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Focusing on common ground


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Charlotte Kamman is a life coach, working with divorced parents in new relationships. She coaches clients from over the whole world by phone, chat and e-mail. On her website she offers free advice and resources.

THIS MORNING I burned sandalwood incense in my little Buddha incense burner, which was a present from my hubby. In the background were sounds of a quiet morning like sheep bells, singing birds and a dog barking in the distance.

Have you ever looked, with all your attention, at incense burning? I looked at the curls of smoke, the ever changing patterns of the gray veil dancing through the room.

I couldn’t hold the beautiful patterns or keep them with me. I just watched and accepted whatever was coming. They came and went, and no two patterns were the same.

It is great to detach, to let go and just watch what happens at what comes and goes…

Last week my client, Judy, phoned me. She has problems with her 19-year-old stepson who lives with her and his father. Brad, let’s call him that, irritated the hell out of his stepmother.

She thinks he ought to take a course, find a job, earn money and be polite.

Understandably, I think most of us can relate to these wishes.

However, and I do realise I am throwing a rock in the pond here, the solution to her problem will never lie in changing Brad’s behaviour. (The solution to our problems NEVER lies in changing someone else’s behaviour.)

In any relationship, there is a ‘me’ and a ‘you’. ‘Me’ looks out at the world through ‘my’ eyes, and ‘you’ look at the same world through ‘your’ eyes. The world we see is never the same. If I ask you to think of a dog, you probably see a different dog than I do, and the same applies for other words like house or car, and love, anger, family life and happiness.

Let’s have a closer look at ‘happiness’. My ‘happiness’ consists of a whole set of smaller concepts, prerequisites, needs, wants and have-to’s. Your ‘happiness’ probably consists of a similar list with totally different content.

Let’s go back to Brad for a moment. What his stepmother never realised is that Brad’s idea of a happy family life is probably exactly what he is living now. Food, shelter, attention and clean clothes. What else could he want?

Stepmom’s ideas are a bit different – helping with the dishes, cleaning his room, being polite, friendly and helping his stepsisters with their homework. For her this is the minimum package of a happy family life.

Different eyes

So what happens when they are both unaware that the other person looks at the world with totally different eyes? They fight.

Stepmom thinks Brad is a bad example for her daughters, she thinks he is an egoistic, nasty, badly educated piece of work. Brad thinks that stepmom is picking on him, being extremely demanding and difficult.

They are probably both right. I told Judy that as she is the one asking for help, the responsibility to improve their relationship is now 100 per cent hers. As soon as we accept 100 per cent responsibility for any relationship, amazing things start to happen! I asked her to begin acknowledging that Brad’s view on the world is probably only remotely and vaguely like her view, and that it would be a good idea if she gives him a bit of space just to be himself. I didn’t say that she should put up with unacceptable behaviour, but at the moment they needed some common ground to stand on before they could start building a relationship that works.

She understood what I meant and told me that the common ground is there. She helps with his tax declaration, washes his clothes and occasionally gets the odd smile or friendly face. I asked her to only focus on these moments and see what would happen.

Yesterday, a week later, we talked. She was amazed. She had been watching Brad just as I had been watching the incense. No judgment, no ‘ought-to’s’, no irritation. She just watched what he was doing, how he behaved, what he did and how he interacted with his stepsisters. She was utterly amazed by the experience.

Firstly, she had never seen him as she did now. She had never given him the space to just be himself. When she realised this, she was a bit shocked by her own lack of comprehension.

Secondly, Brad began to change his behaviour after two days. He shyly looked for contact and even though not all interaction went smoothly and well, there was still much more interaction than she ever thought possible.

She did not say anything. She did not tell him about her coaching session with me, she was just distant in a pleasant way.

This week she will continue doing this and see how the relationship develops. Only if Brad accepts her as a friendly coach or mentor will she be able to help him reach out to worthy goals in life. Playing the disciplining stepmother has not brought good results until now, and probably never would.

Contact Charlotte on 962 344 843 or [email protected]