Sonya Thomas lcsw

Relational Heroism – Part 5

 10) Develop and utilize “Dead-Stop Contracts”: In The New Rules of Marriage, Terry Real describes a powerful strategy for interrupting marital conflicts. He writes, “If I feel, rightly or wrongly, that you are behaving in ways that reinforce my Core Negative Image of you—if I feel, for instance, that old, horrible feeling of being bossed around by you—I will signal a dead-stop.And you agree in advance that whenever you hear that signal, understanding that your behavior is Core Negative Image triggering, you will come to a dead-stop—whether you agree with my perception or not.”

Real continues: “Let’s say, for example, that my Core Negative Image of you is that you’re a big bully. Whether I am nuts for feeling bullied by you in this particular instance or not, you agree, upon hearing my signal, to stop whatever it is that you are saying or doing on a dime. Instead of continuing, you agree to turn to me and say your version of ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to bully you. Forgive me. Is there anything I can say or do right now that might help you feel better?’ On my side, I promise not to use this as a moment to give you a hard time but rather to appreciate your effort and move on as quickly as possible.”

Real concludes with the following admonition: “When you agree to use a dead-stop contract, nothing short of physical safety takes precedence over your goal of stopping your repetitive pattern. No matter what you think your partner may be doing, you pledge to honor your side of the contact.” (p. 90)

     11) Recognize that we can only work on ourselves: Brentwood psychologist Dr. Rick Taran has written, “Relationships are God’s clever 12 step program for self-improvement.” Dr. Lee Blackwell, in his paper “Understanding Personality Dynamics in Relationships” (2002), writes, “We can only work on ourselves. When we try to work on others, they resist beingcontrolled, even if it is for their own good. There seems to be something in human nature that says, ‘I have to feel free to choose.’…Thus it is a waste of time and totally counterproductive for partners to try to change each other. A better approach is for each to hear criticism as something the other is experiencing, not as something that they are objective about. When we feel free to decide what to work on in ourselves, we will be much more diligent and sincere in our efforts.”

John Gottman has expressed very similar ideas. Gottman writes, “The basis for coping effectively with (problems) is the same: communicating basic acceptance of your partner’s personality. Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that that person understands you…It’s just a fact that people can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted as they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and underappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.” (p. 149)