Introducing OCEAN as a way of learning the skills of swimming through life:
O = Own the problem;
C = Change unhelpful thinking;
E = Express the problem;
A = Ask for help assertively; and
N = Negotiate
Now let’s learn OCEAN swimming skills, taking one step at a time.
Own the problem is the most important step. If you have not owned the problem, there is not much hope of a satisfying resolution.
Change unhelpful thinking – many of your distressing feelings can be put down to the unhelpful way you think at times. Challenging your thoughts prevents incorrect interpretations and helps bringing new thoughts that lead to new feelings and behaviour.
Express the problem – without assuming that the other person is responsible for your happiness, and without assuming that their behaviour means they do not love you, the expression will be far less of an attack.
(The importance of listening – there is no point in owning the problem, and then learning to express yourself well, if your partner is not prepared to listen to you. If your partner refuses to ever listen, then the problems go beyond communication difficulties.)
Ask for help assertively – this seems to be one of the hardest things for a lot of people. “No doubt you would prefer for someone to know just what you want and do it for you. But that would rely on the skill of mind-reading and, as we have said before, mind-reading is a no-no.” (“Side by Side” – Jo Lamble & Sue Morris)
(“Be assertive – when asking for help, it is important to be assertive. Assertiveness can be defined as telling someone the truth in an appropriate manner. By an appropriate manner, we mean that you do not see yourself as superior to others, which can lead to aggressive behaviour. Neither does it mean that you see yourself as inferior to others, which can lead to passive or unassertive behaviour. It just means that you see yourself as equal to others.
To lie about your own thoughts and feelings is also being unassertive. By lying about how you really think and feel, you are waiving your right to be understood, accepted and helped by others. You are also giving away your right to be angry or resentful. No-one can correct a wrong, or address your needs, if they are hidden. […] A general rule of thumb is to use I statements in your request. Starting a discussion with ‘You…’ inevitably causes the other person to become defensive and start a fight, or refuse to talk. But starting a discussion with an I statement increases the likelihood that the other person will listen to whatever problem you have.”) (“Side by Side” – Jo Lamble & Sue Morris)
Negotiate – if you and your partner can’t agree on something, then you both have to sit down and work out a solution that is agreeable to you both. Negotiation is the final step if your request for change is met with opposition.
Following the negotiation, if the final choice is not your own preference, as a couple you will have settled on an option on which you both agree. Further, there will be a clear reason why a certain alternative has been chosen. Finally, there is the opportunity to review the outcome of the decision down the track.
Hitting a brick wall
“What do you do when you have owned the problem, you have attempted to let your partner know how you feel about something, but your partner doesn’t budge? It is now time for you to make some decisions. For example, if you and your partner cannot agree on a resolution to an issue, or if your partner just won’t talk about it, or won’t listen, you need to explore your options. These options could include couple counselling or even leaving the relationship (if the issue is divisive enough). Remember, when you are considering these choices, you need to not only examine the positive and negative aspects, but also the consequences of each of them. You also need to look at the necessary steps for carrying out the chosen option. Using such a deliberate method for making decisions reduces the chance of impulsiveness and regrets.
You might reach the point where you decide to leave, even if you have been committed all along. When this happens, it is a very sad day because you have to accept that it is beyond your control. Commitment is a two-way path and, if there’s only one of you on it, then there is no relationship. If you believe you have exhausted all your options for trying to involve your partner, then you can walk away knowing that you tried everything to salvage your relationship.” (“Side by Side” – page 126)
And, as usual, the lighter side…
Q. What makes the relationship work for you?
A.1. We give each other space to pursue our own interests, which we call ‘a life-giving consideration’. What’s really important though, is that we take an interest in what the other is doing.
A.2. We try to follow the advice: don’t go to bed when you’re angry with each other.
A.3. We try to have a good laugh together at least once a week.
A.4. She is my best friend and I am hers.
A.5. We really respect each other.
A.6. My mother always said, ‘Be kind to each other’.
A.7. I love the effort she makes for me. I’m learning to do the same for her.