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  • Writer's pictureNichole Hart

Exploring versus Explaining

“Your relationship is an adventure to be explored, not a problem to be solved.” Hedy Schleifer

The language we use within ourselves and within our relationship matters!

Language creates the framework for our experiences.

I learned about the concept, “explore versus explain” through training in Systems Centered Theory. The premise of the theory is:

Living human systems survive, develop, and transform from simple to complex through a developing ability to recognize differences and integrate them.”

Living through a System’s Centered lense quite literally means we see all of life as a living system. Our self / body is composed of systems. The relationships we have with others are small systems. Our communities are larger systems, and on up to the planet we all inhabit. We are all connected.

The idea that we are all connected has perhaps never been more apparent. Definitely not in my lifetime, and I’m imagining not in yours, have we seen something that has so galvanized the attention, energy, and concern of the entire world.

A lot of people are making such a significant and concrete difference - healthcare workers, grocery store employees, farmers and ranchers, truck drivers, researchers, to name a few. If you are on the front lines - Thank You. Know that there are those of us who see you and appreciate your dedication, risk, and commitment to service.

For those of us not in the thick of the activity, the question, “How can I make a difference?” is likely present. As a couple’s therapist, I’d like to propose that you can make a difference by tending to your immediate systems: yourself and your relationship.

You can best tend to yourself and your relationships by focusing on small, doable actions.

In my work with couples and individuals, a clear theme has emerged: Small changes make a big difference. Focusing on this, and bringing it into work with clients in more concrete ways, I’m convinced more than ever of the validity of this approach.

I see very significant shifts happening as a result of people maintaining consistency with small changes.

On a personal note, and as one who has a tendency to at times alternate between, “go big,” and, “become paralyzed,” the small, doable changes have been a welcome shift.

With all this in mind, I introduce here a small, but doable action you can take: pay attention to the language you use.

The language we use within ourselves and within our relationship matters!

Language frames our internal experience, and it frames the quality of our interactions with one another.

For those of you in long-term, committed relationships, you already know that your relationship requires work, attention, and ongoing maintenance. And, you know that in the best of circumstances, this gets challenging at times.

When you add in a global pandemic and sheltering in place together for days on end, most couples and families have suddenly been thrust into a completely new way of living together. It is jarring.

We’re learning a lot right now, about ourselves and one another.

I hope the small, doable shift I propose here will help you connect with a bit of grace and generosity. This is something positive you can bring into your system.

The change I propose is this: experiment with shifting your energy and attention away from explaining and into exploring.

With this change, you will create a difference in your immediate environment. Also, as you take a moment to stop and really think about the interconnectedness of life, it will make sense that these changes in your immediate environment reverberate out into our larger communities.

With this in mind, let’s start with the experiment.

Think about a challenging issue you’ve had recently with your partner. Then, say the following phrases aloud a few times.

  • I want to explore this with you.

  • I want to explain this to you.

Let’s dig into what you notice. You’ll pay attention to specific areas within yourself, and then I’ll share some things I’ve learned in doing this experiment.

When you say the different sentences above...

What do you notice within yourself? ...especially notice sensations in your body here.

How would you describe the general tone in your body?

Notice how you feel (emotions you experience) when you say the sentences.

What do you notice about your voice as you say them?

What happens in your throat?

What happens in your heart?

What I’ve learned:

What do you notice within yourself? ...especially notice sensations in your body here.

  • Exploring brings a quality of lightness. Explaining brings a quality of constriction and tightness.

How would you describe the general tone in your body?

  • Exploring has an open tone. Explaining has a forceful, demanding tone.

Notice how you feel when you say the sentences.

  • Exploring draws one toward / into feelings of interest and curiosity. Explaining stems from and solidifies feelings of frustration, anger, and/or exasperation.

What do you notice about your voice as you say them?

  • The voice feels more fluid with exploring. There is a quality of sharpness in the voice surrounding explaining.

Pay attention to what happens in your throat.

  • The “exploring” sentence feels more open and higher in the throat. The “explaining” sentence feels somewhat constricted and comes from a deeper place in the throat.

What happens in your heart?

  • Exploring helps the heart to feel spacious. Explaining leads the heart to feel guarded.

Are you surprised at just how much you notice when you really pay attention?

The language we use within ourselves and within our relationship matters!

Language draws our attention, affects our energy, shapes our perceptions, and sets the tone for interactions we will have.

Each of us has a natural born explorer within. For some this desire to explore is stronger than others, but it’s there for all of us.

At times this urge is drawn more outwardly in a desire to explore the physical world, while for others the urge is drawn more inwardly in a desire to explore the inner world.

Maybe you feel you’ve lost touch with this part of you, this energy? It could be that you’ve gone through experiences in life that created a block from this natural part of you. Perhaps things have happened in your relationship that drowned out this energy?

It’s true our fundamental drive is to survive, and our internal systems function first and foremost to ensure our life. It’s also true that our spirit yearns for more than survival.

Systems Centered Theory suggests the following: We are naturally drawn toward ongoing development and transformation. We are never static. We can do small things to support this natural drive, and thus function at our best.

Intentionally accessing the energy of exploration draws us naturally forward, into something new, unknown. We start with the recognition that we don’t know. We bring an interest to learn.

Being sheltered in place together undoubtedly brings added pressure into your relationship. The differences between you and your partner will pull a lot of your attention, and you will feel frustrated and exasperated. This is normal. It’s important to do what you can to create some energy flow in the other direction...doing what you can to keep appreciation in the system.

If Systems Centered Theory holds true, and I believe it does, it is as we learn to integrate differences in a workable way that we truly develop and transform.

Stay the course!

The language we use within ourselves and within our relationship matters!

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

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