|Msn.com asks Dr. Fleming to be their relationship expert on an upcoming February 2006 piece.
Go Away, Little Girl
Ever wonder why truth is paradox? You know, to get more you have to give more. To lead you have to let go. Well, when it comes to relationships and the art form of communicating the fateful news that it is over, we have to look towards this wisdom yet again. So how should a man know how to do this compassionately yet honestly? By first knowing that he does not really know. This orientation within will ironically broaden instinct into reason and give him more mileage. You see, human nature is fascinating in that the brain desires to make meaning out of anything—at all costs. Even if the story or strategy we tell ourselves is not “true,” when it gets filed in the brain it needs to make sense to us. Before you know it, after a day of seemingly grounded decision making on our part, by quitting time at 5pm what we are convinced is reality is really a highly sophisticated “Truman Show” around us. This is where relationship communication in times of conflict goes from bad to worse.
Let me show you what I mean.
I advise my male clients in these instances to “get real.” To choose being effective vs. being right. The ego within will always desire the last word, and not necessarily the most truthful word. In the instance of breaking a relationship off, a value trade off grounded in reality needs to be acknowledged. For what we value will drive the decision we ultimately make. If it is to be right, then honesty (but really ego/pride) pushes out compassion. If it is to avoid conflict, something we like to call compassion (but really fear and disingenuousness) pushes honesty out of the picture.
And so, why is this so hard? We are deluding ourselves, for we don' t know what compassion or honesty really is. Anything false (like this comparison) by nature will be hard to act out successfully. I sometimes think that the people that ask this question are wanting actually something else -- to please. A genuine person doesn' t worry about when to be one way, and when to be another way. They are what they need to be when they need to be it, for they are grounded in reality and truth. Said another way: does a genuine person tell people who they are, what they are about, and why they are making decisions that they are making? No. Paradoxically that would undue their nature. It actually is simpler (yet actually harder in practice) then we want it to be.
You see, we will always struggle in raw relationship dialogues, such as the break up kind, if we live reactively (out of fear, protecting, wanting to be right, to emotively respond first, etc). Why? For we are choosing between two imaginary premises (to be honest, to be compassionate) in this orientation. You see, if we are struggling with honesty or compassion, we have made a false comparison. Anything good and virtuous like these words should not be pitted against each other. We are living out of fear and hiding that by saying we are stuck between two “good” things. It is as if we are drowning and choose to describe the water to convince us that we are really drowning!
A person grounded in the reality that love and fear can not co-exist knows that authenticity, to one' s self and to the relationship, is always primary. And being authentic has truth AND honesty WITHOUT the concern for the “self”. Being a people pleaser has truth and honesty WITH concern for the self. And it is this concern for the self that always will undue either virtuous word. In the game of love the question becomes, are we loving ourselves love another or truly the other? The latter is where my model, getting REAL, steps in:
1. Realize that your first reaction will be the ego reaction. This typically is an emotive, reactive response that satisfies some primal need within: to be right, to have power, to control, etc.
2. Adjust your reaction – become aware that effectively breaking up with your girl is not the goal here in #1. Ask yourself, “If I lost the interest to be right, how would I react?” This opens up possibilities and gets you thinking “outside the box.” And man, the brain loves to get you to stay inside the box when emotions are involved.
3. Evaluate the values that drive your decisions in life. Are honesty and compassion truly competing virtues? Or is this a false dichotomy we have made to hide ambivalence? Or can we be truthful in what we say, and compassionate in how we say it? This step is an exercise in self-reflection and authenticity.
4. Live the Both/And. That is, when we see how two seemingly opposite things (being compassionate and being honest) can play together in the sand box, we more naturally create the outcomes. Or I should say, the outcomes create us. By acknowledging to the girl upfront that you are struggling with honoring both her and what needs to be said, 9 times out of 10 the other person “helps you along.” It is when we don' t put our values out there that they start wondering what we are about….and then you are fighting about your lack of integrity, not the break up.
So, paradox. Where is it here? Surrender and you will gain more. Let go of the “perfect pitch” and you will get the real deal. Put out your ambivalence, and you will knowledge. Give up ‘you' (ie., instinct), and get out of the way of the exchange. Two will always be greater than one.