Ed. Note: Originally appeared in Awareness Magazine, May/June 1999. Reprinted courtesy Lynn Seiser. Copyright © Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., 1999.
They came in and sat across from each other without speaking. The tension in the air was obvious. I introduced myself as a marriage, family, and child counselor. I reminded them they had called me because they were having troubles in their relationship. I asked, as I usually do, how could I be of help tonight? Neither wanted to speak first. A common symptom of people caught up in relationship conflicts. Finally he spoke. He said that he was not sure that there was anything that I could do to help. They needed a miracle. I watched her face as he spoke. The pain was obvious. Then she became angry. Next, I got a good demonstration of why they had come.
I thanked them for the demonstration. I asked if this approach of fighting had ever worked. They both agreed it never really had. When asked if they thought it had any chance of working in the future, again they agreed it probably never would. Perhaps, these two agreements could be a beginning.
I began to explain to them that I studied aikido, a nonviolent martial art.
They were both curious why I was telling them this. As long as I had their attention, I thought I would teach them something about conflict resolution and accepting personal responsibility.
Aikido never meets force with force. In fact, there are no direct attacks, no striking or kicking. I pointed out that in their demonstration they each attacked each other. The more one attacked the more the other equally reacted. They each played their part in escalating the conflict. Therefore, they both were responsible for what had happened. They each wanted to blame the other one. In their minds, the other had attacked first. They felt totally justified in reacting with a defensive counter attack. It never occurred to them not to just attack back. I had not either, before studying aikido. Now I know there are other ways that are not passive or running away.
They were beginning to become even more curious. Surprisingly, as they entertained the idea of responding differently, they became calmer and more positive.
One of the first moves I learned in aikido was to enter and blend with my attacker. It looks as if you move towards your opponent and then change places with them. I asked the couple just to listen for a few minutes to what the other person was saying. They were not to interrupt the other's momentum. They listened to each other, perhaps for the first time. I pointed out that anger is usually a response to being hurt. I asked them each to listen for the hurt underneath the anger. As they listened, they became more aware of the effects their behavior had each other. Next, I asked them to change seats and play the part of the other person. They presented the other's hurts. It was interesting to watch the awareness increase as they each heard the other tell their story. When they were into their anger, they only pushed each other away. Now, as they changed places and became aware of the other's hurts, they became quieter. Seeing conflict from the other's point of view increases awareness.
In aikido, once you enter and blend with your opponent, you can redirect the attack. In couples counseling, that redirection often begins with the awareness of the hurt beneath the anger. I then ask them what they really wanted from each other. What do we all want from each other? Why did we originally become a couple? Why did we enter the relationship? Okay, gentle reader, repeat after me, "Love". What this couple wanted was love. They each had come to believe that through the attacks they had fallen out of love with each other. The attacks only pushed each other further and further away from what they wanted. By redirecting their awareness towards what they wanted, love, they became more positive. I mentioned they must have been really in love to have this much hurt, if they thought they were losing it. They both agreed they had been very much in love.
In aikido, after you have entered, blended, and redirected, you begin to get control of the situation. I asked the couple what were the things they had enjoyed doing that brought them together to begin with. They both smiled and laughed. They told of old memories and the fun that they had just being with each other. It had been a long time since they remembered there had been good times too. I asked what would happen if they started doing some of those things together? They both agreed it would be fun. They each wanted to as well. Ah, another agreement.
I gave them the homework of beginning to do those things that brought them together. I reminded them that they were both each other's friend. As we practice aikido, we cooperate, not compete with each other. If someone gets hurt, it is an accident. There is no place for anger or defensive retaliation. I told the couples that if the other person forgets, and out of an old habit, attacks, just remember that they are hurting about something. If they enter and blend with that hurt, they may be able to redirect it towards a positive outcome. And we all know what that positive outcome is don't we? Yes, gentle readers, repeat again, "Love".
Thanks for listening and for sharing the journey.
About the Author
Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., is an internationally respected psychotherapist
in Seal Beach, California. He is also the former President of the Board
for the Tenshinkai Aikido Foundation, a nonprofit public benefit corporation
that supports nonviolent conflict resolution, and personal and social responsibility
through the philosophy and practice of aikido.