Remember that old ditty, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? Totally ridiculous, wasn’t it?
It was a phrase that would supposedly protect us from verbal attacks on the playground at school.
The weird thing is; if you think about the flip-side of the phrase, it means it’s OK for the bully to use verbal attacks. After all, the words can’t do any damage, right?
Did you use the phrase? If so, how did it work for you?
As an obese kid, it didn’t matter how much I said that phrase to myself, sarcastic and cutting words directed at me hurt – they really hurt. They would slash deeply into me, leaving wounds that festered and oozed for months, maybe years. And I can remember lashing out with equally nasty words and phrases against others. I’m not proud of it, but I did it.
My kid-dom lasted a long time. I was in my late 40’s before I finally began to understand my own neurosis enough to know how my words affect my relationships with others. So now, I go to great length to choose them carefully.
And yet, in much of the work Carol and I do with couples, and even in corporate boardrooms, it seems that many people hang on the right to slash others with their words. Attack often leads to counter-attack. When that happens, “ladies and gentlemen let the games begin!” And the results aren’t pretty.
Ever been there? And more to the point for this article, have you been there in your relationship with your life-partner?
I remember saying things to Carol that were nasty, disrespectful, and unloving. My words seemed to slip out of me, out of my control. I couldn’t take them back and I found it really tough to suck-it-up and apologise. It was easier to blame her and continue on my high and mighty self-righteous way.
I’m not asking you to dig up nasty experiences from the past – that serves no valuable purpose. However, the awareness that it has happened allows you to consciously plan forward with solutions, so it doesn’t happen again…or at least not often.
The question is, “How can you always speak to your life-partner in a way that builds strength in your relationship?”
And the answer is…(drum roll please) make a conscious choice to come from love NOW.
I’ll explain. When I set my ego aside, with all of its BS stories, excuses, and justifications, there is really only one choice that I get to make in every moment – to come from love; or to come from not-love.
How do I know which choice is right for me?
I trust my feelings, because every experience in life is internalized as feelings. It’s that way for me, and it’s that way for you.
If you question this, think of a specific time when your relationship was not in a good space. Hold out your left hand, palm up, and imagine that experience is on your left hand. What was going on for you there? What were you seeing, what words did you say and hear, how did you feel? Could be things like: fighting, resentment, or the silent treatment.
How does that feel on your left hand? If you’re honest with yourself, it didn’t feel good and you may notice yourself frowning or feeling heavy. The not-good feelings are: resistance, resentment, anger, guilt, shame, blame, fear, caution, dissatisfaction, hatred, overwhelmed, uncertainty, confusion, etc. These feelings are not-love.
Now, think about a specific time in the past when your relationship was going really, really well. Hold out your right hand, palm up, and imagine that experience is on your right hand. See yourself being kind and caring. Hear yourself using thoughtful and respectful words to yourself and your partner. Feel your relationship as fun, easy, and enjoyable. Imagine and remember that time now, and you’ll know it feels good.
How does it feel on your right hand? You may describe good as: fun, happiness, lightness, kindness, respect, caring, compassion, connection, inspiration, fulfillment, satisfaction, abundance, or a whole range of other emotions. These feelings are love. As you think about that experience, you may notice that you are smiling.
The cool thing is that you know the difference between good and not-good, love and not-love.
So now, any time you feel those not-good feelings, even if it’s just a wee bit “ticked”, put out your hands in front of you and consciously make a choice. When you choose the right hand, the love, you know the kind of feelings you’ll experience. When you choose the left hand, you’ll know the kind of feelings you’ll experience.
I’m not saying that you always have to choose love. There may be a time when you choose the left hand, the not-love. The key is that you’ll know you are making the choice for yourself. And the feelings you get will also be your pre-determined choice. And the results in your relationship will be your choice too.
It’s freeing, isn’t it? It’s an art and a science, whether you are speaking to your partner, or listening to the words he/she directs to you.
It’s art, because it allows you to mold the clay, paint the canvas, and create a symphony of your life – to create a wondrous legacy of a life well lived – or not. It’s your choice.
And it’s science. The brain-training by doing the right-hand, left-hand process, is that it enables you to step back from the situation, and remove some of the in-the-moment emotional attachment. It allows the cognitive part of your brain to do it’s logical, rational work. It allows synapses to create new neural pathways which in time become new thinking habits.
And for me, as I choose the right hand, it makes life fun. Ah shucks. You wouldn’t want any fun, would you?
I’m curious to know about you.
Which hand are you going to choose to operate from, the left or the right? And which feelings do you choose to experience, regardless of whether you are on the delivering or receiving end of words?