Friday, February 17, 2012

Fred Luskin on Overcoming the Pain of Intimacy

A cool post from the GreaterGood blog, created by the good folks at UC Berkeley. Fred Luskin is the author of Forgive for Good (2001) and Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship (2009), as well as directing the Stanford University Forgiveness Project.
Fred Luskin on Overcoming the Pain of Intimacy
By Fred Luskin

February 11, 2012 

The director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects explores how to cope with the pain of a fight with someone we love.

This month, we feature videos of a Greater Good presentation by Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects. In this excerpt from his talk, Dr. Luskin explores how to cope with the pain of a fight, and still see the good in the people we love.

One of the things that made me a forgiveness teacher was this couple that I worked with a long time ago. I remember the wife telling the husband that he had to stop acting a certain way because it reminded her of her father. And she had had a bad relationship with her father.

So she was telling him to stop, because he said something critical of her. And it wasn’t enough for her to just respond to his criticism. She wanted to stop him because it brought up childhood wounding, and she had mentioned to him many times that her father was unkind.

 Image: Brian Jackson

Now, what I saw on her part was phenomenal insensitivity. On her part. Not his. Because she was blaming him for her not having healed. From my point of view, she owed him an apology along with the request to stop his criticism. Like, “Honey, I’m really sorry. I had this painful childhood that I haven’t gotten over so I’m extra raw and sensitive, I’m asking for your help.” But she didn’t put it that way. Instead she said, “I’m triggered, and you need to stop.”

Of course, he had a responsibility. He could have been her friend as well, and said, “Hey, I know how hard this is on you.”

But she wasn’t being his friend at all. In our psychotherapeutic world, we tend to see her point of view as more normative than his. But I don’t think it is normative. I think when we carry our wounds with us, and we don’t apologize, or at least make amends for them, we’re committing a form of violence. A very low level violence, but we’re still committing a form of violence.

All of forgiveness work is about us, not them. And all of forgiveness work is to widen our hearts. It’s not to change somebody else. It’s to recognize that part of the problem is that we bring to our relationships a Grinch heart – a heart that’s a couple of sizes too small, that makes us more demanding than is necessary, that makes us insensitive to the flaws of the people we have chosen to love.

What makes an intimate relationship so important and special is that you’re willing to endure their bad qualities too. That’s the space we offer people. It’s not like when you enter into an intimate relationship you’re going to be able to say, “Well, I’ll take this stuff that they bring that’s pleasant but I’m still going to disregard what’s not so pleasant.” That’s not intimacy.

Intimacy does involve taking what’s pleasant, but that’s no big deal. Most of us are willing to take what’s pleasant from people. It’s a rare person who will choose to take what’s unpleasant from another person. It doesn’t mean we have to be abused or mistreated, but in an intimate relationship we’re going to get the full person.

So the question is: Are you willing to put up with your partner’s bad qualities? If you’re not, leave. But the bad qualities are the test of the relationship; your commitment is to their bad qualities. You don’t have to commit to their good stuff. You just do that, that’s pleasant. If somebody wants to cook me dinner, how much of a commitment does it take to show up? Right? Or having my laundry done. I can deal with that. I can show up for that any time you want.

But, if they’re defensive in a fight, for example, that’s when your commitment comes in. That’s where the choice comes in. They’re going to be defensive; that’s who they are. Maybe you can help them, maybe you can’t. They’re going to bring their issues all the time. But are you willing to forgive the fact that they bring these particular issues?

Because one thing is for sure: You are going to be with somebody who brings issues. When you choose a partner, you’re just choosing which issues you’re willing to negotiate with.

That’s a much more mature perspective, one that is grounded in a kind of existential forgiveness: I forgive the fact that my partner is flawed. I forgive the fact that they had childhoods, which wounded them, and I forgive the fact that they had experiences that may require my forbearance to serve them. That’s what a relationship is.
 Read the whole article.

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