The Words of the Stephens Family

Teleclass Notes from John Williams: Power of One

Jim and Hiromi Stephens
June 2, 2007

Here are the notes from the Teleclass by John Williams last Thursday night. You can listen to the recording of the call which I just posted on the Internet. Click on this link:

But the notes are helpful all by themselves.

God bless,

Class Notes: Power of One

Close relationships are finely tuned "dances" where one influences the other in subtle ways, encouraging certain behavior while discouraging other behavior by one’s attitude and actions. The "cause" of a problem tends to be circular and hard to pin down.

Without being aware of it, partners often invite the other to respond in unwanted ways -­ even by the very actions they take to solve the problem. For example, the wife complains that her husband neglects to record every check, so she keeps an eye on it. Meanwhile, her husband doesn't worry about recording every check since he knows his wife will monitor it anyway.

Thus we can see how spouses tend to balance each other in how they respond, even pushing each other to extremes in the process. If one parent is strict with the children, the other will tend to be lenient. The stricter one parent is, the more lenient the other will feel compelled to be: "Someone has to show some compassion around here." Of course, the softer one parent is, the harder the other will feel they need to be: "Someone has to enforce discipline in this house!" Both could complain about the other, but who is causing the problem?

Rather than the problem being mainly with one partner or the other, the real issue lies in the dynamics of the relationship, the ways the partners interact with each other that brings out and maintains the problematic behavior. If one partner changes what they do, the dynamics shift and the other partner is likely to change what they do too. Even a small change breaks the pattern and invites the other partner to behave in a new way.

This means that one partner can change things by themselves. One spouse can make a big impact without gaining the cooperation of the other.

The challenge lies in doing things differently. We have to stop reacting to the problem in the same old ineffective ways and try something new -­ anything new.

Doing something different can mean doing the unexpected: Laughing or walking out of the room. It can mean doing the exact opposite: Requesting the unwanted action, or joining your mate in doing it. It can mean doing nothing: Deciding to ignore the issue in question.

This is not easy. We may believe the problem is solely with the mate and we can do nothing, though no one can be that independent. We may think we have already tried everything -­ though we may have only tried many variations of the same thing -­ and we believe nothing will make a difference. Or we refuse to accept that what should work does not work. In any case, we have little to lose and much to gain by experimenting with doing something different.

Doing Something Different and Monitoring Results

Do an experiment over at least a three day period. A week or more is better.

a) First, identify and describe a problem in your marriage that you would like to see improve.

Consider the problem with careful attention to the context and setting of the problem and your behavior leading up to it and your behavior involved in it. (Remember, other people are responding to what they see and hear, not to your intentions, thoughts or feelings, and vice versa.) To better describe your behavior and that of others involved, imagine what a videotape of the problematic situation would look like. What do you do or say and what do others do or say during the interaction?

b) Consider exceptions to the problem. Are there times when this problem doesn't occur? Identify the elements of any "problem free" times that may give you hints or insights about skills and behaviors that produce the desired results. Write down some of the details of these good times.

c) Consider what is at risk for you if you experiment with not doing what you normally do in response to this problem. What are you afraid might happen? Could you live with that possibility?

d) Make an action plan. Brainstorm and list 3-5 possible ways you could behave differently. Consider specific behaviors, and also your attitude and expectations.

e) Put into practice 1-2 of your own suggestions.

f) Monitor results carefully. Make brief journal entries for at least three days worth of effort. Be honest about your own fulfillment of your plan and notice ANY small changes or differences in your or another persons’ verbal response or behavior. Did any "positive change buttons" get pushed? Was progress achieved in any way?

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