The Hard And Soft Landscapes
Why the truth always sets us free… even if it does piss us off first!
Relationships cause us such turmoil and heartache. Yet much of what we agonise over… ‘If only I hadn’t said that’… is irrelevant.
In relationships, the truth of the matter is that, whether the relationship will last or not is often already set even before the couple meet.
When you first meet someone you and they tend to show the best sides of yourself.
You’re self conscious about what they think of you and so you manage what they get to see of you.
Equally, you don’t share everything that makes you who you are and your expectations for the future. “Yes, I’m afraid of intimacy because my Dad used to shout when I wanted him to hug me and I’m expecting lots of attention to make me feel safe”.
Oversharing on a first date makes you seem like a weirdo. That’s just not a natural way of relating.
A first date is about skimming the blurb of the book to see if you want to read it word for word later.
The deeper into a relationship, the more you invest of your attention and the more that you discover about the other person.
Some books look amazing when you read the blurb and disappoint you when you read more. Some you’re not sure about until chapter 5 really hits home for you.
Some are life changing on first read, but you reread it ten years later and think was that all it was?
In the same way, the attractiveness and suitability of the people that you meet are partly dependent on your circumstances.
You may meet someone who promises to be everything you dreamed of, but you later realise all there is, is a glitzy cover and unsubstantiated claims.
Equally, there might be another who seems to dull to look into any further and you discard.
Yet 5 years later when you’re in a different context or stage of life, you realise this is the book – or lover – you need.
The future is being created by what people want, intend and do now. The only way to know what someone really is, what really matters to them and what they really believe, is by observing what they do.
Millions of books are sold on productivity and motivation because we lie to ourselves. Because we mix up what we want to do with what we are going to do.
There is always a gap between what we know and what we do. People rarely know themselves. They do what they feel they should do. They act in a way that others influence them into acting. They act in the way that is most comfortable.
And so they talk about doing all kinds of things. They even mean it when they say it. But talk is cheap and actions are what show the emotional and psychological makeup of a person. People rarely change. And so there is so much between an idea and making it happen that we do so much less than we talk about doing.
Fear gets in the way. Changing priorities. Lack of discipline, know how or capability gets in the way. All of these things mean that much of what we say we’ll do, never sees the light of day.
What determines the health and sustainability of a relationship are the structural elements of the people involved.
- The personality and temperamental traits.
- Emotional climate
- The cultural and personal experiences.
- The goals and intentions of where they want to be
- The beliefs and expectations
- The style of relating
It is in the degree to which the mix of these combines that we call compatibility. These are the factors that really determine how a relationship will play out.
Yet people dating have their shopping lists of the traits that they are looking for and believe they can filter and find the one from reading the blurb.
Then six months, or a year, or five years in, they realise that even though he ticked all the boxes, he really wasn’t the one for her. Or he disappears and she is shocked and can’t understand what happened when it seemed so out of character.
I believe the solution is always in getting to the truth.
We don’t need certain techniques or tactics to achieve whatever it is we want. Much of what is sold tells people that they need these techniques to pick up the girl. The girl has to follow ‘The Rules’ to snare the guy. Want to save your marriage? Then you must follow this exact plan! Pay me £X and I’ll reveal the steps.
Some of these do work.
But what happens when you’ve got the girl, snared the guy and saved your marriage?
The girl finds the guy she fell for was a charade. The guy she snared feels trapped and flees. The marriage still has the same problems that caused the initial break up. And now they’re all back to where they were.
Techniques and strategies are temporary fixes. What matters and changes people and situations is when people change their philosophy.
The Soft landscape
Our senses take in data. What we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
Yet we are not robots, facts mean little to us without a context. We are human and life only makes sense told as a story. And so what we do is make a story from everything we take in.
The data we take in provides the basic elements of our narrative. The data is the same for us all. Though we interpret the data in very different ways depending on our emotions and the context of our situation. And our internal narrative is so powerful that we actually can at times change the data to fit with the story we tell ourselves.
All of us are making up a story all the time. We make the story that fits our beliefs and expectations.
So when we meet someone new it’s usually on from a place of hoping, consciously or not, that they’ll fit our dreams. Now our dreams go further back into our childhood where all those Disney films and the stories our parents told us build an entire landscape that relationships fit into.
For example, most of us have grown up in the western world. And so we’ve grown up within the Christian framework. We’ve grown up in an age where we expect the man to be the dashing Prince and the woman to be the blushing Princess. Our soft landscape has layers upon layers of programming in it. This is why things like racism and homophobia take years for people to change how they feel.
And so relationships are two people operating from two different narratives each wanting the other to fulfil their needs.
This is the basis of the Unconscious Contract. The unstated needs each expected to get met from the relationship, but never explicitly asked for.
So both partners are discussing on the surface their relationship, but underlying that are unstated (and possibly even unconscious) expectations that cause each to get frustrated with the other.
Then they don’t understand why the other person is reacting as emotionally, because didn’t they ‘say’ X. Yet underneath the explicit discussion is an entire other world of expectations and wants that have never been brought out in the open. Maybe not even to the awareness of the person silently asking for what they need.
And so they get frustrated, scared and disappointed believing the other person doesn’t care about their needs. All because they got what they asked for and not what they (unconsciously) wanted.
The soft landscape is filled with flawed assumptions and misinterpretations. When a middle aged man has a midlife crisis and blows his money on sports cars and young girls it’s not because he needs these, but because the story he is narrating tells him he needs these to cover up the fact he’s afraid of being past it.
When someone obsessively needs branded clothing and flash cars and big houses it isn’t because they need and love the things, but because they make them feel important or they assuage their fear that they’ll end up poor and destitute or some similar misguided fear.
I know that most of what I believe is mistaken. It’s the false beliefs and assumptions we operate on, that trip us up. It’s these that cause most of the conflicts and problems we encounter.
There are conflicts from factors in the hard landscape too. For example, someone may want children, while the other doesn’t. If this issue is really important to them it may be a relationship breaker. There are equally other more subtle issues that we may not think about discussing, but both sides feel strongly enough about that it could be a dealbreaker.
The Truth Sets You Free... And solves all conflict
So the best strategy is always to get to the truth of the situation. Nothing in the soft landscape is a sound basis to work from and if a relationship conflict is in the hard landscape then we have to work out if we are willing to resolve it or if it means that the relationship is over.
It is never nice to know that a relationship is over, but if the conflict is fundamentally irresolvable then the relationship is over anyway. You just haven’t admitted it to each other.
This then drags out some protracted relationship drama that makes you both bitter at each other and turns two people that basically like each other, but can’t continue romantically for a particular reason, into enemies.
Isn’t it better to get to the root of the issue quicker and discuss it amicably without having gone through the narrative that your partner is £$*&& and just doesn’t care about you?
There are conflicts that come down to a fundamental difference in how we are as people. These can be resolved by recognising and appreciating that fact and respecting our differences.
Then there are conflicts that are based on false narratives. For example, if one partner is irrationally jealous because of past experiences, there isn’t a simple resolution to that problem. That is a part of their narrative that is causing them to feel insecure. That isn’t a relationship problem, that’s a problem in the individual’s emotional foundations.
To resolve a problem you have to get to the truth of it. When you get to the truth, it’s either a misunderstanding, something to negotiate, an emotional vulnerability or it’s fundamentally irresolvable and it’s best you work out your differences and move on.