‘You don’t have a relationship, you create one’
I use this saying often. Sometimes it causes some uproar, but more often it gets support. Because if you take the time to let this one really sink in, you’ll realize it’s true.
I will explain why by giving an example, and I will give you 4 tips to look at your relationships in a way that might be different from what you’re used to.
Let me introduce you to Martin and Jeanette. At first, Martin and Jeanette got along really well. After a shift in positions in which Martin got a new position and Jeanette took on Martin’s old one, the atmosphere between them became heated. They were convinced they had a bad relationship.
Many conversations took place, to no avail. Situations and incidents were discussed in detail. The question of who was at fault kept being moved back and forth. They could not solve it.
1. Under the surface:
Both Martin and Jeanette understood that they had to look below the surface in order to find a solution. In order to make the dynamics between them visible and therefore discussable, a systemic constellation was made. In addition, the following became apparent during this process:
In the systemic thought process, one does not speak about good or bad. It is the way it is. It happens the way it happens. Nothing more, nothing less. Martin and Jeanette stopped blaming each other.
3. Processes & Patterns:
Without the veil of blame, they could take a good hard look at the process between them. For both of them there was now room to see what Jeanette was doing that affected Martin and to see what Martin was doing that affected Jeanette.
A process, that until now had been unconscious, became clear. Martin kept looking over Jeanette’s shoulder: ’What is she doing to my work, is she doing it right, should I interfere?’ Jeanette was very aware of that. Got annoyed by it. Didn’t want to hear anything about it and turned ( literally) her back on him.
4. Influencing instead of controlling:
In order to be able to achieve– from our point of view – a better relationship, we have the urge to want to change the other. But instead of wanting to change the other (in other words, to control the relationship), it is smarter to take a look at how you can influence it.
This requires you to be as flexible as possible. If you can be flexible towards the other’s behavior, if you are flexible enough to change your own action, then you have the control over what exists in the system between you and the other. Another action results in another reaction: a change on your end results in a completely different relationship.
You don’t have a relationship, you make one:
So if you want to know what makes a relationship good or bad, it’s interesting to find out what causes the escalation between two or more people. Or what it is that makes the relationship successful.
Jeanette and Martin first were convinced that they had a bad relationship. By looking at their relationship as described above, they realized that they were what made their relationship bad. They saw in which ways they influenced each other (whether conscious or subconscious) and what they could do in order to improve their relationship. They applied these insights.
In short: First Jeanette and Martin gave each other more space. Jeanette had room to breathe again, was able to get off of her island and to acknowledge Martin’s previous work. This acknowledgment made him feel good. He in turn realized that he had not been able to let go of his previous position. He also realized that it was now in Jeanette skilled hands and her responsibility. Thanks to this insight, Martin was able to let go of his old position and to focus on his own new tasks.
This way they were able to turn a bad relationship into a good relationship. And they are still doing that. They now have space and room between them, and something they never deemed possible anymore: mutual understanding, respect and even agreement.
– Karen van Hout
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