Much of what is taught about crucial skills seems to work if both people have similar mind-sets toward certain principles in life. But when two people have different likelihoods, is it possible to have any solution? My wife and I recently got married, and we both love each other very much. But now she wants to stay in a separate house. She has no interest in living in the same house with my parents. She is also convinced that my parents cannot become her parents. I am of that opinion that we all should live together as I love my parents equally and also that I am their only son. We are not able to solve this problem in any rational way and the emotional means are taking our relationship on a toll. Am I correct to that crucial skills only work for some people?
"When the likelihoods of two people do not match, how can there be any solution?” What a powerful, heartfelt question. As I read it, I thought of all the emotion, heartache, and heaviness contained in those three small words: taking its toll. I thought of the relationships that matters the most to me and in the dark times when I have been at odds with those whom I love. I felt a small measure of the pain that is often masked by frustration at these times. Thank you for your honest expression of doubt. Just how much can crucial skills really do? Just how far can they really take us? Just how much can they really heal our relationships?
My answer: as much as we will let them. Crucial skills can do as much, take us as far, and heal our relationships as much as we will let them. It’s not the skills that limit us, but we our own-self’s limits us.
Now, in case I sound naïve, I don’t want to imply that crucial skills are the magic potion for all disagreement, despair, and destruction in our world. They are not. But I do know that far more often than not, it is not our lack of skill that precludes us from achieving solutions and results but it is our lack of heart. Allow me to share a brief example and then I will come back to your particular situation.
Several weeks ago, my friend also shared an example of the power of crucial skills paired with an open heart with me. A trainer in one of his classes shared his experience with crucial skills. This man had first gone through Crucial Conversations. There he had learned the timeless principles of starting with heart, creating safety, and sharing his meaning. He had put those skills into use in his own life. And yet, despite many successes with his crucial skills, he remained alienated from his beloved family. This young man had been raised in a conservative Hindu family and they did not accept his wife as a part of their family as they both did inter-caste marriage. For many years, their contact had been pained, and minimal. Hearts on both sides of the relationship ached. This issue struck at the very central point of who these people thought they were what they valued the most, and the principles on which they based their lives. It doesn’t get much deeper than that.
Finally the time came when this man and trainer of crucial skills realized that he wanted to heal his relationship with his family. So, with a tender, open, and an aching heart, he reached out in love and skill to his parents. His efforts resulted in a conversation which literally took hours. Think about that; a conversation which took hours, a conversation which ripped at each other’s heart, and a conversation of pain and grief. This is a crucial conversation. It didn’t get resolved with a simple formula of Stating my path and exploring yours, tossing in a contrasting statement here and there. It lasted for hours because all three of them didn’t gave up —on the conversation or on each other.
And finally in the end, they found their way back to one another. They found that the bond of the family is more important than the forces that kept them apart. They found their way because they were able to talk and listen and hear to each other.
My message is not that you aren’t trying hard enough with your wife or that your heart isn’t good. My message is that extraordinary things can be accomplished with crucial skills. It is not that the use of crucial skills will always accomplish extraordinary things.
Crucial conversations are always easier when there is already a clearly defined mutual purpose. So, yes, of course it is easier to have crucial conversations with people of like mind-set. But, if the skills only work when two people already agree or already share Mutual Purpose, then they would not have helped this man and his parents.
So, what does this mean for you and your wife? It means that there is hope. It also means there is lots of hard work ahead. Here is the place I would suggest you a start: you need to step out of the content and rebuild safety by establishing a mutual purpose. What does it mean to step out of the content? It means you must stop talking about leaving your parents and moving out. That's right. The way to discuss this complicated issue of separation with parents is to stop talking about it. Not forever, just as long as it takes you to find the mutual path. Think about it this way: if talking whether to leave your parents’ house or not is causing defensiveness and lack of safety, why would continuing to talk about it help you rebuild safety?
So, now that you have stopped talking about it, what do you do next? You should first commit for finding a mutual path and do it out loud. Don’t just think it, say it. And aim high. "I want to find a solution that will work for both of us. I want to find a solution that strengthens us, builds us, and helps us love each other more. I want to find a way through this conversation that makes our relationship stronger than of what we started."
Once you have committed to find the mutual path, commit to understand her reason. That's right. Start by listening—really listening. You'll get your chance to share your reason, thoughts, feelings, and fears. And, I promise that if you commit to hearing her perspective first, you will build safety in new and profound ways. In fact, sometimes when mutual path is the hardest thing to find, listening to the other person is the best solution. What does that mean? It means that in a conversation, your wife’s reason is to be heard, and to have you listen and understand. So, if your reason in the conversation is to hear her, to listen and to understand (not necessarily agree, but simply understand and affirm), then that is a mutual path right there. And that can often be all you need to get started.