This is article 3 of 3. In the first article I introduced the concept of key decisions, which are decisions made early in life that have influenced how you have lived and loved. In article two, I explained how to identify key decisions you made that may be holding you back and hurting your marriage and other relationships. Once you understand key decisions and have identified those that are particular to you, how do you free yourself from their power over you? The following seven step process is designed to help you name your key decisions and learn to let them go and move forward in a more conscious way.
Go back through your autobiography and reflect on your childhood. Think about these questions:
• What kind of relationship did you have with your parents?
• What experiences had a profound impact on you?
• What did you learn from these experiences?
• How did you cope when things were difficult?
Identify key decisions you think you made. Think about these questions:
• What key decision or decisions did you make, consciously or not? For example, you may have decided it is not safe to trust anyone so you decided to only really trust yourself. Or you may have decided that the only way you matter is if you are achieving something and you therefore strive to always be the top of the class.
• When did you make your key decision?
• Why did you make it?
Connect to the consequences of the Key Decision. Every decision carries consequences beyond the immediate situation and may affect other decisions and other people in your life. Think about these questions:
• How does or did the key decision serve you? Any time you repeat a behavior, it is because you are gaining something from it.
• What does it accomplish?
• What are the side effects or unintended consequences?
Commit to change. If a key decision is not serving you well then you can decide that enough is enough. An obsolete decision no longer needs to keep you from loving and living to your fullest. Think about these questions:
• What key decision am I ready to change?
• What more useful decision can I make now?
• What do I think will happen if I let go of an old key decision?
Build up emotional resources. Changing habitual ways of thinking and behaving can be difficult so be patient and persistent. It takes more than insight to change habits. You must also teach your emotional self that it is okay to change and you learn emotionally through experiences. Here are some ways to build up your ability to develop new habits:
• Do one small thing that contradicts the key decision from the past. Do something that is opposite of how you normally react.
• Emphasize the ways you have succeeded in life. Don't dwell on guilt or regret.
• Recognize how the key decision has served you as well as held you back.
• When you made your key decision, what other alternatives did you give up?
• What adjustments can you make that maintain the benefits but also allow you to experience the things you have sacrificed?
Strategize ways to reclaim your identity. Sometimes when you make a key decision you give up or disconnect from a part of yourself. Now you can make a plan to be a more authentic version of yourself. For example:
• If you long ago decided you need to be quiet and compliant, you may now decide you want to be strong and decisive.
• If you decided long ago to never show your feelings, you may now decide it is okay to sometimes share your sadness and fear.
• Think about ways you can reclaim long-lost possibilities you sacrificed in order to be accepted
• You are not your experiences, your thoughts, or your feelings. There is an authentic you inside who is separate from these things.
• Step into the place of the authentic self who observes all these things. Notice yourself becoming aware of yourself.
Take specific action and visualize the benefits.
You can decide when, where, and how you want to change your thoughts, feelings, and habits. Reinforce your efforts by visualizing the benefits of being your authentic self. Here are examples of actions you may take:
• Apologize for the way your key decision has hurt others.
• Mentally rehearse your new decision and new way of being.
• If you have trouble understanding what you feel, use your physiology to find your emotion. What can you do physically to find your emotion (e.g. stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and feel powerful)?
• Ask for support and feedback from your partner and other people you trust.
• Practice new behaviors until they feel normal.
As noted in the previous articles, the couple I am working with made the commitment to understand their key decisions and take the risk of working on change. The husband is learning to show up differently and listen to his wife's concerns. He is struggling to honor her needs and balance that with pursuing the goals that are important to him. The wife is learning to accept herself as she is and affirm herself from the inside. By doing this she is putting less pressure on her husband to take care of her, and she is finding her emotional strength. This allows her to be more present to her husband also and find ways to support his goals as well as her own. They still have much to learn but working through their key decisions has put them on the path to the marriage they both hope for.
For more information, please refer to my book, Date Night Conversations.
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