As a divorce lawyer, I see people after they have had a significant breakdown in one or more of the delicate areas of physical intimacy, money, and/ or how to spend the rest of their days together. Sometimes both people have decided that they want out. Sometimes one or both do not want to get divorced.
Years ago, I started offering Transformative Mediation to help people re-connect and try to save their marriage. One of the exercises is called “ABC” which I’ve expanded to “Ask. Be. Choose.” It begins with a heartfelt “ask” and progresses from there. Some people need help to identify what they need. Some people need to look at each person’s willingness to provide what the other asks for. This sort of communication is imperative for a couple to feel close and connected.
The ABC Exercise
Here is the exercise…
1- Ask. Beginning with yourself, look at a particular “thing” that you want in your relationship and decide: Is it a need? Is it essential to your life? Or is it something that would be nice to have? This step goes deep. We aren’t talking about “I need a new car.” It’s more about core needs – “I need security.” “I need to be held.” If it is truly essential to your ability to live a happy, healthy, whole, self-expressed life, what are the different ways that the need could be met? If you’d like your partner to provide it – ask.
When you ask, pay attention to how attached you are to the outcome. Can you ask without creating consequences if your partner says, “No?” Manipulation occurs when a person asks for something with an underhanded carrot or stick. This is not a genuine request. When you give the other person space to answer freely and authentically, you allow for what you really want – an adult, mutually beneficial relationship.
2- Be. To allow the person the space to answer, you need to simply “Be” in the space. This can be a difficult step. Both people can get clear in that space.
Now here are the instructions for your partner (the person who receives the request): Pay attention to your body. How does the request land with you? Is it an easy “yes” or a difficult “no”? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction? Can you breathe into the request? If you can’t figure out your answer, ask for time to respond.
3- Choose. Finally, after sitting with the request, give your answer. And continue the conversation. Perhaps you can say “yes” to a modified request. It’s all about keeping the lines of communication open and being true to yourself. Pay attention to the degree to which each of you is attached to having a particular outcome. You see – we all have different ways to get our needs met. To expect one person to provide it all is unrealistic and likely to undermine a person’s happiness. If your partner can’t give it freely, maybe you can get it somewhere else.
Modifying the Exercise
You can modify the exercise by having each partner develop and prioritize a list of needs and desires. Then, trade the lists and give each other time to digest. Ultimately, the goal is for you to look at your partner’s list and, from the depths of your soul, offer those things that you truly want to give. Then, when you choose to give those things, do it freely – without the requirement that they give you something in return. This brings true joy.
Check out the cards offered by The Empathy Set. The cards can be used as part of the Ask step in the exercise above.
The ABC exercise is also part of our Intentional Relationship Design Process for couples who are in committed relationship and exploring what it could look like to “level up.” Read more about Intentional Relationship Design, as well as Transformative Mediation, our process for married couples, here.
To schedule a free 15-minute phone consult to learn more, please contact us.