The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendship by John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

Part 2

I used to have this unscrupulous friend who used to tell me that the trick to picking up women is to trick them, by first giving them attention, then withdrawing it, and keep bouncing back and forth driving them nuts.  In a sense, it worked for him, but it worked for the wrong reasons.  He wound up with an endless trail of drama with women with extremely low self-esteem.  But perhaps in the modern world, this is how it works.  In this scenario, a potential partner is not looking for a really ideal mate but rather one that reminds them of the way their parents interacted.  Each one fighting for dominance by treating the other one like an inferior.  Giving them attention one day, and then suddenly withdrawing it the next, acting aloof, disengaged, uninterested, and distracted.  This turned on the potential partner, because this is how they expected relationships to work.  My tactic on the other hand was to always demand equality.  Certainly, many novices fail at first by being overly engaged, attentive, and available.  This does come across as desperate like a child desperate for the attention of a superior, but over time you learn to tone it down, but I still experienced moderate success being moderately engaged and attentive versus my friend with his plethora of hot messes.  While women may argue that they want a man who views them as an equal, even in this day and age, I feel that many women out there unconsciously want a man who is always trying to assert dominance, and their way of doing it is by often showing disengagement, aloofness, detachment, and unavailability just like the woman’s parents. 

 The book uses the key term ‘bids’ to describe the way we surreptitiously ask others for attention, comfort, and/or connection.  It’s a funny term, but you get used to it, and it does make sense after a while.  It’s kind of like a card game where you throw out a card to get someone else’s reaction to it.  Do they match it, ignore it, or throw out a better hand to destroy you.  There are three reactions to a bid.  Acceptance, dismissal, and attack. 

Acceptance

Joe: “Man, what a tough day at work.”

Jane: “Oh wow, what happened?  Tell me all about it.”

Dismissal

Joe: “Man, what a tough day at work.”

Jane: “Oh you think you had it bad, check this out.  My boss totally screwed me today…”

Attack

Joe: “Man, what a tough day at work.”

Jane: “Shut the f#uck up man.  I have to put up with your ugly ass screaming kid.  You must have hooked up with the exorcist before you met me.  Go pick me up some dinner from PF Chang’s and make it snappy!”

 In life, we know the difference between acceptance and attack, but we often ignore just how much and how often people dismiss.  In fact, the most annoying people in the world are not the ones who attack us outright, but I would argue, it’s the people who dismiss.  You know who your enemies are.  You know who the assholes are.  You avoid them.  But often, you work with or even have friendships with people who dismiss.  They annoy the hell out of you sometimes, but you just can’t put your finger on why.  So I’ll demonstrate exactly how people dismiss and why it’s so annoying. 

 The least offensive way of dismissing is just ignoring you and people who just change the subject. 

Jenny: “I thought Frank was being really annoying at the meeting yesterday.”

Dan: “Yeah.  Did you happen to get that cost report done yet?”

Not overly annoying, just a total turn off, like they were not even listening.  But now try this.

Jenny: “I thought Frank was being really annoying at the meeting yesterday.”

Bob: “Weeeeeeell, I don’t know, Frank is often misunderstood.  He comes across as overbearing and crass, but if you really get to know him, he’s actually a pretty funny guy.”

Jenny: “But you don’t find it strange the way he kept telling Debbie to shut her mouth.”

Bob: “Oh come on Jenny, Debbie was just constantly rambling on about stuff that wasn’t even relevant to the topic.  I think you’re overreacting to how Frank was just trying to keep control of the meeting.  I mean, I remember that time last year you told John to shut up when he kept interrupting your sales report, remember?”

Or this.

Jenny: “So I went to the beach over the weekend and got a really bad sunburn, but it was so fun – “

Bob: “Oh yeah, the beach is great.  When I was a kid, my dad used to always take me to the shore.”

Jenny: “Okay.  So anyway, that new intern is working out great – “

Bob: “Oh man, when I was an intern, I remember it was the summer of ’97 and boy was that a fun summer…”

Bob is a jackass.  Bob is the kind of guy you just want to kill.  I know so many Bob’s in my life, especially bosses and coworkers, because you can’t avoid them.  If you meet them in a bar or outside of work, you can just avoid them but not at work.  Then when you shut yourself off to people like Bob, they turn around and start accusing you of being dismissive and aloof or unprofessional.  You just want to scream in a pillow, “No, I just don’t want to fucking interact with people like you anymore Bob!  I’m not aloof and impersonal with people I like and respect, especially outside of work.  It’s assholes like you I just hate and despise, and since I can’t escape people like you at work or outright tell you what an annoying ass you are, I just try to avoid people like you!  Yeah, when I see you by the water cooler, I walk the other way.  Offended?  Well, try looking in the mirror for answers you annoying jackass!”

 An annoying part of this is just how clueless Bobs are, and I now Bob’s intimately, because I used to be a Bob.  They always look at themselves as victims.  They never realize just how annoying they are, so in their mind, they interact perfectly fine, but it’s Jenny who is at fault, because she stops communicating and is always short and brief with them as if she’s stuck up or has more important things to do.  But after a certain point, as a Bob you have to wonder, is everyone in the world a Jenny?  Why does EVERYONE eventually wind up short and brief with me and avoid interacting with me?  At a certain point, Bob, you need to get a clue, it may be YOU!  The worst part about Bob’s at work is that especially if they are your superior, you can’t tell them directly just how annoying they are and what they do that is annoying without first developing a trusting relationship with them, and you can’t do that because they are so annoying.  If I met a dude at a bar who was like Bob, at first I’d walk away, but if he kept pressing me, I’d eventually just come out and tell him exactly why I thought he was annoying.  Of course, that may lead to a big confrontation, but at least someone tells him, and if enough people tell him, he’ll get it.  At work, the Bob’s of the world just keep on being annoying as hell and clueless.  But to give Bob a break,  would also argue that often the Jenny’s don’t really know why they find Bob’s so annoying, because they take Bob’s conversational style for granted.  There are so many Bob’s in the world, that we find his conversational style normal.  It took me a while to realize that it is not normal but just super annoying.  It took me a super Bob who was the most argumentative shit I’ve ever met in my life.  Almost every single thing I brought up, it was as if he had this obligation to argue.  He was totally passive-aggressive, and after I did a few things that may have annoyed him, like disagreed with something he said, he would never get over it and would take every opportunity he could to disagree with everything I said even if he secretly agreed with it.  I made a list of his favorite opening replies, “Well I don’t know… Well then again…   I’m not so sure…  Well, yes and no…  Ehhhhhh…  I don’t know about that…”  Unfortunately, I have a new Bob coworker in my life, and his favorite opening reply is, “Weeeeeeeell…”  In my head, I’m just, “Just shut the fuck up, I’m not asking you to agree or disagree.  I’m presenting my thoughts and feelings.  If you want to present your thoughts and feelings, go ahead, but quit fucking judging and dismissing my thoughts and feelings.  That’s not what I was asking for you turd.  That’s not the point of having a conversation, and in 3…  2…  1… you’re going to tell me about something related to this that happened to you a few years ago.”

 One of the big ideas in this book is that there are seven “emotional command systems.”  If you had multiple dissociative identity disorder, I would call these seven personalities.  The book calls them the commander-in-chief who is a control freak.  The explorer tries out new things.  The sensualist wants to be stimulated.  The energy czar is obsessed with getting enough rest or eating.  The jester not only uses humor but is the playful kid.  The sentry is obsessed with self-preservation but what I would also argue, in a social environment, dignity and status.  The nest-builder is the most misleading title.  I would call this the social-networker.  This one is obsessed with bonds, attachment, and affection.  When these systems are being over-activated or under-activated tragic comedy ensues.  I wasn’t entirely sure how the author was tying this into relationships other than saying that when these systems are over or under-activated, they undermine relationships and we should be cognizant of people’s seven emotional command systems.  The most insightful part is when you take tests to determine your levels of activation.  Apparently, I’m under-activated in four categories, but most interestingly, I have a high sentry level which is under-activated (under-stimulated) so it makes me cavalier, careless, and an unsafe risk-taking which is rather true.  It’s like you build up this army to protect yourself, but it gets so little exercise that they go off and blow off steam by invading another country or something.  I see this a lot in others.  When you spend so much time on alert for being attacked or betrayed or upset, it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you can’t find the enemy, you invent one.  It’s funny, but this is exactly what has happened with our own military-industrial complex.  They went on high alert for good reason with the Nazis and Imperial Japan and then global Communism, but now that these threats are gone, they are causing global conflict and manufacturing enemies to justify their high-alert, high-funding status.

 

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