John Gottman’s Sound Relationship House theory breaks down the components for creating and maintaining a successful (or “Master”) relationship. The foundation of the house is Building Love Maps: “road maps of [your] partner’s inner psychological world.” Love maps are formed by asking open ended questions and talking (and listening!).
The attic of the house is a room called Creating Shared Meaning. This is the room where things like religious beliefs generally fall.
Now, we’re generally not trying build a successful marriage with the person we’re discussing politics, feminism, or church angst with (although sometimes we are), but we can still learn about successful human interactions using this model.
Curb Your Enthusiasm Defensiveness
A common response to any “heavy questions” or non-correlated ideas is defensiveness. When I hear comments that feel like an attack on something I love, I have to curb the urge to get defensive. Joseph Smith took God up on his word and “asked in faith,” yet today when we sincerely ask something we may be struggling with, we’re often met with a metaphorical Nazar, and whisperings that sound something like “apostate” or “heretic.”
At last year’s Counterpoint conference, Elouise Bell quoted Ghandi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We can’t change anyone. We can’t make anyone NOT be defensive. We can only change ourselves. Sometimes changing ourselves involves how we approach a problem.
Religion is Fundamental for Mormons
Religious beliefs typically fall within the attic “Creating Shared Meaning” segment of the Sound Relationship House, but the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is intertwined with how members view themselves and their lives. Religion, in this case, crosses somewhat into the foundation.
If I question, I’m not just questioning a little relic tucked away in someone’s attic, I’m questioning his or her very foundation.
From this perspective, I think we can begin to understand the defensiveness and take action against it. Again, we can’t change anyone else, but we can change ourselves, which might help how other people perceive us.
Time to Put On Your Big-People Pants
This all isn’t to say that defensiveness is an appropriate response, and that those who become defensive have no responsibility toward us in creating healthier interactions. They do. However, someone has to bite the bullet–and be the bigger person (having to be the bigger person is lousy, I know) if we’re going to get our message across in a way that encourages listening instead of defensiveness.
We can help other people feel less defensive by building love maps (or at least mutual appreciation maps), and creating shared meaning. We do this by looking for common ground, building a positive relationship, getting to know each other, and finding the things we like about each other, instead of focusing on the areas where we disagree.
Relationships are the Key
I read once that in a parenting relationship, we should aim for 80/20 with positive to negative interactions. If we put a kid in time out, we should do as Jesus did, and show an increase in love as well. The same thing applies to other relationships. If we want it to be a good one, where we listen and try to understand each other, there has to be more than a one-sided lecture on “what you should believe” (and that goes both ways). Once we have a relationship with a person, they’re much more likely to listen to our perspective instead of viewing that perspective as an attack on all that they hold dear.
What do you think? Have you found ways to encourage people to really ponder on your ideas? Have you made a friend with someone you initially clashed with?