March 23, 2011

Need a Relation-shift? Do Inquiry With Your Partner

Many couples have discovered the clarity and healing that can occur when doing inquiry together on relationship issues. Inquiry with a partner consists of writing down your stressful thoughts about each other, and facilitating each other on your judgments. It's a powerful practice...and it can feel unsafe to be in the vulnerable position either of sharing these resentments or hearing them. It's tempting to interrupt, defend and justify. Hurt feels may occur, or it may feel as if you've both vented but not gotten anywhere.

Doing partner work with a facilitator can support you in the process until you and your partner are ready to work with each other on your own. Friends of mine, a married couple, who recently completed several months of once-weekly sessions of The Work of Byron Katie with me as their facilitator, experienced this and have kindly allowed me to share their realizations with you.

During our 1-1/2 hour weekly (and later biweekly) meetings, S. and R. shared with each other their stressful beliefs about each other and about their relationship. I facilitated inquiry with each of them in turn; each witnessed the other's process in silence. When there was the impulse to justify or defend, I was there to redirect the energy towards inquiry. There was time at the end of each sessions for sharing, clarification and feedback.

At the end of our last session, they summed up their experience.

R: I've had so many "shoulds" about S. that are not there anymore. Little things about her—for instance, her not being organized—that used to bother me a lot now bug me a whole lot less, because I know I have options and possibilities other than staying irritated. And it does seem that S. has become more organized.

S: Since he doesn't get angry as often, I don't feel so bogged down and I am more productive.

R: Before we did this work together, I didn't realize how destructive I was in the relationship, how I was the instigator in almost all cases when she was very upset with me. Since discovering this, we have fewer arguments and when we do have differences, we're able to work things out a lot faster.

S: R. no longer throws up a road block to what I want, and so I have become totally present to what needs to be done. For instance, he's supposed to clean the cat's litter box. If too much time passes and he doesn't do it, and I want it done, I do it myself. In the past I would have said, "Let him do it, that's his job."

Also, during this work, I've brought out a lot of painful issues with the intent to heal them. I was afraid that by being so honest I was hurting R. But in the process I have seen the good in him, his big heart, how supportive and generous he has always been. He has a lot of qualities that I love and always have, but when I was angry, those were on the back burner. Before we did this work, I never told R. to his face what I love about him.

R: I wasn't hurt; I was glad she was able to get her resentments out instead of sitting on them.

S: Another thing that has come out of these sessions is that I stand up for what I want.

R: Doing The Work together, we had a breakthrough about redoing our guest room. We realized that when I behave in a certain way, her reactivity makes things even worse.

S. When he gets controlling, I feel cornered and I fight him. He did The Work on me, shared it with me, and I saw how I make it worse. Now instead of acting out, I can just tell him, "R., calm down!" That's what we agreed I would do.

R: In short, we have a much better relationship. We're much more peaceful, less stressed...

S: We have more harmony in our lives. Before, I felt I had to fight for everything, that he would always tell me no. Now I don't fight, and he says yes! And if he says no, we can talk about it and work things out. There is space for that now. We are healthy plants growing in good soil.

Over the weeks, I noticed how both R. and S. would increasingly catch themselves in the middle of a "yeahbut," get themselves back on track without my prompting, and take the opportunity to do their own work on the underlying beliefs I wrote down for them during their sessions. Now R. and S. are more motivated to inquire into their resentments as needed, either on their own or together as a couple, facilitating each other or hearing each other's work.

If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship and are each willing to question your beliefs, couples sessions are a great way to open communication, find and question the source of your difficulties, deepen intimacy, and solve your problems together.

If you would like to explore the possibilities of doing "relation-shift" work, I invite you and your partner to contact me at carol (at) to arrange for your complimentary needs assessment.

©2011 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.