Monday, 19 September 2011

The simple clarity of metaphor

Tim Farron Photo: PA
Quote from Tim Farron, Lib Dem Party Leader at the annual party conference 2011, talking about his party's coalition with the Tories:

"If it's a marriage, well it's a good-natured one, but I'm afraid it's temporary. I don't want to upset you and it's not going to happen for three or four years, but I'm afraid divorce is inevitable."

Describing the coalition as a marriage, immediately creates a metaphor for that relationship, which we'll each embellish according to our own experiences. We can imagine the highs and lows: shared moments of understanding alongside the frustration and slow realisation that the underlying differences are too many and too great.

We cannot help but use metaphor in our everyday and in this case not so everyday language. There is a richness to a metaphor that conveys so much more than straightforward description. Like a picture that is worth a thousand words, a metaphor makes use of our shared understanding of many common objects and ideas.  In fact it's such a good way to explore what people really mean, we use it to help couples share a deeper understanding of what's important to them in their relationships. 

Let's explore Tim's metaphor in a bit more detail.

Wedding Rings by Petr Kratochvil
Is staying together for the sake of the children a bad thing? 
Tim Farron continued his metaphor by likening the coalition to a marriage where the husband and wife are only staying together for the sake of the children. Taking this rather more literally than he may have intended, we can ask ourselves: is this necessarily a bad thing? 

Our view is that marriage based on these pragmatic principles can work as long as both parties' goals remain broadly in line. In practice the emotional disconnection and lack of shared beliefs makes the relationship vulnerable - though not necessarily unworkable. You only need one party to hunger for something more and they will start looking elsewhere to have their needs met. 

Sadly, staying together for the kids doesn't always work as well for them as we'd like. Not only do they have a role model of a love-less marriage, they may also be aware that their parents are only staying together because of them and for some children this may be a burden in itself.

How do you make sure both parties' needs are met in marriage?
The first step is to understand your own needs and be clear about them. It is too much to expect that your partner will know automatically what you need or want from them. Having said that you cannot expect your partner to be the sole provider of your needs either. Sometimes we forget to take responsibility for meeting our own needs. Sadly we see too many people who have forgotten how to choose to be happy or fulfilled and choose instead to be disgruntled or dissatisfied. 

Being prepared to give and take is a good starting place, followed by clear communication to make sure you're giving what your partner wants and taking what they feel comfortable with giving.

Virginia Satir
Can relationships survive differences in ideals?

"We meet on  the basis of our sameness and grow on the basis of our difference"
Virginia Satir 20th Century Family Therapist in 'The New Peoplemaking'

When we first start a relationship we are often amazed by the similarities of our values and beliefs. Over time we come to realise there are subtle differences in how these ideals impact on our behaviour and our expexctations of how others should behave. 

We cannot expect to have exactly the same set of ideals as our partner - after all we are unique individuals. However, sharing an understanding about our own and our partner's  values and beliefs is constructive in creating a healthy dialogue about different issues as they arise. Being able to respect our differences and finding ways to 'agree to disagree' is key to nurturing a healthy relationship. Sounds easy put like that. Our view is this is one of the fundamental aspects of relationship that we must pay attention to. In practical terms it comes down to:
  • choosing what you really must challenge and what you can let go
  • respecting each other's ideals by listening to the point of truly understanding
  • accepting there are some subjects you will always differ on
Has this rung any bells for you?
Listen again as Lee Stone of BBC Radio Wiltshire interviews us on this very topic (19.09.11)

Get in touch - we use metaphor extensively in our practice to help explore deeper issues, differences in values, communication skills ....

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