Sunday, October 28, 2012

Would you steal if you wouldn't get caught?

Vandana reads all my posts. In my previous post Giving up Tennis, the last line went
"Has Vandana stopped playing Tennis. I don't even think of it. If you start wondering and thinking about it, you have started playing Tennis again. I want to give up and that is what I am focusing on."

She said it sounded holier than thou. So let me explain what I meant.

I have a strange quirk. I don't like my socks washed in a washing machine, I like them washed by hand. When Vandana and I were playing Tennis, she told me that if I wanted them washed by hand I would have to wash them myself. I used to do that for a long time. My work involves long hours and travel and sometime I would end up not washing socks for a while. After we started playing the Madison instead of Tennis, Vandana saw me struggling and helped me wash the socks by hand. It took a load of my hands and I felt very happy and grateful for this help.

Over time as I started playing the Madison instead of Tennis, Vandana also changed her behavior and started playing the Madison instead of Tennis. Occasionally both of us backslide :-) . 80% of the time both of us are playing the Madison.

The key point is that I stopped basing my behavior on hers. My behavior was not "conditional". I was focusing on playing the Madison without constantly making comparisons. I was not counting the number of times she did not play the Madison. That is a major change that happened inside my brain.

Behavior has many drivers. Mostly we let circumstance drive our behavior. This is "impulsive" behavior. If circumstances put us in a position where we can steal without getting caught, and we steal, we are being impulsive. When we are able to control our impulses, we let our ingrained values drive our behavior. That is "value" driven behavior. We don't steal because our values don't allow us to do that.

I worked very hard to make playing the Madison part of my ingrained values. So when circumstance come up, I don't give in to impulse and start playing Tennis, I control my impulses and see how I can play the Madison instead, because that is part of my values.

How do you go about making something an ingrained value. Hmm, that is definitely another post.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Giving up Tennis

In my previous post I was discussed how most people treat their marriage as a Tennis game.

In Relationship Tennis you are trying to dominate your spouse and get them to behave as per your concept of the perfect spouse. If you are uncomfortable or unhappy in your relationship with your spouse, the first and most important step is to stop playing Relationship Tennis. Not easy. This post is about how you can stop playing Relationship Tennis.

As I discussed in depth in my post Accepting your Wife in Marriage I decided that I want to improve my relationship with Vandana. When I talked to her about it, she thought it was one more strategy I was using in my Relationship Tennis. When I asked her what would convince her that I was serious, she threw me a challenge. The challenge was very simple, she said, "You never make the bed, for the next one year make the bed everyday and I might be willing to believe you." So the first step on the journey was that for one year I made the bed everyday.

"Learning has not happened till behavior has changed" - Pikes Fourth Law. This is the critical point to remember, if you want to prove to your spouse that you have learnt something or believe in something. Stop talking to them about it, change your behavior, it is the most convincing argument possible. By making the bed everyday for one year - (and I continue to make the bed :-) ), I convinced Vandana I wanted to change.

What are the behaviors you have to change to stop playing relationship Tennis? Silence and Violence - The forehand and backhand of relationship Tennis.
Silence - a sulky and angry silence with furrowed brow, avoiding eye contact.
Violence - Physical, mental or emotional. Putting down ideas and goals, by treating them as childish or silly. Trying to hurt the ego.

Whenever you find yourself doing either of these, you are back to playing relationship Tennis. It is very difficult to put the racket down and refuse to hit the ball when the other person keeps serving the ball and screaming "Ace". But you need to focus on your goal of not playing Relationship Tennis.

Vandana decided that she would improve her spiritual knowledge by attending religious discourses. When I was still playing Tennis I used to sneer at this. Argue fiercely about how this was stupid and foolish. When I started playing the Madison instead of Tennis, I simply accept it as one of the goals and see how to help her achieve it.

Vandana wanted to take ten days off and go along with her parents to Haridwar to listen to some discourses. She is the primary care-giver for my parents who live with us. Instead of looking for reasons why it was impossible for her to go, I worked with her to see how she could go.

Relationship Tennis is bit like smoking. It is very hard to give up. I have managed to give up both. Occassionally I backslide in both :-)

Has Vandana stopped playing Tennis. I don't even think of it. If you start wondering and thinking about it, you have started playing Tennis again. I want to give up and that is what I am focusing on.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Madison Marriage

There is this strange Olympic event called a Madison. It is a grueling cycling event of 200 laps (50 kms). The rules are complicated. It is a relay race with two people and either one of them has to be in the race at all times. They hand over to each other by touching or slingshotting the other person. You gain points by winning sprints that occur at various fixed laps in the race.

Compare that to a tennis match. You are trying to put the ball back in your opponents court.

For most couples, marriage is a tennis match. You try to dominate the other person and make them conform to your idea of the perfect spouse. I want my marriage to be a Madison Marriage where Vandana and I are helping each other reach our goals.

When and where did I get this ambition? One day it struck me that I wanted to enjoy coming home, not come back to snide remarks and cutting silences, regardless of whose fault it was.

Most of us take our work so seriously and spend a lot of time and energy at becoming better. I decided to put in as much effort in being a better spouse. An Effective Spouse.

Most days my marriage does feel like a Madison Marriage. I remind myself it is a journey not a destination.

Did you watch the race from the 2008 Olympics. (Unfortunately the Madison was not part of the the 2012 Olympics.) What I find astonishing is that the champions are a pair whose ages are 43 and 33. An Olympic race of endurance, strength and speed and the winner is 43 years old.

 Age and maturity help in a Madison.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Memory is not a rewind button

In my previous post I talked about how we suffocate our spouses by making every request and rejection, an emotional moment. You give space with "Ask lightly, Answer lightly, Accept lightly." Let us understand this a little better.

Unless you are extra-ordinary and have a photographic memory, you don't remember anything that happened more than 5 minutes back - perfectly. Your memory is not like a video tape that you rewind and replay.

Kim's Game is a very simple game. Ask somebody to place twenty random objects on a tray and cover it with a cloth. Make them uncover the items in front of you for 15 seconds. See how many objects you can recollect. Few people are able to remember more than 5 or 6 items.

So what exactly do we remember. Our brain tends to remember moments when we are feeling strong emotions. Moments when we were afraid, angry, guilty happy. (Our brain tends to remember "negative" emotions more easily). It remembers the emotions not what was actually said. Think back about an incident when you were very angry with your spouse. You probably remember the emotions sharply, but will not remember the actual words used during the discussion.

This is the way our brain works. When we are first married or early in the relationship we agree with our spouse. We tend to feel and remember positive emotions. As I discussed in Accepting your wife in Marriage, no two people are alike. This means that sooner or later, we try to get our spouse to behave the way we think is "right". And if our spouse refuses to accept or agree, we feel angry. If our spouse asks us to do something we agree angrily or refuse guiltily. Refusals makes our blood boil. So pretty soon the only things we remember about our spouse are negative emotions.

If you make a request and if a refusal will upset you, you are constraining the other person. Make your request with an open mind willing to accept an honest answer. You will create space for the other person.

When the other person makes a request, reply honestly. Sometimes we suppress our genuine feeling and make a reply that we hope will make our spouse happy. However, we feel constrained and unhappy. This unhappiness is what we will remember. If we express our innermost feelings and encourage our spouse to express their honest opinions we give each other freedom.

Accept the answer lightly, a "no" is not a betrayal. If the matter is important for you, share the reasons. If you feel angry about the no, you are simply creating a pile of unhappy memories about your spouse.

Read and Re-Read the Nambudiri Funda, it has many important lessons.

Does this mean that we behave as if we are not married. No, but that is a discussion for another post.