Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Relationship Building

This is my sixth blog in a series on supporting a loved-one who is ensnared in a destructive life choice. Some of my direction and advice is geared specifically to those who are Jehovah's Witnesses, but I hope my information is generic enough to fit your situation.

Relationship Building is one of several strategies you can use to get through to your partner. With this strategy, you know you don’t like the way things are, but you have no idea how to approach your partner. Communication about spiritual and religious things just doesn’t happen. Communication can break down in regular marriages, say, during the child-raising years where couples are busy with domestics and work, and communication may deteriorate into a series of demands. “Did you take the garbage out?, Have you paid the utility bill yet?” Sometimes your partner will be closed-mouthed about his religious involvement, perhaps joining or rejoining behind your back. Or perhaps you are the one who has left the formerly destructive lifestyle and in alarm, your partner retreated further in.

Your first job is to bring the relationship back to a place where there is open, heart-to-heart communication, so that waking-up strategies will have some impact. You might need the help of a counselor to work out the communication barriers that are in your marriage.

Get one of Steve Hassan’s books, and learn to distinguish between the cult personality and the natural personality. Once you are alerted to the difference, the change is visible in your partner's stance and demeanor. Your goal is to keep the cultist calm and unthreatened, and the natural person revived and thinking. Give neutral responses to the cultist, and engaging questions to the natural person.

Complete the family member evaluation form offered on Steve Hassan's website. You don’t need to submit it or send any fees, but the exercise itself will give you insights into your partner.

Ask open-ended questions, asking your partner how she thinks or feels about something. Make sure it is not a yes/no type of question.

Get to know the extended family for clues on how your natural partner is used to relating. My husband was not raised as a witness, so it was a revelation to see how his family related to each other. I found out that Art was mercilessly teased by his brothers and sisters, and he likes it! That sort of gentle teasing is to him a sign of love and attention. I now use humor with him to pass on the real message, and to defuse tense situations. It's the fastest way I have to re-engage his natural personality.

I encouraged a young man facing rejection by his cultist parents to follow a similar strategy and ask his mother about her childhood. Before he started this exercise he was convinced his mother had no natural personality at all and was completely immersed in the cultist persona. While asking her about her difficult childhood, he found out that a non-cultist aunt had been an important influence in his mother's life. From that conversation he encouraged his mother to seek out that aunt and thank her for her efforts.

If your partner has been engaging behind your back, ask to sit in as long as the activity is not illegal or harmful. This might involve attending a sales presentation, a study session or a meeting.  Afterwards, if asked what it was like, start with neutral responses; you want your cultist calm. I think it is critical that couples come to a sense of unity and partnership. This can’t happen if your partner has this side-pocket of secrecy. As dreadful as it might be, insert yourself as an “interested observer”.  Even though it seems as if our loved-ones get drawn in to these situations by some sort of sinister influence, be assured that anyone with a healthy dose of skepticism can resist their charms.

Study the Ladder of Inference (link below) and learn to recognize when misunderstanding is climbing up the ladder. Use respectful inquiry to help your partner make their thought processes visible. Have they climbed the ladder? Use open and non-judgmental questions that do not exhibit any bias, to help you and your partner climb back down.

There are two principles of effective communication in Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Principle 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” People simply won’t listen if they don’t feel they have been heard. Reflect back to your partner, rephrasing what they have said, to show that you have been listening. When you have confirmed that you understand him and before he walks away, ask for a few more moments to talk about what you need. The fourth principle is “Win-win”. You have not reached perfect understanding until your needs are met too. Look for solutions that take care of both.


Family Member Evaluation Form - Freedom of Mind by Steve Hassan
books by Steve Hassan
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (book) by Stephen R Covey
Ladder of Inference by Chris Argyris
Five ways to listen better (video) by Julian Treasure

Topics Covered

Help, I am in love with a....
Decision - Leave or Stay
Decision - Pick Your Strategy
Domestic Detente
Waking Up Strategies
Relationship Building
Positive Influence
Negotiating With Hostiles