One of my absolute favorite musicians is David Wilcox. He creates stories in song that move my heart, heal my hurts, and speak truths to me in ways I find hard to describe. I consider him to be a poet laureate of our time. His song “A Break in the Cup” talks of the crack in the cup that holds love inside us all. And that no one can fill that cup no matter how hard they try.
I know there have been times when I have loved someone and felt their pain so deeply that I desperately wanted to fill them up with all this love I had to give. To make “it” better. With decades of learning I can now see that the “it” I was trying to fix was my own profound pain mirrored in that other person. And that to be in relationship I have to fill my own cup each and every day with love, acceptance, compassion, and humor at my own fallibility.
The tricky part comes when you do not see that those feelings are your unresolved issues knocking hard on your door. So you do what any self-respecting person would do—you blame, shame, or abandon the other person because they made you feel this way. So they must be wrong. And it is our job to make sure they know it.
There is just one problem—this has nothing at all to do with them. Being in a relationship takes guts, because your own crud surfaces on a regular basis without warning. And yet we are communal beings who crave belonging in a tribe, and we thrive when we are blessed with those who love us, warts and all.
Inquiry, when we are feeling triggered, is a balm if it is done gently and with compassion. Noticing you’re triggered is a gift. For in that noticing there is a space of non-reaction to the other in the relationship. In that split second of noticing, you begin to step towards being in relationship rather than banishing yourself to that lonely island called “being right.” When you feel a fight coming on, in any relationship, stop. Ask yourself, “In this moment, would I rather be right or in relationship?” The answer is less important than the inquiry itself. Either way, you are at choice in that moment and you are taking the wheel rather than that triggered part of you driving.
In communication with others, there is a question that will assist you if you decide you want to build relationship. State what you feel, think, and believe about a situation, your significant other, or your feelings, and then say “Tell me where I am wrong.” Then comes the really hard part—stay quiet.
People will be struck mute for about 30 seconds until they get used to you being willing to truly let them clarify and refine their response to you. This means when they respond, you listen. See where that clarification gives you information that you previously did not see. Let what they have said sink in. Rinse and repeat.
Please notice the above sentence does not say “Tell me THAT I am wrong.” It allows for you to not have a full grasp of what the other person, thinks, feels, believes, or knows. It invites them in. It says Let me understand exactly what you are saying so we can learn and grow closer in this moment. Try it. See what happens.