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A CARING PROCESS

Only when both individuals are at the starting point—each agreeing that the other is all right and that they are going to build an US box with care and concern—are they ready to build a new relationship.  Now, how do they build an US box?  The how of it is fairly simple.  The doing of it is extremely difficult and requires much time and caring.  First, they will each encourage and promote all of those things involved in the life process.  Similarly, they will discourage and avoid anything and everything that interferes with the life process.  Basically, this means that they will each, as individuals, recognize, respect, and encourage the other person, and that they each can and should expect and receive respect and encouragement from the other.  Whether the individuals are six or sixty, the process begins by recognizing and accepting the fact that their relationship involves an US box as well as a ME box and a YOU box.  Each person should say, “My ME box is mine, and you stay out of it; only with my permission can you interfere with it.  If you keep this part of the bargain, I will do the same for you.  We each have our own lives, our own interests, thoughts, and ideas, and that is good.  Our US box is only a part of our lives.”

When a baby is born, he has almost no ME box.  He is almost totally involved in an US box he shares with his mother.  As he matures, he gradually develops a ME box, and in turn, his ME box becomes involved in many US boxes.  This growing and becoming is central to his life process.  As people build an US box, they must recognize and remember that they each have their own individual life process.  Although it is hard to do, children need to see that their parents are growing and becoming, that they have their own life processes.  In any important and close relationship, whether it be between children, between children and adults, or between adults, recognition and encouragement of the life process is critical.  As people begin the US box building process, their contract starts with:

  1. We recognize, accept, and will encourage our individual life processes, our growing and becoming as separate and distinct people.
  2. We will avoid interfering with or trying to change each other’s life process.  That way we can devote our time, energy, and caring to the growing and becoming of our relationship—its life process.

The central point for both people to accept is that they are, as individuals, growing and becoming and that their relationship—their US box—must keep pace.  If it does not, their bad relationship will continue, and their US box cannot grow.  If they can start at that point, they then need to develop some way of deciding what bits get into their relationship and what bits stay out.  As they start to build their new US box, they must necessarily start with no bits.  This is extremely difficult and emphasizes the importance of starting a new relationship instead of trying to fix or repair the old one.  As you work with individuals in the beginning stage of the US box process, you will want to help them become alert to assumptions, ideas, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and so on, that they are trying to carry over from their old relationship.  It will be very easy for them to subconsciously or unintentionally use bits from the old relationship without agreeing about whether or not these bits can go into the new relationship.  They will need to come up with some process or set of rules about how bits get added to or dropped out of their new relationship.  Although, ideally, every bit should be discussed and evaluated before it is added to the relationship, this is not really possible.  Both individuals will subconsciously or unintentionally put bits into the relationship, and you, despite your best efforts, will not be able to recognize and pick up on every bit going into the relationship.  It is important, then for the individuals to have a way of confronting each other about bits that seem to be in the relationship.  Those bits needing discussion are usually feelings, perceptions, judgments, expectations, and so on, that seem to have slipped into the relationship without discussion or recognition.  The rule is, of course, that any important bit put into the US box by one individual can only be put in if he tells the other person about it.  If we are building an US box and I have a bit that says that you are pretty, smart, unfair, lazy, too rough, bad tempered, too skinny make extra work for me, or any of a million other minor to major important bits, I have to tell you about it in some way before I can put it in our US box.  At the same rate, if you have a feeling or belief that I have put an important bit in the US box without letting you know is some way, you have a right and responsibility to confront me on that.  At that point, we will discuss the particular belief, thought, idea, notion, and so forth, to decide whether or not it will stay in the relationship.

In addition, you may have some important bits about yourself that you want in the US box.  You may want me to believe and understand things like: you like me, you don’t like messy cars, you get angry when I come home late, you have a problem falling asleep and don’t appreciate my getting up and making a lot of noise right after you have gone to bed, and so on, until you have included all those things you want me to know, think, and believe about you.  Parents and children, husbands and wives, friends, and so on, will need to develop a way of letting each other know what bits are being put into the US box as well as what bits about themselves they would like put in the US box.

We can think of some important bits that usually go into US boxes.  Only the extremes have been listed, but each of the bits comes in a lot of forms and varieties.  The list is, of course, neither all inclusive nor exhaustive.  It is only intended to be suggestive and that it may stimulate your thinking about kinds of important feelings, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and so on, that typically go into US boxes.

You are:

pretty—ugly

loving—cold

smart—dumb

happy—sad

fun to be with—not fun to be with

fair—unfair

gentle—rough

reasonable—unreasonable

ambitious—lazy

considerate—selfish

As individuals become involved in the US box building process, they add literally thousands of bits to their relationship.  In addition to this process of adding bits to the relationship, however, they need to develop rules and agreements about the process of dropping bits from the relationship.  For example, “I thought you weren’t trying, but now I think you are.” … “I was annoyed with your sleeping so much, but now I understand that you really are tired.” … “I was upset with you, but I am not upset with you now.” … “I thought you were a responsible person, but I do not think so anymore.” … “I thought you were the kind of person who would lie to me, but I do not believe that anymore.”  Bits that get tossed out of the relationship of course may be very important or may be fairly unimportant.  Both individuals need to know, though, when bits are being tossed out.  As they think about building their new US box, they have already agreed to recognize, encourage, and not to interfere with each other’s life process, while working on their relationship’s growing and becoming.  Now their contract needs to expand to include further agreements about the building process, so they continue with:

  1. We can only add bits to our US box after we have in some way let the other person know about it.
  2. We each have some bits about ourselves that we want added to the US box, and it is our responsibility to let the other person know about those bits.
  3. If we feel that a bit has been added to the US box without discussion or understanding, it is our responsibility to confront the other person about this; and it is his responsibility to discuss the bit with us.
  4. If either of us is going to toss a bit out of the relationship, we have the responsibility to let the other person know what we are going to do, and we both have a responsibility to discuss it with each other.

Following their agreements about the life process and building process, the individuals need to develop some understandings and agreements about the meaning/valuing process.  They must develop some understanding about things like: what’s good, what’s bad; what’s important, what’s not important; what’s necessary, what isn’t necessary; what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable; what’s fair, what’s unfair; which things have to do with love and caring, which things are not related to love and caring.  In most relationships, one of the greatest sources of conflict is over the meaning and value placed on elements in the relationship.  For example, a husband and wife both agree that the husband is overweight.  He thinks this is an extremely undesirable thing and wants to make every effort to lose the weight.  She thinks being a little overweight is healthy and gets angry with him when he tries to diet.

Another example, a teenager agrees to be home at 11:00 P.M.  His parents think this is an extremely important agreement and that it should be kept very specifically.  The teenager does not think it is a particularly important agreement and felt that it wouldn’t matter so long as he was home by 11:30.  When he came in at 11:25, there was a rather heated argument.  For the bits in the US box, both individuals agreed to put them there.  But it is quite possible, however, that they may not be placing the same meaning or value on those bits in the US box.  That can cause conflict and confusion.  As they build their new US box, they will want to give special attention to the meaning/valuing process.

Nancy and Paul have been dating for a few weeks.  Their physical relationship had been fairly mild, mostly at Paul’s insistence.  Nancy could not understand Paul’s reluctance and teased him about it one evening when they were alone.  After they had teased and joke about it for a while, Paul became more relaxed, and he and Nancy enjoyed being more intimate.  Soon after that evening, Nancy started seeing Paul less and less.  Even though she did not want to go out with him as often, they both enjoyed the greater intimacy when they did go out.  Paul is very conflicted, though.  He cannot understand why she does not want to see him more, since he thought the “bit” calling for greater intimacy meant that Nancy loved him.  The increased intimacy did not have anything like this meaning or value for Nancy.  She saw it as pleasant, fun, and something to do when she went out with Paul.  This difference in meaning and valuing created a lot of misunderstanding and conflict in their relationship.  Had they been able to discuss the meaning/valuing of the bit before adding it to their relationship, Paul could have avoided the hurt and anxiety, and Nancy could have avoided having to deal with Paul’s confusing and puzzling behavior.

Mr. P has to work very long hours and can’t spend much time with his son.  They both have a bit in their US box that says “Dad has to work long hours.”  When they are together, they really enjoy each other’s company, have a very god time, can laugh and play or sit quietly and talk seriously.  Mr. P is, however, very concerned about not being able to spend more time with his son.  He thinks that this will cause his son to have difficulty as he grows and develops.  He feels that “deep down inside” his son really resents him.  When Mr. P is working, he frequently thinks about this quite a lot, feels very guilty, and worries.  His son, on the contrary, feels very good about his dad and understands that he has to work long hours.  His son feels that his dad is working such long hours for the benefit of him, his mother, and the other children.  He feels that his dad is really doing something for them when he is working.  From the son’s point of view, hid dad is interested in him and pays a lot of attention to him when he can.  When his dad is working, he is doing it out of love and interest in the son and the rest of the family.  Rather than harboring resentment for his dad, the son has nothing but good, positive feelings.  The problem is, of course, with the meaning or valuing of the bit “Dad has to work long hours” when it was put in their US box.  This difference in valuing and meaning is causing the father unnecessary guilt and worry.

It is apparent that the meaning/valuing process is an important part of US box building.  The individuals must, then, extend their contract to include agreements about the meaning/valuing process.

  1. We will be specific about the meaning and value placed on bits in the US box.
  2. We will agree on the meaning and value given to any important bit before placing it in the US box.
  3. We will add no bit to the US box unless we can agree on a common meaning and value.  As a rule of thumb, if we disagree, we will only add the bit to the US box if we can agree to give it the least significant meaning and lowest value held by either of us.

Finally, both individuals have some notions or ideas about what the US box should be like, what it can be like, and what it should not be like.  They have some notions about what kinds of bits belong in the US box and what kinds do not.  They have ideas about what bits go in before others, and how they should be arranged after they get into the US box.  These notions and ideas include things like: how much, when, how fast, where, and so on.  It is rather like a recipe or master plan for relationships that we carry around in our head.  It lets us know what we should expect from each other and how we should behave toward each other.  The blueprint process is, typically, not something that people give a great deal of thought to.  Everyone knows, we assume, what a marriage should be like.  Similarly, women have notions about what men are like; for example, they drive the car, are responsible for the bills, are perhaps more logical than women, prefer showers to baths, mow the yard if there is one, have their favorite chair, like baseball games, enjoy drinking beer with their peers, and so on.  Men have notions about what women are like; for example, they are supposed to clean the house, are more emotional than men, don’t enjoy sex as much as husbands, like soap operas, gossip a lot, don’t need as much rest, don’t work as hard, really want their husbands to be the boss, and so on.  Parents have blueprints about what kids are like.  Children develop a blueprint for parents.  Everyone develops a blueprint for friends.  Boys have a blueprint for US boxes with girls, and girls have one for US boxes with boys.  The list could be continued on and on.  Everyone has a supply of blueprints for use in a very wide rang of US box situations.

These ready-made blueprints present some problems, however.  Some people have one specific blueprint that they try to make fit in every relationship situation.  They try to relate to everyone in the same way.  “I’m always the same.  I just can’t understand why many of my relationship don’t work.”  This is somewhat like a man who learns one part in a play and spends his entire life playing that one role.  The problem is, of course, that the play changes.  He becomes involved in many different kinds of relationship, a variety of social situations, and numerous US boxes.  The problem is compounded when two individuals try to use separate, ready-made blueprints for a relationship.  If one individual has specific ideas, notions, beliefs, thoughts, and so on, about how the relationship should be and the other person has different notions, ideas, and so on, the US box will never grow.  It is rather like two architects trying to build a skyscraper and a football stadium on the same land, at the same time, with the same materials.  Individuals involved in trying to build an US box with different blueprints have a problem.  One of them will probably insist that the other’s blueprint is wrong; the other will assume that he has the only right way to do it.  In other situations, the individuals may start out with one mutually acceptable blueprint.  The problem is that they either do not stick with it or change blueprints without discussing it with each other.

These people might be thought of as blueprint switchers.  “I’ve tried everything I can think of to get along with you, and nothing seems to work.”  When you hear someone say that, it is a good sign that he is a blueprint switcher; He first tried one way or plan, then another, then another, and so on.  The problem is, of course, that he did not bother to tell anyone that he was switching blueprints.  Also, if we think about the architects, it wouldn’t work very well, either, if they were to compromise by agreeing to work for a few days building a skyscraper and then continue for the next few days to build a football stadium.  The result would be neither a skyscraper nor a football stadium; it would, however, be a mess.  A special note, “I’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work” is frequently heard as parents talk about the ways they have tried to deal with their children.  If the parents really have tried everything, it is sad to think about how truly confused the children must be.  Other signs of blueprint switching are: “We either fight or don’t speak to each other” or “I never know what mood he’ll be in.”  Examples of blueprint switching are, of course, endless.  Some people do it all of the time.  Other people do it very seldom.  If individuals are trying to build a satisfying US box, however, they must be very careful with the blueprint process.  They will need to expand their US box building contract to include some final agreements:

  1. We will agree about the blueprint process, including a clear understanding of the kind of US box we are building.
  2. If we have different blueprints for the kind of US box we are building, we will not becomes involved in the building process until we have agreed to use one or the other of our blueprints or a new and mutually acceptable blueprint.
  3. Once we have agreed on a blueprint process, we will both stick with it and will only switch blueprints after considerable discussion and after agreeing to the switch.

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net || and visit www.GaryCrow.net.