Counter-Intuitive Moves

Charlie: Several years ago, I attended a lecture by a well-known spiritual teacher and arrived 20 minutes late. On my way in I asked the doorman to give me a condensed version of what I’d missed. He paused for a moment then said two words: “Trust yourself.”

“Wow!” I thought, “That’s profound.” The rest of the talk was a commentary on the theme of self-trust, with many examples of how powerful self-trust is and what a difference it can make when you have it.

I found myself being left with some questions about self-trust that led me to the awareness that I often had experienced conflicting messages when I tuned into my experience. There frequently seemed to be more than just one self speaking to me, which left me with the question of which “self” should I trust? Which is the “real” me?

Is it the one that urges me to take the risk or to play it safe? Is it the one who tells me to go ahead and indulge my desire for a second helping of pasta or the one that admonishes me to resist the temptation? Is it the one that tells me that it’s okay to exaggerate the amount of time I spend working out each week or the one that tells me to be totally honest?

I knew (or at least believed) that I had a “true self” and that I had an ego and that I sometimes had trouble distinguishing who was talking to me. Over time, I became more able to discern who is doing the talking, although even these days there are times when I’m not exactly certain.

One of the things that I have learned is that what feels familiar isn’t necessarily my “truth,” and what feels uncomfortable isn’t necessarily untrustworthy.

We often tend to believe that something that feels “natural,” “normal,” or “familiar” is the correct option to choose. Choosing something other than the “correct” option feels uncomfortable and is often referred to as “counterintuitive,” meaning that our intuition tells us that it is wrong.

Favoring the voice that tells us to do what is familiar is strong. The voice that suggests anything other than that is threatening. Despite the tendency to favor our “intuition,” there are times when being counterintuitive is more likely to produce the outcome that we desire.

Here are some examples:

Don’t go on a “blame-fest.” Resist the temptation to focus on what the other person has done wrong. Take responsibility for your contribution to the breakdown, blaming neither yourself nor your partner.

Move toward the pain, not away from it. The universal impulse is to withdraw from what is causing us pain and to move toward what is pleasurable. While some interactions can be painful, the willingness to feel the truth of our experience can provide us with the understanding we need to connect more authentically with our partner. More often than not, avoiding or denying our reality causes more suffering than facing it does.

When in doubt, strengthen rather than weaken your commitment to the relationship. When we are feeling unloved it’s common to justify a decision to violate your commitment to the relationship. While there are circumstances that should not be tolerated, many partners make the mistake of choosing to withdraw their commitment before they have given things their best shot. Don’t give up too soon.

Face into the unknown. Most of us want to stay in our predictable comfort zone. It’s common to fear the mystery, surrender control, be vulnerable, and proceed without our pictures of how life is supposed to be. We all carry these pictures in our minds of the way our partner’s love should be shown. It’s counterintuitive to bravely stride into what feels foreign, strange, and unfamiliar. Sometimes, doing that very thing is what’s needed.

Reach out to ask for help. When the relationship is in trouble, we may feel ashamed, isolate, or act as if everything is fine. The counterintuitive move would be to ask for help from family, friends, and professionals. It may be embarrassing, but admitting our confusion can free us from the difficulty. Only then do we open ourselves up to input that can make all the difference.

These counterintuitive moves do not come easily, at least not at first. We have to consciously decide to commit ourselves to the process. It may be a struggle, and it definitely does require effort, but with practice, the moves become graceful and natural. Don’t take our word for it. Experiment and find out from your own experience what unfolds.

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Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW, married since 1972, are experts in the field of relationships and have published four successful books.