Manipulation gets a bad rap. In The Two Truths About Love: The Art & Wisdom of Extraordinary Relationships, as well as in my counseling sessions with clients, I explain how each and every one of us has 99% control of every relationship. Upon occasion, a client will remark, “Oh, but I don’t want to be thought of as controlling.” What a travesty! Such a person has yet to awaken to the limitless rewards that come from being manipulative. My goal, as a therapist, is to help people realize the essential role that skillful manipulation plays in our pursuit of success and happiness.
So many relationships suffer with trust issues. In fact, only the very most extraordinary relationships—relationships founded upon true harmony and intimacy—are exempt from patterns of dishonesty and mistrust. Sometimes it may be only small things that partners lie to one another about. For instance, you might casually ask your partner, “What are you doing?”, to which she replies, “Nothing” or “Responding to work emails”, when the truth is that she’s on Facebook, for the twentieth time today. Why the lie?
The issue of boundaries has long been a hot topic in the field of interpersonal psychology and, over the course of the past several decades, much has been written about this important subject. Questions about how to understand and define one’s personal limitations and to communicate these effectively to others so that these are respected and honored are valuable ones to answer. As such, the idea I am going to share in this article is not intended to completely contradict or undermine notions of “healthy boundaries”, but rather to develop this concept one step farther—toward the place where even “healthy boundaries” can be replaced with something, well, even more extraordinary.
All we do is fight—Our communication skills stink—We’ve stopped thinking about us—We can’t seem to get along—We don’t agree about anything—We’re just mean to each other—We’ve grown apart—We’re at an impasse—We need help.
I hear pronouncements like these frequently when couples first come to see me for counseling. Since both individuals are experiencing the same (or similar) strains in the relationship, it is natural for couples to perceive the “problem” as something that is “ours”, a “we-issue”. Whenever I hear partners speak of their relationship in this way—in terms of we—I learn precisely where to first direct my attention: on helping each person begin to think less in terms of “we” and more in terms of “me”. If this sounds selfish, callous or somehow unromantic, please let me explain.
Most of us want to be close to others, to share deep connections built on trust and love and affection. We want relationships in which we can open our heart fully, knowing that another person will not stomp all over it when we do. We want to be vulnerable, knowing that intimacy requires it, yet we do not want to get hurt. We want two things really, intimacy and safety. Luckily, these goals are not mutually exclusive. We can, indeed, have both, once we answer the question, “How can I protect myself and build intimacy at the same time?”
Imagine that you have this great idea for a party. You plan the most resplendent décor and exquisite cuisine, lavish flower arrangements, and only the best in lighting and live music. You’ve diligently prepared every detail. Unfortunately, your party isn’t going to be much fun if you skip one essential step: sending out your invitations.
When people tell me that they no longer have a relationship with someone, I know this is untrue. No matter how great the gap that divides two people, no matter how vitriolic or rare their interactions, even if these interactions are basically non-existent, the truth is that the relationship persists. It may not be a great relationship or be particularly rewarding for either member, but it continues to be there, if only barely, nonetheless.