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January 2012: Top Transformational Relationship Practice #1: “Separate phenomena from story”

It’s a new year and a great time to reflect on and recommit to our relationships. In looking at the practices on this blog, I pulled out what I consider to be the top 3 transformational relationship practices and have refreshed them by adding exercises to help deepen their application in your life. Enjoy!

Our capacity to separate phenomena from story is likely the singular most important relationship skill to master and the one which requires the most practice. In order to be able to separate phenomena (what actually happens that is observable through the senses) from our story (or interpretation) about it, one needs to hit the ‘pause button,’ and actually observe what is going on…what was actually said, what behavior occurred, etc.? In the presence of this, what meaning do we make of these words, actions, and behaviors? How do we know that this interpretation is the “truth?” Most of us live as if our stories are true and the consequence of this is much unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for our relationships. In order to stop this pattern and create harmony in our lives and in our relationships, we need to separate phenomena and story and become an observer of phenomena.

See the attached worksheet on this topic. In the next month, become an observer of yourself and your reactions to people. Notice what phenomena shows up in your daily interactions (e.g., as you’re driving, talking with your co-workers, at home with your family) and the stories you make up. When you notice yourself creating a story, regardless of what it is, stop and hit the ‘pause button’ and then go back to observing phenomena. What else could be true? Are you aware you’re making up a story? How does the quality of your relationships change as a result of this practice?

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