Friday, October 5, 2007

Maintain Your Shape

This is a helpful concept I got from the work of David Schnarch's "Passionate Marriage" writings.

The concept of "maintaining your shape" is the ability to provide to your partner some consistency of attitude and behavior in your relationship. All too often we "change our shape" with our partner, at times acting like some big emotional giant while at other times acting like a little tiny child. When one person goes from 2 feet small to 10 feet tall and back again it's hard for the other person to find much stability to work with.

It's like the difference between practicing a tennis swing by hitting the ball against a smooth wall versus a rocky one. A ball that you hit against an uneven surface is likely to wind up anywhere, making it impossible for you to learn anything about your swing. If your reactions to your partner are as inconsistent as that rough wall, how can your partner learn anything about their delivery in the face of such an erratic response? When we are consistent with our own selves, then what works today will work tomorrow, and what didn't work yesterday won't work today. That kind of stability of response allows for healthy patterns to emerge in the relationship.

So try to be consistent. This doesn't mean you need to be boring and to always do the same thing the same way you've always done. Keep the relationship vibrant and growing but strive to do so in such a way that there is some fundamental uniformity in how you react. This kind of functional stability helps both partners learn the most from each other and achieve gropwth that is affirming rather than threatening.

Years ago there was a similar concept in a field called Transactional Analysis. The theory was that we each have a "parent", "child" and "adult" part of our personality. Problems occur when, for instance, one person acts like a "parent" and the other responds as a "child", or both turn into mutually "critical parents" or both start acting like children with each other. The goal in TA is for each person to stay in the "adult" mode, regardless of what the other person does. This is a similar idea to Schnarch's concept of "maintaining your shape."
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