for yourself; assert yourself (see chapter 13). Build your self-esteem (chapter 14) so that you are not overly dependent on others.
What if you are the manipulator? Controllers or manipulators use five basic methods of persuading or influencing others (Kipnis & Schmidt, 1985): (1) Carefully stating the reasons and logic for changing, (2) assertively reminding and urging someone to change, (3) soliciting others to support your proposals, (4) going over someone's head to get support from "higher ups," and (5) working out a deal so you get part of what you want. Naturally, different leaders use different methods: (1) the "steam rollers" go for broke and aggressively use all the methods--they won't take no for an answer, and may even threaten, shout, and demand, (2) the "rational ones" rely only on hard facts, logical analysis, careful plans, and compromise, (3) the "pleasers" actively persuade others but mostly "politic," focusing on offering "pay offs," flattery, and personal charm, and (4) the "onlookers" mostly stay out of the controversy.
In a second study, Schmidt and Kipnis (1987) found that the "steam rollers" got the lowest job evaluations, contrary to what is taught by some Business Schools. Male "steam rollers" were disliked even more than female "steam rollers," contrary to the common notion that pushy women are the most resented. Sexism does occur, however, when you ask, "Who got the best job evaluations?" "Rational" men and "Pleaser" or "Onlooker" women! Conclusion: men's ideas and women's quiet pleasantness are valued, not women's ideas nor men's pleasant passivity.
Note what methods you use to influence people in different situations. Consider the possible advantages of using the rational approach. Nasty aggressive tactics put others down while soft tactics may put you down. Practice relating to others as intelligent, reasonable equals and in a manner whereby both of you can be winners. Refer to method #16 in chapter 13 for more about influencing others through persuasion.
No human relation gives one possession in another--every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.
Unconscious controlling of others
The manipulations described above involve conscious, overt control (requesting, persuading, buying off, threatening) or conscious-to-the-controller but hidden-to-the-victim control (deception). Beier and Valens (1975) concentrate on a third kind of control--unaware control. Neither controller nor controlee realize the purpose or goal (like in "games"). The authors say unconscious control is the most common, powerful, and effective control. Many forms of unaware control are learned by young children: cuteness, weakness, illness, fear, anger, sadness, goodness, giving, love, etc. These acts and feelings can all be used to subtly influence others. There is obviously no quick, conscious defense against this control, because we don't know what is happening or how. Is there any defense at all? Yes, learn how to detect the subtle control, then extinguish it by preventing the payoffs. It can be done.
Here are the steps, suggested by Beier and Valens, for avoiding "unaware control." (1) Become as unemotional as possible so you can observe the interaction (with the controlling person) as objectively as possible. (2) Observe the effects, i.e. note the results of your interactions, and assume that whatever happens (especially repeatedly) was the unconsciously intended outcome. If you got mad...or felt guilty...or gave them a loan, assume that was the other person's unconscious intent. Don't be mislead by the person's words or "logic," don't try to figure out what made you respond the way you did, just note what pay offs the other person's actions and/or feelings lead to. (3) Disengage from the relationship--stop responding in your usual, controlled-by-other-person way. Be understanding, not angry. Listen, but don't rescue him/her. Become passive resistant to the controller; then, observe his/her reaction to your non-response. (4) Next is the key step: now, instead of giving the old manipulated response or no response, give a new surprising response that does not go along with what the manipulator expects (and unconsciously wants) but does not threaten him/her either. Example: suppose a person (child, spouse, boss) gets attention and status by being nasty and yelling. You could start responding differently by simply saying, "It's good to express your feelings." You give no argument, you show no fear of his/her long verbal abuse, and you make no concessions and don't cater to his/her whims. (5) Give him/her space--just let the other person find a new and better way to interact with you. You should not try to become a controller of the other person and tell him/her what to do; instead, be free to experiment with different styles of interacting with this person.
Handling difficult people
Bramson (1981) has suggested several ways of coping with difficult people in the work setting, e.g. hostile co-workers or bosses, complainers, super-agreeables, know-it-all experts, obstructionists, and people who won't decide or won't talk. How to handle the hostile person was discussed at the end of chapter 7. What about the chronic complainers? They are fault-finding, blaming, and certain about what should be done but they never seem able to correct the situation by themselves. Often they have a point--there are real problems--but their complaining is not effective (except it is designed to prove someone else is responsible). Coping with complainers involves, first, listening and asking clarifying questions, even if you feel guilty or falsely accused. There are several don'ts: don't agree with the complaints, don't apologize (not immediately), and don't become overly defensive or counter-attack because this only causes them to restate their complaints more heatedly. Secondly, as you gather facts, create a problem-solving attitude. Be serious and supportive. Acknowledge the facts. Get the complaints in writing and in precise detail; get others, including the complainer, involved in collecting more data that might lead to a solution. In addition to what is wrong, ask "What should happen?" If the complainer is unhappy with someone else, not you, you may want to ask, "Have you told (the complainee) yet?" or "Can I tell __________?" or "Can I set up a meeting with them?" Thirdly, plan a specific time to make decisions cooperatively that will help the situation...and do it.
What about the persons who are super nice and smilingly agree with your ideas until some action is required, then they back down or disappear. Such people seek approval. They have learned, probably as children, that one method for getting "love" is by telling people (or pretending) you really care for and/or admire them. Similarly, the super-agreeables will often promise more than they deliver: "I'll get the report done today" or "I'd love to help you clean up." They are experts in phoniness, so don't try to "butter them up." Instead, reassure the super-agreeable that you will still like them even if they tell you the truth. Ask them to be candid and make it easy for them to be frank: "What part of my plan is okay but not as good as it could be?" Help them avoid making promises they can't keep: "Are you sure you can have the money by then? How about two weeks later?" Tell and show them you value their friendship. Let them know you are ready to compromise because you know they will be more than fair.
Know-it-all experts are of two types: the truly competent, productive, self-assured, genuine expert and the partially informed person pretending to be an expert. Both can be a pain. The true expert may act superior and make others feel stupid; they may be bull headed and impatient with differing opinions; they are often self-reliant, don't need or want any help, and don't want to change. If you are going to deal with the true expert as an equal, you must do your homework thoroughly; otherwise, they will dismiss you. First of all, listen to them and accurately paraphrase their points. Don't attack their ideas but rather raise questions that suggest alternatives: "Would you tell me more?" or "What do you think the results will be in five years?" "It probably isn't a viable choice but could we consider...?" Secondly, show your respect for his/her competence but don't put yourself down. Lastly, if the expert can not learn to consider others' ideas, you may be wise to graciously accept a subordinate role as his/her "helper." True experts deserve respect. The pretentious-but-not-real expert is relatively easy to deal with because he/she (unlike liars or cons) is often unaware of how little he/she knows. Such a person can be gently confronted with the facts. Do it when alone with them. Help them save face. They simply want to be admired.
Another "burden" to any group is the pessimist --the person who always says, "It won't work" or "We tried that." These angry, bitter people have the power to drag us down because they stir up the old pool of doubt and disappointment within us. So, first of all, avoid being sucked into his/her cesspool of hopelessness. Don't argue with the pessimist; don't immediately offer solutions to the difficulties predicted by the pessimist. Instead, make optimistic statements--showing that change is possible--and encourage the group to brainstorm leading to several possible alternatives. Then ask what are the worst possible consequences of each alternative (this gives the negativist a chance to do his/her thing but you can use the gloomy predictions in a constructive, problem-solving way). Also ask, "What will happen if we do nothing?" Finally, welcome everyone's help but be willing to do it alone because the pessimist won't volunteer.
Every organization has a "staller," a person who puts off decisions for fear someone will be unhappy. Unlike the super-agreeable, the staller is truly interested in being helpful. So, make it easier for him/her to discuss and make decisions. Try to find out what the staller's real concerns are (he/she won't easily reveal negative opinions of you). Don't make demands for quick action. Instead, help the staller examine the facts and make compromises or develop alternative plans (and decide which ones take priority). Give the staller reassurance about his/her decision and support the effective carrying out of the decision.
Several other books offer help with critical, nasty or impossible people (Glass, 1995; Ellis & Lange, 1994; NiCarthy, Gottlieb & Coffman, 1993; Bernstein & Rozen, 1989; Carter, 1990; Solomon, 1990; Brinkman & Kirschner, 1994). Also see the bibliography at the end of this chapter. There is hope.
Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.
Driving each other crazy
Sometimes our friend or lover does things that "drive us crazy." We probably don't know how he/she does it, we just know we feel very uncomfortable--angry, put off, used, etc. Bach and Duetsch (1979) suggest these feelings arise because this person sends us a mixed message. On the surface, the person seems to be saying "everything is OK, please don't change" but underneath there is a subtle request for a change. It's upsetting because one can't stay the same and change too. Why are the requests for changes hidden and denied? Because it is scary to be critical, maybe even aggressive, and to bluntly ask a friend or partner to change. We are afraid of anger and rejection. Yet, we all have a right to clear information, to our feelings, to some space, and to some power to influence things. In their book, Bach and Duetsch give hundreds of examples of "crazymaking" interactions:
"Your-wish-is-my-wish" is when we accommodate every whim of the other person, not out of love but out of fear of having a conflict. Eventually, anyone would want to change this one-sided situation but might, by then, be reluctant to request the change openly. (See codependency in chapter 8.)
"Divining" is expecting your loved one to know exactly what you want; if he/she doesn't know, you conclude that he/she doesn't love you. "Mind-reading " is believing you know the thoughts and motives of your partner better than he/she knows him/herself. This leads to "analysis" which is "let-me-explain-you-to-you ;" this often drives the other person away since he/she may need some personal space, not a free, unwanted psychoanalysis.
"Mind-raping" is telling the other person what to think and how he/she should feel, so that he/she feels confused if his/her thoughts and feelings differ from your prescriptions. "Mind-ripping " is when you behave as though the other person has asked you to do something, like giving advice to him/her, only he/she hasn't made such a request.
"Red-cross-nursing" is creating a need in another person that only you can fill, thus, making yourself indispensable. Stern (1988) says neediness and perfectionism force us to try to be indispensable and take on too much. "Overloading " is giving so many facts or orders that the other person can't possibly handle the situation comfortably. "Gunnysacking " is storing up many, many grievances and then dumping them all of a sudden on the other person. Naturally, these kind of things can drive the other person crazy.
What can be done about these crazymaking situations? Bach and Deutsch recommend these steps: (1) When you feel you are being driven crazy (stung, confused, manipulated), step back from the situation and try to see what is happening. Tactful, direct requests for change will work much better for you than subtle or deceptive manipulation. Remember the other person is making you crazy, in this case, because he/she wants the relationship to continue. Ask yourself: "What changes do they want me to make?" (2) Become aware of the conditions that underlie crazymaking--the other person's fear of rejection, feelings of powerlessness, and fear of requesting a change. (3) Do not react hostilely to the crazymaking, even if it is very bothersome. The villain is not the other person, it is his/her (or your) inability to be open about requesting the changes needed. Bring these desired changes into the open. (4) Respect the other person's rights and your rights, including the rights to honest information, feelings, space, and some power. Try to lessen the fear. (5) Don't read minds. Earnestly ask for clear information, especially how the other person sees the situation and feels. Share your own views and feelings, make yourself vulnerable (this reduces the other person's fears). But limit the discussion to the issue at hand. Find out exactly what changes are wanted now by both of you. (6) Check out your assumptions about the other person. This is called "mind reading with permission" (see checking out our hunches in chapter 13). (7) Try to arrive at a fair compromise with both of you making some desired changes.