The Syzygy of Partnering and Parenting
As a relationship expert and coach, I have been amazed at how much I have learned about adult relationship through being a parent of a toddler and an infant.
I realize the secrets that work best with my children work wonders with my partner and vice versa.
I am going to share those secrets with you below. And then I am going to give you two amazing relationship-altering tools that will transform your relationship and also revolutionize your parenting ease. The first tool is a tool we call “Deep Listening” that is based off of the Intentional Dialogue Process from Imago therapy. The second tool is one that we created to shift the storyline of your relationship from one based on complaint to one based on your highest dreams.
So, why are there so many parallels between parenting and partnering?
Well, relationship expert Stan Tatkin says that we are never really finished being parented. From the day we are born until the day that we die we really need someone to parent us. When he first told Andrew and I this, we balked a little bit. Neither of our memories of being parented were exactly sexy . . . nor did they leave us feeling super cozy. And I think that is one of the keys to truly understanding adult primary attachment relationships (which is what all romantic relationships are). We come together as adults to get what we didn’t get as children in addition to getting more of what we did get.
As children, what we really need is for someone to listen deeply to us and mirror back what we say.
We need them to really “get” us rather than try to fix what seems to be wrong or tell us what we should want. Simple, huh? And yet, so often children don’t get this! And so the hungry mouth of the three year old soul is still open and waiting to receive this deep listening. Even when we are 40 years old, the three year old is still inside hoping to be heard.
The arguments we see between couples are just tantrums covered up with adult features and fancy words.
Even as adults, we are just needing to be heard. We need the same things from our partners that we needed from our parents as young children. A very powerful process that we learned through Hand in Hand Parenting is called Staylistening. This involves staying beside your child when they have a tantrum and mirroring back their words to them calmly while holding whatever boundary you have set. You listen, repeat their words back and validate their experience. No matter what they have said. So if they bang their hands on the floor and say, “I hate you mommy. You’re not my Mommy anymore. You’re a bad Mommy!” You say in a warm and empathetic voice,
“Yeah you’re saying that you hate me and that I’m not your Mommy anymore and that I’m a bad Mommy. You sound really upset and your upset is welcome here. You can keep on crying and telling me all the things and I will stay here and listen. I love you so much.” This works frigging miracles.
The child cries it out and in a few minutes calms down and goes back to their normal happy self. And it really cleans the pipes. A few times of being listened to in this way changes everything for the child. It clears past traumas and creates a great deal of connection. Well, this is exactly what adults need from their partners. You will see how similar our Deep Listening Process is and it will change everything for you.
Andrew calls the Deep Listening Process “All Wheel Drive for relationships”. And it truly is. It will get you through just about anything. Try it.
So, when we say “parented” do we just mean listened to? No, there’s more.
We also mean that we each need to have a tether to someone else; we need to have someone on our team, someone in our foxhole with us.
A three year old child steps out into the world and looks back to make sure their parent is still there and watching them. If they look back and their parent isn’t there, it is as if they are alone on the planet and they feel terrified. Or if they look back and see that their parent didn’t see the trick they just did, it is almost as if the trick didn’t happen or wasn’t “real”. It is as if life doesn’t exist unless their parent witnesses them. But when they see the parent watching them proudly, they feel safe and real and powerful and they can venture on and do more.
We actually never grow out of this.
We may pretend to outgrow it . . . but truly, we always need “our person” there to look back to. We need them there to validate us so that we feel that what we are doing is real and meaningful. We need a primary attachment figure in order to do all that we are capable of, feel safe, and excel in the world.
There are many more ways that what we need as children lines right up with what we need in adult relationships. But for now I will stop with those two. There is one more bit of wisdom that I must share with you, however. This is the one thing that truly brought our relationship back from the grave.
The stories we tell about our lives and relationships create our reality. The stories we feed are the ones that come true.
I will give one example to show how this works with parenting. Right about the time our second child was to be born, someone told me that adding a second child to the mix made parenting exponentially harder. I let this story seep into my believing such that a few weeks into my reality of having two children, I was not only believing it but I was experiencing it! I was terrified to be left alone with both kids and life felt really, really hard. One day, when I went out of the house for a break, I found some perspective on it all.
I said to myself, “Wow, that’s a really powerful story I am telling!” Then I noticed that there was a different story I could be telling.
I thought about this story: “Raising two is so much easier and more fun than just having one”. That one sounded equally plausible. So I started telling that story to the few friends I met along the way and I imagined myself having that experience and all of the emotions and sensations that go with it. By the time I got home, my step was lighter and my normal playfulness had begun to come back. I felt more relaxed. And that very day, my experience of raising two children shifted dramatically forever. From that day forward, I have had the experience that it is certainly more fun and more easeful to have two children than one!
This works with relationships too.
There was a time when Andrew’s and my relationship was deeply in trouble. We went from a truly ecstatic relationship to the brink of divorce. What brought us back to being the visionary power couple that we are now was a shift in our story. We realized that the story we were telling was one based in complaint. I had created the story that Andrew was mean, angry, and untrustworthy and he had the story that I was controlling and selfish. When we consciously shifted those stories to what we wanted to be true, the realities shifted 180 degrees overnight. It was truly magical in every sense of the word.
Simply shifting our story took us from hatefully pursuing a bitter divorce to being amazingly loving and connected partners in a matter of weeks.
Now, just a few years later are creating exactly the life that we dreamed of together from that place. We have created the “Tell a New Story” exercise to help you pivot your relationship in the same way that we did.
Below, I am going to give you the written script for these two tools.
Directly after the tools I have pasted links to access free video tutorials for these same tools.
The videos make it much more clear and can be fun to watch with your partner.
The practice is this: One person asks to be mirrored or to "take turns". The speaker speaks in chunks of 2-3 sentences and tries to use "I" language and stick to the facts as much as possible.
The listener follows these steps:
- Reflect Content: “So what you’re saying is…" (Use the Speaker’s words)
- Check: “Did I get that?"
- Invitation: “Is there more?" until Speaker says “no”
- Validate: “That makes sense.” or “You make sense.”
- Empathize: “I imagine you feel ____.” or “That must be really ____."(Bonus points if listener can caricature themselves here: i.e. "From over there it must seem like I am a total tyrant who is trying to deny you all of your favorite things")
- Gratitude: Thank each other for listening/sharing.
When to use:
- when you’re starting to feel triggered by what your partner is sharing or conversation degenerates into point, counterpoint.
- when you need to bring up something difficult for you or your partner
- if one of you asks, try to do it right away but commit to agree to a time in the next 24hrs that works for both
When not to use:
- in the car
- phone (better to wait for face-to-face, when possible)
Tell a New Story:
This is where we mine the deepest desires of the heart and the new story of our relationship from our persistent complaints. The story we tell is what steers the "relation-ship". Where is your ship currently headed?
(ex. My partner is lazy)
Flip the coin of each complaint into a desired state that will be beneficial for both partners. For example flip “My partner is gruff” into “I want my partner to be gentle”. Now put those into the present state and make them about the relationship. i.e: Change “I want my partner to be gentle” to “We are gentle with each other”. Write these “flipped coins” down as A, B, and C.
(ex. We are full of energy and really living our passion)
Now imagine, what is possible with all of these things being true?
What’s possible now:
(ex. We can afford to take a beach vacation in Hawaii or We can volunteer together and positively impact people’s lives )
We have also made a free and powerful video lesson and worksheet that walks you through “Telling a New Story” in greater depth and detail. And a Deep Listening video tutorial is coming soon. Access the free video lessons here.
We are also offering a free one-on-one video call with one of us to create a personalized roadmap just for you and your partner. We will map out for you exactly how to get from where you are now to where you desire to be. Schedule a time to meet with us and take this powerful step for your relationship.
Lastly, we are very excited to announce that we are offering an online course for high potential couples who face deep challenge in relationship. It starts in two weeks. Please pass our information along to anyone you know who might benefit. Schedule a time to talk with us about the course.