The #1 Way to Kill a Relationship (or Business, or Life!)

Recently a respected friend suggested I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.  I ordered it.  It came.  When I thumbed through it and discovered many pages of small print, I set it aside.  “Not now.  Maybe later.”

Yesterday I opened it to the section on business.  I barely made it through the true examples of well-known business leaders who made an initial big splash in recovering a failing company, but failed to prepare the company for ongoing growth, and so, ultimately failed in their mission.  The cause was what she terms as a “fixed mindset,” meaning “Only I, the Leader, knows what is best for this company.”

These were compared to less lauded business leaders who faced a failing company with the desire to learn, grow, identify issues, listen to team-mates, create a learning, encouraging mindset…and who ultimately led their team to recovery and profit.  An “open mindset” is eager to hear another’s opinion, listen to feedback, and make adjustments

This was sort of inspiring, but I have a hard time relating to an executive of a multi-billion dollar company like Chrysler, GE, Enron, Chase-Manhattan Bank.

This morning I opened the section about relationships.  NOW she began speaking my language!  My late husband and I believed, and taught, that SoulMate Relationships are created…earned…not born.  (See our book,  How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.)

Carol says it this way, “…people with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically.  …sort of like it happened to Sleeping Beauty, whose coma was cured by her prince’s kiss, or to Cinderella, whose miserable life was suddenly transformed by her prince.”

In relationship, as in business, parenting, and life, Carol says, “In the growth mindset, there may still be that exciting initial combustion, but people in this mindset don’t expect magicThey believe that a good, lasting relationship comes from effort and from working through inevitable differences.  But those with the fixed mindset don’t buy that.”

In my twenty-five years of coaching couples, as well as painfully learned in my own relationships, a fixed mindset believes that “if we love each other, we shouldn’t have to work hard.  We should just be able to talk to work things through. A great, lasting relationship should just come automatically from our love.  If my partner loves me, he/she will give me what I need, understand me, accept my foibles no matter how irritating they are, etc., etc., etc.”

Couples with a fixed mindset blame each other for problems, label each other as “selfish, stubborn, unfeeling, lacking empathy, abusive and incapable of change.”  Each sees the other as stuck in a “wrong” position that makes no sense, isn’t reasonable.  Each sees him or herself as “right, reasonable, and justifiably wronged.”  They eventually see the relationship as “impossible, doomed, deserving of dissolution.”  These fixed ways of viewing a partner or relationship are guaranteed to produce unhappiness, and ultimately failure.

It was my challenge as a wife in a very conflicted relationship to open my mind to new ways of saying things that were less inflammatory and new ways of seeing my husband rather than labeling him as “wrong.”  I needed to look at what I was contributing to the hostile atmosphere that had begun to consume our relationship…and be willing to learn and change.

As a coach, it is my challenge to help couples who are stuck in a “fixed mindset” about each other and their relationship to open up to new possibilities, new communication skills, new ways of viewing each other and the future of their relationship.  I must create a vivid picture of what they can have if they are willing to learn and change.

Back when computers were a new phenomenon, a term was coined describing what computers could…and couldn’t do for us.  It was “garbage in/garbage out.”  I find that true in relationships, as well.

The good news is that when you learn better communication and conflict management skills, and are then willing to contribute those skills to the relationship, you will soon enjoy the results of a more loving, supportive, mutually nurturing relationship that you will gladly be a part of “until death do us part.”

Click on Ask Nancy about Coaching.  Coaching available world-wide.

Are You Having a Marriage Groundhog Day?

The movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell has made the term, Groundhog Day, a metaphor for anything that happens over and over again with confusing, agonizing dependability.

Could this be true of your marriage?  Are you having the same argument over and over again?  Feeling the same frustrations with each other? Unable to communicate effectively?  Bored with the same-old, same-old routines?

Having nothing but Marriage Groundhog Days gradually drains the energy out of your love.

Murray’s character was bewildered and frustrated because nothing changed…not the calendar, the activities, the people, until he got the message that he needed to change! He did, and then life began to be fresh and fun again.

To expect things to get better without any positive changes being made by either partner is crazy-making. 

When my marriage to Jim was desperately unhappy I sincerely believed that Jim was the only one who needed to change. But I was finally in enough pain to seek help for me.   I began to see what only I could change…my way of handling anger, for one.

Fortunately, Jim eventually got on board so we could, together, learn better communication and conflict management habits.  We resolved our differences and began enjoying each other again!

Have you been waiting until your partner was willing to seek help with you?  Are you convinced that nothing can get better until he/she changes?

In my twenty-five years of coaching, I’ve noticed that one partner is often the initiator…the one to say, “We need help!” and to look for help even if the spouse isn’t willing to go along with it.  Is that person you?  Are you willing to initiate change?

Schedule a call with me. No charge. No obligation. I’ll help you explore where to start…with or without your partner’s participation.   https:meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Have the courage to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world marriage.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Is Your Inner Two-Year-Old in Charge of Your Marriage?

When my marriage to my late husband Jim was in jeopardy, at some level I knew that my sarcastic put-downs and yelling were not helping resolve our conflict.  But it wasn’t until a great coach began to teach us some basic communication and anger management skills that I saw hope for the future.

Even then, it was like pulling teeth to make myself turn a sarcastic put-down into an “I statement,” (I think, I feel, I’m concerned about…)  When my anger was triggered, it required massive self-control to call a “time out” on myself and go vent in my journal or pull weeds until I calmed down and could speak to Jim respectfully.

Now that I had learned better communication skills, why was it such a struggle to use them?  Especially when I could immediately notice more receptivity in Jim to hear my message when “I messages” were used instead of yelling at him?

Because a two-year-old lives inside me that just wants to do it her way and the consequences be d**med!  My two-year-old thought Jim should just overlook the delivery method (sarcasm, yelling) and understand the superiority of my opinion about how to resolve our issues!

Blaming him for not “getting it” and expecting him to agree with my position is so much more satisfying to a two-year-old!  Two-year-olds just want their own way!  And will do almost anything to mold the world to suit their desires.  I had to strengthen the adult me who understood that I needed to change in order for the marriage to improve.  It was like strengthening a weak muscle by repetition.

(Please understand that I was a responsible grownup in other areas.  This just happened to be a very immature, undeveloped part of me that was wonderfully exposed by conflict in our marriage!)

I’ve noticed that whenever I begin a big change, my two-year-old is activated.  I’ve been carrying some extra weight around for a long time.  It’s affecting my knees and energy level and ultimately limiting my quality and perhaps length of life.  So recently I thought, “OK, I’m ready to take action to lose the weight.”  When a few days go by and I’ve only dropped a pound or two, my two-year-old wants to quit.  She’s disappointed that the excess weight isn’t just magically melting off!  I decided didn’t I?  Why isn’t that enough?

And my two-year-old doesn’t like giving up or limiting anything I love…like sweets.  What do I mean that I must do something else to soothe myself other than eating more cookies!  Why can’t I indulge in all the carrot cake I want?  Bummer.  In this example regaining a healthy weight requires the sacrifice of eating everything I want in any quantity.

Two-year-olds aren’t good at follow through or sacrifice.  I’ve discovered that the “follow through” part of change is most likely to be engaged when I am in enough pain to take control away from the two-year-old!  KNOWING I need to change is not enough.  I must be ready to COMMIT to changed behaviors!

It’s helpful at this point to understand the nature of habit in the brain.   The brain is designed to LOVE habits, nurture habits, and maintain habits.  Habits mean that I don’t have to relearn daily tasks like brushing my teeth, or tying my shoe laces, or safely boiling water.  Habits make efficient use of my energy.  Most tasks can be on auto pilot so I have energy to deal with my job, or learn new skills.

The problem comes when I want to change a habit…such as using “I messages” rather than sarcasm.  Or doing deep breathing to calm myself down rather than eating a handful of chocolate chip cookies.

Each habit creates a particular pattern of firing neurons that, the longer the habit has been operating, attracts a rich supply of blood.  This is like a well-worn path through the forest.  Very clear and obvious.

When I want to replace an old habit with a new one, it’s like hacking my way through the forest with a machete.  It is purposeful.  It requires energy, conscious effort and strong commitment to making a new path through the brain.  It can be tiring.   It’s so easy to slide back into the old habit, the old path through the brain, to do what I’ve done for so long.

So the commitment to change…to the new habit…has to be chosen over and over again.

UNTIL, the new habit has been practiced long enough that the blood supply moves from the old pattern of firing neurons to the new pattern!  THEN the new behavior has truly become a habit.  There’s no guarantee that you’ll never resort to sarcasm or eating too many cookies again, but when you do, it will feel uncomfortable.  You’ll be eager to resume the new habit and reap the rewards of the new consequences!

That happened in our marriage.  For three to four months it took so much effort to make all my communication respectful.  It felt like I was wearing a communication straight-jacket!  Before opening my mouth I had to ask myself:  “How can I respectfully say what I need to say?  What is my tone of voice?  How loud will it sound to Jim? Do I need a time out?”

But then it got easier…and easier.  Finally, it became actually hard to think of sarcastic put-downs!

To Jim’s credit, he was making the same kinds of changes.  The fighting stopped.  On the rare occasions when we had an upset, we engaged our great skills immediately and resolved the problem within a few minutes.

We enjoyed seventeen years of blissful, disrespect-free years of loving marriage before he passed away.  I am deeply grateful for the hard work I did to exchange some very poor communication habits for habits that served my goal of a happy, loving marriage.

I’m looking forward to the time when the changes I’m making in my food choices have become new habits that give me the quality of physicality that I desire!  I know it’s coming.  My two-year-old is no longer in control of food choices…at least, not all of the time!

If you’d like a brief phone conversation with Nancy, click here:  https://meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum has been helping couples achieve the lasting, loving marriage of their dreams for twenty-five years.  Visit her website to see how her Millionaire Marriage Club and Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily courses or her coaching can support the changes you want to make.  www.NancyLandrum.com