The Fitting Room of Relationships, part one

We dress differently, think differently, strive differently, each of us unique,

and yet uniquely connected to the entire human family.

The Skin We Are InIt’s easy sometimes to imagine that all of the other humans have the same experience of humanness that we do. Afterall, this is just “the way things are.” Unless we have a reason to, we often don’t consider that we have even made assumptions, much less that others might have different experiences and make different assumptions.

One of the pioneer Marriage and Family Therapists, Virginia Satir, used to use a technique in session that she called “Sculpting.” She would position people in the room to help them understand things from a different perspective. For example, she would put a parent who has been overpowering on the floor, and have the child stand on a step stool over the parent.

This helped both people sort of “try on” what their relationship might be like for the other person. They have a chance to understand the other person not just through their words and linear minds, but through their bodies, receiving information in the

other two brains
unhindered by cognitive assumptions.
The Fingers We Look ThroughWhen your fingers are right in front of your face, after a short while, you stop seeing them. You focus past them and it’s easy to forget they are there.

 Our life-filters are similar. We get so used to experiencing the world the way we do that we forget that our experiences are not universal.
It’s easy to try to understand people in our frame of reference without even noticing that we are making false assumptions about the other person because they don’t conform to what we are used to.

OMG! Where is your TOWEL?!?!?Consider these three scenarios:

  1. My parents were once guests at the wedding of Sierra Leonian friends. Knowing that the couple’s culture was “event-oriented” (as opposed to the “clock-orientation” my parents held,) they showed up about 20 minutes after the time stated on the invitation. The church was empty.

Had they missed the wedding? They found out later that the time on the invitation in that culture is the time you start thinking about thinking about maybe starting to get ready. It’s very inconsiderate to show up anywhere inside of two hours of the stated time because it leaves the hosts feeling as though they failed to properly care for their guests.

** Neither way of being is right. Neither way of being is wrong. But there is injury when one assumes that their way is the only way. **

  1. In my culture it is considered polite and professional to make eye contact and shake hands when you show up at a job interview. I had an interview at a nearby Kosher deli when I was a young teenager. When the two Orthodox brothers who interviewed me wouldn’t look me in the eye and uncomfortably wiped their hands on their trousers instead of shaking my hand, I felt shamed and defective.

I didn’t learn until afterward that in Orthodox Judaism, men don’t touch any women that are not their wife or close relative, out of respect for the sacredness of human skin to skin connection. Ironically, I initially took away the exact opposite message because of my own cultural filters.

** Neither way of being is right. Neither way of being is wrong. But there is injury when one assumes that

their way is the only way. **

  1. I used to go to a gym that had a steam room in the locker room. There was a cadre of older Korean women who would come in around 8p to get their downtime after watching their grandkids all day long. They would sit with the towels they were sitting on touching, totally nude, enthusiastically speaking to one another in Korean at a volume that others found uncomfortable.

One of the Korean women told me once that she thought the non-Korean women were uptight and judgy because they kept their towels tightly wrapped around them, saying nothing but glaring at the Korean women. The non-Korean women would complain outside of the steam room, (loudly,) that the Korean women were obnoxious, inconsiderate and maybe just a little bit kinky as they connected in ways that were (literally) foreign to the other women.

** Neither way of being is right. Neither way of being is wrong. But there is injury when one assumes that their way is the only way. **

MirroringOne way to step into someone else’s experience is a version of Dr. Satir’s “sculpting,” called “mirroring.” The majority of humans practice mirroring all the time and don’t even know it.

When I was in training as a therapist I was taught to mirror the client - matching the way the person was sitting, the volume and rate of their speech, their energy - in a non-patronizing way. This communicates to clients that you are actually tuning into them, (because you are.)

Mirroring builds rapport between people, because the person doing the mirroring most often starts to chemically fire in ways that approximate the way they imagine the other person feels in that moment.

Give It a Go...Right now, imagine that you are sitting across from someone who is holding their body very tightly with their faces tensely constricted. Now put your body and face in that same position. What are you feeling? That might or might not be what the other person is feeling.

Fact checking your assumptions

gives you a place to start to understand and connect with that person.

Next WeekNext Week, we are going to bring our old friends,

Rana and George, into the relationship fitting room to help them be heard, and to help them hear the other person in a way that will work much better for them both.

 We are going to creatively walk them through some scenarios to give them the data that’s been hard to see through the clutter of their anger and resentment toward one another.

In the meantime, your homework is to think of some ways you would help them. What are some ways you could use Mirroring or Sculpting in this situation? What might get in the way?

I’ll see you back here next week as we bring George and Rana into the Relationship Fitting Room!