Very often, in my work with couples, I notice that the core issue isn’t necessarily something a partner did or didn’t do to the other partner, but because one or both people are unaware of their own story. In this case, story means the preexisting set of beliefs that each partner brings into the relationship. Stories like, “everyone I love leaves me” or “unless I’m perfect and strong, no one will want me” or “vulnerability is a weakness.” When we are aware of the stories we tell ourselves, we can see clearly that what upsets us most is nothing more than a trigger of these limiting beliefs. When we are unaware, we project this story on to our partners and are uninterested in what’s factual because we are wrapped up in our own fiction.
An example of this is a woman who welcomes her husband home from work with dinner. While he’s happy to see her, he had a tough day, he is tired and is a little quiet. If her story is, “I need to keep everyone happy, or else they’ll leave me,” she will take her husband’s distance as a personal threat. She’ll keep quiet to avoid rocking the boat, but in her mind, she will be thinking, “nothing I do is enough for him. He doesn’t love me. We’re going to get a divorce,, and I’m going to end up alone.”
That’s a whole lot more than just a husband who had a hard day and is a bit quiet. To say nothing of the fact that his quietness had nothing to do with her to begin with! Now she’ll be feeling resentful, he’ll be able to feel her unhappiness, and suddenly her story will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. She will unconsciously spew her resentment and pain, which actually has nothing to with him, he’ll react from his frustration, and before you know it, one fight leads to the end of a marriage.
Becoming aware of our stories is where we have to begin. As Socrates said, “Know thyself.” True intimacy can’t happen until you know yourself — stories, beliefs, insecurities, and all — and when you do, you can truly know your partner too. It’s impossible to maintain an elevated consciousness in relation to another person until you have first delved into and learned to appreciate the essence of your own soul.
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” – Salman Rushdie
We’re all guilty of storytelling at one point or another because it gives us a sense of control. We create fictions instead of relating to facts so that we don’t have to confront difficult circumstances and emotions. For example, “my boss is a monster” is an easier explanation for why you dislike your job than actually sorting out an arrangement that would better meet your needs. Saying your marriage is over instead of paying attention to why your partner is distant is perhaps less worth than the alternative to learning what the actual problem is.
Once we realize we tell ourselves these stories, however, we are in such a better position to spot them and then to begin to sort fact from fiction. If we unthinkingly believe our story, we deceive ourselves. Hitler’s distorted belief in a pure gene pool began as nothing more than a story. It stands as a testament to the devastating and unthinkable consequences of some stories — and to their power.
The quickest way to spot whether or not you’re in a story is so simple, it might seem silly. But trust me; it’s not. When you find yourself reacting strongly to something, bring awareness to your thoughts. Do you hear something like, “nothing ever works out for me” or, “nothing I do is ever good enough?” If so, stop and ask “is this a fact?” Imagine a scientist is walking into your brain and identifying the thought based on history and evidence. This scientist would find that is impossible that nothing has ever worked out for you and would then give you a list of everything that has.
The scientist, again working solely off of the facts, would empirically find a statement like “nothing I do is ever good enough for him” to be overwhelmingly false. And would then present all of the times that your husband was appreciative of you and all that you do.
Spoiler alert: the moments in which we experience the most pain in our relationships are usually the ones that are fueled by a deep, core story. When we can focus on the facts in moments like these, we can see our stories with stark clarity, and almost instantly they begin to dissipate. They are no match for the light of our consciousness. Start to favor fact over your fiction and you’ll be opening up the channels of Light that have been suppressed by the false belief that you need to control everything. You’ll be free to love and be loved the way you’ve always wanted to be. And that’s a real love story.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Start small! When you find yourself feeling stressed or frustrated this week, fact-check your thoughts. What’s true? What’s not?