By Dr. Steve
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myself to you, in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you.
A young man walked into the restaurant early and scanned all
the tables. He was careful to make sure that he was the first to arrive. He hated blind
dates. The most important thing is to look casual, he thought as he rubbed his
palms against the sides of his trench coat.
After making sure the mystery woman hadnt arrived yet,
he took a table near the door and sat down. You see, his
best friend had been talking to her best friend
and both of them agreed that this might be a match made in heaven. The big question was,
would she show up?
At five minutes until seven, he told himself yes. At seven
oclock he said, Sure, any minute now. At five-after-seven, his
confidence began to slip, and so did his hopes. At ten-after, he wondered how he could
have fallen for something like this. At a quarter-after, he began to gather his things.
He had draped his coat over one arm and was reaching for his
briefcase when from over his shoulder he heard, Hi, Bob? Im sorry to be late.
Hey, are you just getting here too?
He put down the coat looked into her eyes and said, Sure
am! Hey, great timing.
Their first date came within seconds of never happening, but
as things turned out, this couple went on to see each other for years. And there were many
occasions for Bob to retell how well he covered his awkwardness at the restaurant. Every
relationship begins with involvement.
Lets look at just what involvement means. It is a way of
interacting, and it involves risk. In its simplest form, involvement can be defined as
contact between people. I think it was Mark Twain who said, You cant play
unless you show up for the game. Thats involvement.
Sometimes involvement is the only element at work for a brand
new relationship. One of my friendships began simply because I held the elevator door for
someone, and all I said was a simple Hi. We shared the ride and conversation
for about 90 seconds, and sometimes thats all the involvement it takes.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, involvement can be the
only thing left of a relationship in trouble. I can clearly remember a woman I knew as a
college student who said, The only thing I have left when I get home is his warm
body. I would give anything to have his heart as well.
For reasons still unclear to me, many people hold onto the
familiar vestiges of involvement, even though all other aspects of the relationship
may be gone.
You have heard about couples who only go through the motions. Generally, that means
their relationship is thinning out and their involvement is all thats left. In a
situation like that, we see involvement as the relationships primary focus, instead
of focusing on the more significant aspects of couplehood such as openness and caring.
Involvement can work a couple of ways. Involvement is
initiated with one of two styles. First, there are one-way relationships. The second is two-way interaction, or Bridge-Building between
You may think Im kidding, but there are actually
relationships that work best when they only go one-way and are not reciprocal or
give-and-take. A therapy relationship is a good example of a one-way relationship that
works. The best path for someone to make progress in a therapy setting is to sit down and just talk while the therapist just listens.
You see what Im getting at? The client receives
acceptance, caring, and understanding without really having to give, and the therapist
gives without taking. Its this precise dynamic of the therapist giving without taking and the client receiving without giving that makes the therapeutic relationship
work, and thats the way it should be.
The care given between a mother and her child is another
example of a one-way relationship bridge that works. The mother gives and the child takes.
These are but two examples of one-way relationships that work
effectively. Its easy to see how this very specialized one-way relationship
functions. Other than these types of relationships, you need two-way, or give-and-take
relating to get your needs met. Effective relationships require the reciprocal
interactions of two-way relationships involved in Bridge-Building.
A two-way Bridge-Building relationship is characterized by
reciprocal give-and-take. Each partner meets the needs of the other and receives something
There is a mutuality and balance for those involved. Both give
something to each other and both receive something in return.
You may notice there are times in your relationship when
things are not in balance. You may feel giving and receiving are not equal. And there is a
reason for that.
Within this reciprocal, two-way relationship there is more
than one kind of relating. In fact, there are three kinds. They are up, down, and
sideways. Thats right - up, down, and sideways.
Up relating is when
you talk to someone who seems a little above you. Down
relating is dealing with individuals you feel more comfortable with or have the upper hand
with. Sideways relating is the ability to stand
together and share a moment equally with someone.
I knew a couple who was paralyzed in this up-down type of
relating. They came into my office complaining about inequality between each other and
difficulty in relating. They couldnt cooperate, and they couldnt solve any
Each was unwilling to see the other persons side of
things. Both of them felt angry and resentful towards their partner. They complained about
feeling controlled by the other. After listening to five minutes of the blame and shame
cast around the room, it was easy for me to understand why each of their index fingers had
been splinted permanently in a pointing
He said she picked on him constantly and made life around the
house miserable. During an argument about money, she changed the subject and began nagging
him for not cleaning the kitchen.
She said he never paid enough attention to her needs and as a
result she felt more like a piece of furniture than a woman.
As a result of their conflict, the husband had chronic panic
attacks and bouts of depression. His wife complained of feeling devalued, unsupported, and
uncared for. They both were desperately seeking to be accepted, understood, and cared
about, yet, both were unwilling to offer those very things to their partner.
Today their relationship is more well rounded. They have
learned the basic components of Relationship Bridge-Building, utilizing these very
effective relationship skills. When they feel supported by their partner, they are more
likely to offer something in return. Now the couple sit and take the time to really listen
to each other.
But, dont get me wrong. There are some times when
two-way relationships become short circuited.
There are times when the person seeking comfort and support has the tables turned on them.
At times, the person who began by seeking comfort and support, ends up emotionally caring
for the other.
I was once told a story about a small girl playing with her
friends in the school-yard. While climbing on a gym-set, she fell and cut her hand on a
sliver of glass hidden in the sand.
The little girl ran home and burst into the house screaming
for her mother to fix the hurt. Holding up her wrist, she tried in every conceivable way
to communicate the problem at hand. Ow Mommy, this hurts, she said. Make
it go away.
Her mother listened to the crying and washed the wound. As she
was covering the cut to protect it from infection, the childs mother began to talk
to the little girl in an unusual way.
The mother said, You think this is a problem? Well, let
me tell you about pain. Ive got problems too. I feel old and unattractive and your
father never listens to me anymore.
The little girl listened through her tears in absolute
What I really need is a job so I could change my money
situation. No one would push me around then. If this meaninglessness and confusion keeps
up, I just dont know what Im going to do! This has got to stop. It just
The girl was left with more pain than simply the cut on her
hand. She had the pain of someone elses problems dumped on her as well.
Even though this is a story of a relationship between a mother
and a daughter, Im sure you could remember a time when the tables were turned on you
in a similar fashion.
The last, very important element of involvement is you
cant ever have a relationship without it!
I know someone who works every day of his life and sits in an
easy chair every night. He never leaves that place to try something new. He never talks to
strangers on the street and he doesnt like crowds. Im sure he doesnt
even know why.
You see, the alter-ego of involvement is risk-taking.
Lets talk more technically about some of the aspects of
Relationship Bridge-Building. Each of the issues we are going to discuss in these chapters
will have two sections. The first part of each chapter will be an overview of the subject.
The second part is something I am going to call the BRIDGE-BUILDERS
TOOLBOX. The BRIDGE-BUILDERS TOOLBOX
sections will explain in more detail the nuts and bolts of specific Relationship
Bridge-Building concepts. I can present the idea more completely and try to
points of clarification. Sometimes looking closely at why an idea works will allow it to
work more completely in our lives.
But before you read on, let me explain something; explaining
the relationship principles that make up these
chapters is often the least effective way to communicate them. I will dissect several
aspects of Relationship Bridge-Building, but I suggest you not put a lot of energy into
finding out how this stuff works. I sometimes tell people, You may not know the
mechanics of how breathing works, but you are able to breathe just fine.
Its like that with many of these relationship
principles, simply being aware of them is the goal. We all use them every day, and many of
us do just fine without dissecting them.
I spoke to one woman who was intent on pulling apart every one
of these relationship components, but, at the same time, she was unwilling to stop and
absorb their meaning.
It was clear, after our short conversation, she wanted to see
the nuts and bolts of a relationship. But she
could never put them to good use without relating them to her own life.
Finally, I sat down with her and said, Most of us would
find it impossible to build a car from scratch, but that doesnt stop us from being
good drivers. You dont have to understand all the parts in order to use these things
in your own life.
So with that said, here goes:
In the first part of the chapter, we created a snapshot of
what involvement is. Now let me describe how it is created.
Think about involvement. What is it that you want from being
with someone else? We all long for the emotional benefits only a relationship can provide
for us. Some people talk about these benefits as being the attributes of a relationship.
Things like acceptance, caring, openness, understanding, support, and emotional
connection. These are the goodies of a
relationship. These are the reasons people build emotional bridges with one another. These
are the attributes that are up for grabs in
You can get anything in a relationship you want, as
long as you are willing to help another person get what they want from the relationhship.
How do you go about attracting acceptance, caring, openness,
understanding, support, and emotional connection to your life? They come through
effectively using involvement skills.
I want to emphasize this is a process. The mastery of these
involvement skills will help you achieve the emotional fulfillment you so richly deserve.
Let's talk about the details of how this process works best.
When we are in a relationship with someone, we literally offer the things talked about in
each chapter of this book. We offer involvement, acceptance, caring, openness, freedom,
and responsibility. And we seek those things in return! We should. All of those things are
the true benefit of being in a fulfilling relationship.
I talk about the process of offering and seeking these
benefits like this: There is a scale, or spectrum,
of seeking and offering that will be helpful to talk about in this chapter. It is a tool I
use in my work that helps me explain the dynamic of offering and seeking in relationships.
Imagine in your mind a line running from right to left. It is
a sort of imaginary gauge or scale. On the far right, this line has a position called extreme seeking-spirit. On the far left, this line
has a position called extreme offering-spirit and in the middle it has a place
called ideal balance. In an ideal situation, the
goal of any relationship is to balance the act of offering and the act of seeking.
Weve talked about the ideal situation that we all
want--a relationship filled with many benefits. Its achieved by balancing what we
offer and what we seek. When things are out of balance, its usually because people
are too far on one side of the continuum or the other.
People who constantly ask others to disclose things about themselves without being willing
to give back the goodies, like acceptance, caring, openness, understanding, freedom,
and/or responsibility, would fall on the far right of this imaginary scale. They are
constantly seeking and not offering.
In everyday conversation these people say a variety of things.
They tend to ask many questions without talking about themselves, or they may
themselves in the third person. Either action retards the growth of a real relationship.
There are people on the opposite end of the scale who only
offer of themselves. These individuals are constantly trying to figure out what their
partner wants from them. Their belief is If I only offer to my partner without
seeking, I will be loved and safe.
The person who only offers is trying to avoid being viewed as
being selfish so they wont be rejected and abandoned by their partner. I hope you
can see this is a formula for disaster, not safety and acceptance.
Well, thats how it works, but any
discussion about involvement would be incomplete if it did not talk about some the
obstacles to involvement.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is fear. Fear is
insidious and it can prevent you from creating the kind of relationships you really want.
We fear the things we want the most.
One of the most amazing of all paradoxes in the world can be
seen in people who genuinely want fulfilling relationships, yet consistently sabotage
them. Fear is the fuel that powers the movement of your relationships. Relationships are
fluid, constantly in a state of change. Sometimes we are on target with involvement
skills, other times we are not. Invariably, I have found fear to be the well-spring of
energy which powers this constant fluctuation.
Fear generates an imbalance in the equation of reciprocal
give-and-take. In an effort to create self-protection, individuals retreat into either
only seeking or only offering--thus undermining the stability of the relationship.
One of the big keys to dealing with fear is understanding it.
As you begin to understand how these elements all fit together, you will find fear begin
Relationships in which people only seek from others, or only
offer of themselves to others, will be less than satisfying. In fact, they wont
Attempts at intimacy dominated by seeking safety, acceptance,
and unconditional love, without offering anything of yourself, are doomed to fail. On the
other side of the coin, relationships dominated exclusively by offering these emotional
attributes without risking disclosure of your own needs is a formula for disaster as well.
I have noticed that anything less than offering yourself wholeheartedly in balance with
the things you are seeking will be unsatisfying.
The elusive key to happiness in this process is balance.
Balancing what you offer and what you seek from your partner is the key to succeeding. And
let me encourage you. Anyone can learn this skill.
A young man came in one day to see me. After some polite
conversation, we began to talk more seriously. He told me he felt as if there was no way
he could learn to relate to anyone. After listening for a while, it was clear this guy had
learned very few involvement skills and never really thought he could master them. I
suggested if he could grasp these skills and if he could practice them, things would get a
lot better. He laughed when I told him he didnt need a therapist as much as he
needed a coach!
I told him if he wanted to succeed, he had to be willing to
change. I can tell you this man, who had no hope,
is in a long-term relationship today. But I wont kid you, he worked hard at it. And
so can you.
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