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Dr. Jackie Black on Improving Relationships
Perhaps you’ve heard Jackie Black, Ph.D., tackle controversial relationship topics on terrestrial radio, or maybe you’ve read about her in SELF magazine and other publications. Black—better known as Dr. Jackie among her clients—rose to fame as a relationship expert, educator and coach who offers private relationship coaching services for individuals, couples and families. Recently, her teachings have gone high-tech through her online radio show, blog, podcasts and TeleLearning Center program, which offers real-time classes and lectures via telephone. Her first book, Meeting Your Match: Cracking the Code to Successful Relationships, is due out in fall 2007. We asked her for her tips on the first 30 days of improving any relationship.
How did you become an expert on relationships?
I’m a psychologist and I was in private practice for many years, with bereavement, loss and life-threatening and chronic illness as my sub-specialties. In 1999, through a confluence of events, I became a coach and eventually shut down my therapy practice to coach full time. Relationships evolved to be the things that I wanted to focus on as a coach: At the end of the day, the most important things are our relationships, first with self, then with significant others, family, friends and colleagues.
If you wanted to improve your relationship with a spouse, boss or friend, what should you know?
The first thing I’d want to know is what’s working. Answer these questions: “What do you love about this relationship? How does this relationship affirm you? How you do feel being in the presence of this person? What do you want more of?” I love the idea of actively celebrating and deliberately drinking in and receiving the good things we have in our relationships.
Next, I would want to know what’s not working. You’re really going on an adventure when you explore what needs are not being met. Ask, “What do I want to improve? What needs to shift or change? What am I not getting or giving? Am I stopped, blocked or shut down in some area?” Relationships are like a mirror: When we explore what’s not working, we can begin to look within. Unless I know what I want to change, I can’t invite the other person in.
Is it possible to improve a relationship by yourself or do you need the other party?
Yes and no. If you and I were doing the foxtrot and I suddenly changed the step, we would still be dancing, but we would no longer be doing the foxtrot. Often, in the beginning of changing a relationship, one person comes into recognition and risks making changes first. Ultimately, in order to sustain a long-term, lasting relationship, we have to be doing the same steps. But, initially, one person can decide to begin the change.
What type of self-awareness do you need in order to improve your relationships?
You need to believe that you can. You need to believe that your feelings, thoughts and desires for the relationship are legitimate. We won’t ask for anything if we don’t believe that the things we want and need are legitimate.
How can people truly succeed during the first 30 days, not just “get through?”
You need a willingness to risk, to be self-disclosing and vulnerable and have a willingness to listen. “Elegant listening” is a critical relationship skill that very few people have. With elegant listening, we listen for three things: feelings, repair (or problem solving) and information. In relationships, it’s always helpful to let the listener know what we want. For example, “I really need you to listen for my feelings,” or “I want you to help me figure this out so I can solve this problem,” or “I want you to listen for information. And at the end I want you to hear and understand that I need you to go to the cleaners because I need my suit for an important meeting tomorrow.”
How do men and women listen differently?
Men need to understand specifically what is required from them. The only reason men don’t listen is because they don’t know how. I’d say 99.5% of men, no matter how old they are or where they live, know how to listen to repair only. Sometimes women don’t want men to fix situations, they just want to be heard in a particular way. If women talk about the three ways of listening and let men know which way we want them to listen, they can and will do it.
How do our past relationships affect the success of present and future relationships?
Every single person brings baggage into a relationship. There are two things we should ask about baggage: First, “How has past baggage formed your choices as an emotionally intelligent, alert, mindful adult in this relationship?” Second, “What are the lessons of the baggage?”
What surprising emotions might crop up during the first 30 days of improving any relationship?
Expect to be in pain. Expect to be frustrated. Expect to get angry, because when we change, we’re still learning, exploring and experimenting. Be willing to be a good observer of yourself and other people. In the first 30 days of any change, understand that you’re going to have “conscious incompetence.” That means you’ll know you’re not doing it well, but that’s okay because you’re learning. Most adults are uncomfortable with how conscious incompetence feels. Instead, you should expect it and embrace it. Don’t be surprised by it. Be respectful and patient with yourself.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I believe the definition of self-esteem is that we can positively influence, impact and affect people and events. When we shift from powerlessness or the position of victim to a place of knowing and believing that we can positively influence, impact and effect people and events, our world changes forever. That power starts from change and that change starts from within me. It has nothing to do with the other person.
The best thing about change is…
…all of the possibilities.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
The best change I’ve ever worked through in my life was believing that I had rights and legitimate feelings. I finally realized I could do things to get my needs met and that I could take care of myself. I could ask, request and have influence.
For more information on Dr. Jackie Black, visit drjackieblack.com.