Once I have heard both versions of the story that brought the couple in to see me, I often suggest that they are on a boat.
It has dawned on me that I have been hearing narratives from couples that parallel my experience of sailboats. My theory is that when you met and fell in love and it was juicy and sexy and charged, you didn’t know you were building a boat. You see, my father loved sailboats and, after twenty-five years trapped in a stifling corporate job, he and a friend decided to start a business building beautiful ocean-racing yachts. Because I was about twelve years old, I just figured this was what fathers did, and it seemed perfectly ordinary to walk around the huge construction space and find all of these people just loving their jobs. I assumed everyone loved their jobs. What did I know? It turns out these workers were like couples falling in love: full of energy, joy, and hope—perhaps high on the fumes from the varnish or the new sails—certain that this would be a special boat, better than any boat anyone had sailed on before. Read more.
Now, let’s talk about an important concept and another theme of this book: Feeling small AND looking big.
I’ve been a therapist for twenty-nine years and I am well aware that the key to my livelihood is my ability to listen well and understand what others are yearning to have understood about their lives. I am also acutely aware that it took me about ten years to hear something fundamental about what I was being told. I hadn’t truly grasped something that people wanted me to know.
I’d had the privilege of hearing people talk about their most cherished and most intimate relationships, with their soul mates and sexual partners, their parents, their children, or other members of their family. Often, the more important the relationship, the more troubling and upsetting the story was. They all involved the theme of extreme and unfair tension and the need for relief, which was clear. But there was also a very simple and basic dynamic aspect I had missed. It was really about size. Read more.
I visited an experimental preschool one day many years ago and was immersed in a very different culture for one day of school. Remarkably, the founder of the school, Margaret Skutch, had been able to enforce a rule that every conversation would be structured a certain way: Three positive statements and then the question, criticism or negative aspect of the conversation.
Conversations with the children started with the positive, but so did the children’s encounters with parents or staff, or between parents and staff, or between visitors. The theory was that this was the most nurturing climate for a preschool child, and what mattered the most was the way everyone was spoken to. This reminds me of a couple of things. First, how much the way we talk matters; and, second, how vulnerable we can be to negative statements. Skutch was teaching that we don’t listen well or accept another perspective until we have been calmed by some positive feedback. She was also acknowledging that we have serious, risky things to say to each other that may trigger defensive reactions. Read more.