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The ABCs of great relationships

Updated: Nov 29, 2022


Imagine that you have something you want to share with your partner. Even before you have said the first word, however, you notice that he/she sits as if on pins and needles, and has the well-known frown between the brows...


Are you aware of your own state of mind when meeting others? Are you when meeting with your partner or others in a "what the heck mode" or in a "what is this mode"?


If you have a "what the heck mode", it means that you meet others with a negative attitude, even before the other person has had a chance to put anything into words. So why does this happen, that you suddenly go into a "what the heck" mode? This can be about you being tired, hungry or have had other influences that make you enter the mode that brings conflict. Maybe you expect criticism? Well, regardless of the reason, the consequence will often be that you and your partner end up in a bad place during the conversation. In this mode, you will not be interested in hearing or exploring what your partner wants to convey. You like to interrupt and respond dismissively or abruptly, you go straight into attack or defence.


The various modes have been with us from the very beginning. Imagine a three-month-old baby who is in the "what is this?" mode. The infant lies there with dilated pupils, low pulse, relaxed body and curiously looking around. Now imagine the same baby, but now in a "what the heck" mode. Now the pupils are constricted, the heart rate is high, the behavior is active and it seeks to comfort itself. These two different conditions also become apparent when we are adults.


If you choose to adopt a "what is this" mode, you will meet the other person with openness and curiosity. Open in the eyes and with a gentle expression. You will ask questions that open up a greater understanding of what others want to convey. These can be questions such as;


»Why is this so important to you?»

»Tell me more»

»I would like to understand»

»Help me understand»


You have this positive attityde even if you do not necessarily share the other person's opinion or desire. You are still seeking to find out why this perspective is important for your partner. This requires that both are willing to accept that one thinks, experiences and feels differently - and that this is perfectly fine.


In this way, you are no longer looking to "persuade" each other, or get the other to accept your own reality. What you aim for is increased understanding of each other. The reward is that both can feel heard and understood, have fewer conflicts and a strengthened couple relationship.



Do you take the challenge?

My challenge to you as a couple is that you help each other to become aware of your own presetting. Agree on a week or more where you focus on noticing which mode you adopt when meeting each other. Be generous with each other in the process. In a friendly way, you can make each other aware of which mode you perceive the other to be in. It takes time to change habits, and then patience with each other is important!


It is equally important to become good at changing conditions. Practice, practice and more practice is what works!


Get good at "backing up", i.e. stopping yourself when you notice that you are in the wrong mode. After stopping yourself, take a moment to think about how best to reformulate so that the way you communicate is consistent with a "what's this" mode. For example;


"I notice that I now met you in a bad way, sorry! Let me try this again - can you tell me why this is so important to you?”


In short, the challenge is;


Choose a given period of time where you work on becoming aware of your own mode

Get good at "backing up" and changing modes

Help each other in a polite way to become aware and back up if necessary

A little help along the way...

When you are working with your own awareness in relation to the condition/influence of attitudes, it can always be good to have some available phrases that can be of help.



Some "lifeline phrases" that are useful in various situations


Why is this so important to you?


What do you need from me now?


Sorry, I hear this came out awkward, let me try to say it in a better way… (then reformulates into a non-defensive sentence in the other)


Thank you for sharing how you experience it. For me it's probably another experience... (once you acknowledge the other experience it's easier for the other person to accept yours...)


I would like to understand. Tell me more.


Thank you for caring about me, but right now I just need some time to myself.


I see it's a bit much for you right now. Take the time you need, and we can talk a little later.






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