by Donald Kern, MFT
e just don't communicate. He's got no idea of feelings. About the only time he listens to me is when he wants sex. Well, if he won't give in, neither will I!"
As a marriage counselor, I hear all kinds of variations on this theme. In this case, the subject under discussion is child rearing. Both parties are adamant about their ideas. Of course, plenty of couples have differences. But what is of concern here is the energy each partner puts into reaffirming their own individual perspective. Of particular note here is their bitterness.
"She's a bitch", the husband says. "I don't understand how I missed that before we were married. She reads the books and thinks she's the expert and has to 'educate' me. She has no respect for my point of view. Well, I'm not going to put up with her permissive parenting. My kid isn't going to be a brat. Of course, if I don't cave in, she'll withhold any affection. You call that communicating?"
This couple seems miles away from any understanding. They are engaged in a full-on battle, one against the other. Neither one wants to give up the fight for fear they'll collapse in weakness. There is no "we" here. The team effort it takes to raise a family is missing. "What's the point of coming here?" the husband says. "All we do is yell at one another.
What's missing here is goodwill. That is the solvent that can dissolve this sticky mess. Goodwill is an attitude of caring, the feeling that we are in this together. It involves the art of listening respectfully. Merriam-Webster defines goodwill as "a kindly feeling of approval and support; benevolent interest or concern; cheerful consent; willing effort." One can see immediately how important seeking goodwill is in a relationship.
To want to succeed in a relationship, one must care deeply for one's partner, want what's best for that person. Indeed, one definition of love is the desire to put another's needs before your own. To do so, we need to feel a connection, a bond.
Goodwill has certain ground rules which include the following:
Give the other party a fair hearing, suspend judgment instead of putting up a mask of fairness in pursuit of
furthering a private agenda.
Open up to dialogue and compromise.
Ignore one's short-term pain in favor of serving a larger, long-term goal. This is trust in the face of doubt.
Respect and honor your partner's boundaries. Don't violate these boundaries through
aggressiveness or blaming.
Avoid self-inflation or the pursuit of power over seeking understanding.
Project self-love. In a relationship, be aware of serving a mutual goal - i.e. each other's happiness.
By following the above ground rules, we are more apt to find success and common ground in all our relationships.
Here is an example of the dramatic change practicing goodwill can make:
"When I came here, I wanted what was good for me because I thought what was good for me was good for us," says the husband, George. "I didn't understand why Cathy didn't see it that way. I didn't understand how she could negate my leadership. Now, I know there's the need for balance, plus I've discovered I'm able to have feelings and be 'just a guy.' What was missing, and what we've both rediscovered, is goodwill."
"We've come to desire the other's success," Cathy states. "Finally, we have come to recognize that we can both grow only through mutual support."
There can be no relationship without goodwill. Out of a context of goodwill , a couple can open up dialogue, have true communication, master effective boundaries, establish rapport in a caring way, and develop trust, comfort, and a sense of well-being shared. Caring communication revitalizes connection. This couple, shaken loose from preconceptions, was able to acknowledge their struggle. Through listening, without defensiveness, they were able to take the best of one another's point of view, creating a parenting style both flexible, yet firm. They learned to appreciate each other.
It takes desire and practice to set all this in motion, but it's doable.
Techniques are only that -- exercises to sharpen insight. They are only as good as a couple's resolve to listen. To communicate is not merely to speak out, but to let our hearts be open to each other. When we speak from the heart, we speak from goodwill . We express our love in word and deed.
And after all, isn't that what it's about in the first place?