I was talking about relationship the other day with a fellow who used to coach basketball. He asked me what I thought was the first thing he taught kids when they started training camp.
I had to think back to when I played sports and what my coaches taught me. I thought of focus, intensity, hard-work, concentration, courage, managing discomfort, practice and more practice.
He said, “balance.”
Without balance it is impossible to execute properly.
He used to line his new charges up and have them run and then stop when he blew the whistle. Invariably, “three or four kids would fall over and another 3 would stumble.” He would do this drill over and over until they all could stop on a dime, then he would begin teaching the skills.
I thought about my Judo classes. It is all about balance. To feel contact with the ground in a solid and connected way. To feel when your partner is pushing or pulling you in an attempt to unbalance you.
Balance. I thought, that sounds applicable to relationships. Especially when emotions are involved. When I lose my cool or balance, I am easily thrown off my stride.
This doesn’t mean I can’t get emotional, just that I need to maintain my balance in the process. For me that means being responsible for my behavior. When my shit comes up and takes control, then I have lost my balance.
When this happens I feel light-headed, disconnected from reality, and definitely not in control. It is as if someone else is running the show.
I am off centre, falling over and I can feel the pain rushing up as I metaphorically hit the floor. I have lost my balance. Can you relate?
I feel like those kids going through the stop and start drills. My feet are not doing what I want. I am tripping over myself. It is not comfortable.
The good news is, like any sport, relationship skills can be learned . . . with practice.
Unfortunately, most people don’t go to relationship camp or join a relationship team to improve their skills. No. We learned what little we know from our families and the culture and stereotypes around us.
Most families that I know about did not have the best conflict management skills. Mine didn’t. I had to learn the hard way, by trial and error. That took fifteen years after I left home.
But learn I did.
Here is what I do to maintain my balance when I feel the push and pull of an engagement that is threatening to put me on my ass.
One: Heighten your awareness.
This entails sensing what is going on in your body. You may have stopped breathing or are breathing with short shallow breaths. The solution is to re-balance your breathing. Take a breath, or five. If your muscles are tense, shake them out. If your jaw is clenched, unclench.
Heightened awareness is also directed at your partner. What are they doing? Are they angry, sad, disappointed? What can you do about that?
The first thing is to state what you see, “Gee, you look angry,” or ask, “what’s going on” or “how are you feeling?” This helps your partner to regain their balance as well. They experience you as identifying or aligning with their experience rather than trying to unbalance them.
Two: Stay present.
Stay present literally, as in, don’t leave the space and stay present mentally – don’t check out, fantasize or dissociate.
Three: Identify and state your emotion.
As above, this immediately starts the re-balancing. Stating the truth is a powerful antidote to emotional vertigo.
Four: Learn to bend.
Be the Bamboo tree and bend with the onslaught that is coming your way. Don’t be the Oak and snap because you lack flexibility.
Five: Lower your centre of gravity.
A classic martial arts and wrestling move, or skiing for that matter, when the going gets tough.
What does this mean emotionally or psychologically? It means getting in touch with what really matters. How important is this fight really? Why am I making the person I love feel so terrible when all I want is peace and understanding?
Six: Be nimble.
Be willing to let go of your great point. Be willing to change gears and laugh at yourself. Be willing to admit the truth. Be willing to apologize if need be. Be willing to let go of your righteous feeling.
Seven: Instant replay.
Know that sometimes (or most times) you will lose your balance but that you can start to regain it at any time. This is completely in your control. You can say, “Hey, I got off on the wrong foot, can we start this conversation over again?”
These are some of the ways I try to regain my balance when it is lost. I hope it helps.
If you want to learn specific communication skills, check out my book.