I had some of my reflections after watching the live-stream of the Pransky and Associates Working with Couples Training this weekend. The importance of goodwill in a relationship stood out to me as essential. It is as vital the richness of soil is for plants to grow in. If goodwill is low, it is impossible for a relationship to thrive, and goodwill is not about loving your partner in an abstract sense. It is authentic day-to-day warmth, appreciation, kindness and genuinely liking your partner. It is practical and felt.
If goodwill is low in a relationship, it is likely the result of not seeing the innocence of your partner’s low mood behavior. We think because we know what our partner is capable of when they are thinking clearly that they should be able to choose better behavior when they are in a low mood. We even hold ourselves accountable in this way too. It looks like we should all know better and be able to choose better rather than behave badly.
Because of this perception of choice, bad behavior is seen as malicious. Being able to choose to behave differently is seen as true because sometimes people do behave better and make different choices. This is used as evidence that good behavior is possible, so since they can, when they don’t, it is obvious that malicious intent is involved. They must be purposefully choosing to be hurtful. What is missing from this is the understanding that we all lose our minds to varying degrees when we are in a low mood. In a low mood, people get caught up in a thought storm and do not think clearly. If they don’t understand this, it is easy to act out from a low mood state because they take their thinking seriously and think they are seeing things accurately.
When this happens to Angus and me, it ALWAYS goes badly. We were both in a low mood recently. I criticized him for how he was relating to our younger daughter. He took it personally, got defensive, and attacked back. I took the bait and ran with it. This carried on until we finished our dinner at the restaurant. When we left, I refused to get in the car and started walking home. Angus had to drive alongside me for several minutes asking me to get in the car before I relented. The emotional maturity at the time was probably the equivalent of a high school teenager. Then my thinking eventually settled and so did his. We got our perspectives back and could each see how ridiculous we had been.
All of this would have been avoided if one of us had recognized we were in a low mood and known not to take our thinking seriously. If we had seen this it would have been easier to disengage. That didn’t happen. And fortunately, no harm was done because when we eventually got our perspectives back, we were able to see that none of what was said between us was meant to be purposefully hurtful even though it wasn’t kind. We were each doing our best to be heard and understood, but we were doing it from a reactive state of mind. It was as though we were asking each other to be kind and understanding while we were jabbing each other with a hot poker.
I used to see Angus’ anger as malevolent, and this took a huge toll on goodwill in our relationship. I felt that his unkindness was a character flaw and impossible to live with, rather than seeing it as temporary. I didn’t recognize his behavior was simply the result of a passing low mood and not who he was. I didn’t see it as a reflection of his suffering and nothing to do with me. When I was finally able to see this, I went from taking his anger personally ALL of the time to only taking it personally some of the time when I was in a low mood too. This shift was enough to change our relationship from being extremely painful and difficult to easy and thriving.
It doesn’t take much for relationships to thrive because we are all innately loving. We are designed to love and to be loved. When we are not able to do that it is a reflection of our state of mind and not the state of the relationship. When we understand how people’s moods fluctuate, both our own and our partner’s, we get better at taking that into account so we don’t take ourselves or them personally when we are in a low mood. This makes it so much easier not to get caught up in communication escalation, and when you do, like Angus and I did a few weeks ago, when you come back to your senses, the goodwill returns, and there is no resentment. From a clear mind, you see the innocence in what happened.
After our argument, I was able to see that Angus and I were both in low moods. It didn’t matter what we said to each other during our temporary insanity. It didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t done on purpose. We were both doing the best that we could even though it wasn’t very good at that time. Seeing that there was nothing to fix and nothing to process, the resiliency and bounce back of the goodwill in our relationship was amazing. As soon as our minds switched, we were back to normal, and able to be lighthearted and see the humor in what happened.
This is not because we are special and have a unique relationship. It is because we eventually understand not to take each other’s low mood behavior personally and can see the innocence in each other even though we are human and lose our minds at times. It also means we lose our minds much less because we are on a learning curve of recognizing when we are in a low mood and when we can’t trust our thinking. The better we get at this the less we act out when we are in a low mood. Angus has even taken to saying humorously lately, “My low mood is strong right now.” He is giving me fair warning so that I can act accordingly, knowing he is not in a stable frame of mind. As the Pranskys said in their training, couples can work as a team to help each other not to be hurt by each other’s low moods.
What I love about this is that it is okay for me to have my crazy and still be in a loving, rich, intimate, kind relationship. I don’t have to be better than I am to be able to love and be loved. This is such a relief to know that even with my weaknesses, I don’t need to worry about them getting in the way of us being able to have a strong, resilient marriage. Understanding the role of moods and what they are has made all the difference in our relationship. And it is not about managing them. It is not about changing them. It is simply about seeing them for what they are. Recognizing they are not personal and any behavior that comes from a low mood is not a choice it is a reflection of suffering. It helps to get out of harm’s way so that more time can be spent enjoying each other and the relationship.
This means that relationships don’t actually require any work or maintenance. They naturally improve and deepen over time because that is the natural state of love. Love naturally grows and flourishes. It is directional and expansive. When the unloving times are seen for what they are as temporary aberrations that rectify themselves, it leaves more room for the love to grow. It is like having a beautiful garden that has times when it looks like it is overrun with vermin, but rather than trying to get rid of the vermin, you leave the garden alone and the vermin naturally disappear. The garden returns to its lush natural state. This happens because the vermin were never real in the first place. They simply look real when we are in a low mood.
Just like our partner looks unlovable when we are in a low mood, but all of a sudden looks lovable when we are in a good mood. As soon as we get perspective our judgments disappear and we see them more accurately. We see who they really are. I can go from seeing Angus as cruel and unkind to seeing him as overwhelmed and suffering. He can go from seeing me as mean and critical to recognizing I am caught up in worry and anxiety. All that is needed for this shift, is to see how people get caught up in low mood thoughts and behave accordingly. And even when you don’t see it at the time and may even experience a blowout like we did seeing it afterward is enough to get back on track with goodwill and not hold on to any resentments from the experience.
We are all innately designed to do well in relationships. Love is our natural state, and it is the natural state of all relationships. It is not something we need to learn or work on. Children know how to love. That is the easy part. The learning is understanding what gets in the way of our natural loving state. When we see that all that can ever get in the way is getting caught up in distorted thought, life gets so much simpler. Relationships become easy. And this ease helps us to keep our bearings. The simplicity of understanding that we will always come back to our natural state of love and that we are only ever temporarily separated from it by our own erroneous thoughts makes it harder for us to get gripped by our reactive thinking. We get wise to it and don’t buy into it as easily. Being on the learning curve of this is all that is needed to have a nicer and easier life and kinder and more loving relationships.
Rohini Ross is excited to present The Soul-Centered Series: Psychology, Spirituality, and the Teachings of Sydney Banks with the original students of Sydney Banks in Santa Monica, CA starting October 2018. She is passionate about helping people wake up to their true nature. She is a transformative coach and trainer, and author of Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1). She has an international coaching practice helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, watch her Vlogs with her husband, Angus Ross, and subscribe to her weekly blog on her website, rohiniross.com.