Apr 26 2011
“The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.” Francis Crick.
If you’ve settled into a relationship, really settled, you know your partner’s quirks and you know how your partner is unique and different from you. But if you haven’t settled in, sooner or later you are going to be challenged by something your partner does that doesn’t make sense to you and which, often, you won’t like.
It’s important to remember this: You don’t know this person intimately. Not yet. The only people you know intimately are people you’ve had previous enduring relationships with, and maybe not even them. You are still learning.
What mental habits do you need in order to help you understand this new person’s intentions?
Here’s the golden rule: Always have three guesses about what’s really going on. And then watch how things unfold to see which of your guesses is best.
The rule comes from my earliest training. I come from a line of teachers that goes in two steps to the great Alfred Adler (Robert L. Powers, Rudolph Dreikurs, Alfred Adler.) Adler was one of the most gifted psychologists and therapists of the last century. When it came to making statements about his patients (this is where he parted company with Freud), Adler had one rigid rule: “Whatever you think, it can always be something else.”
I’ve seen many promising relationships unravel because this rule wasn’t followed.
And so the correction is simple: Always make three guesses.
Now let me explain why this rule is so important.
Your intuition is a mental ability which enables you to make guesses about the future. Intuition is a very useful skill and, for most of us, it is most highly developed when it comes to relationships. Possibly the reason we humans have such complex brains is because we are extremely social animals and we have to make decisions about how to find our way in a world of complex relationships.
Intuition in relationships is a guess about the future based on our experiences in two areas: what we’ve learned about others in the past and what we know about ourselves.
Naturally, the first guess we tend to make about another person’s intentions (especially when we don’t yet fully trust the other person) will be based on our own sense of our own dark side. In other words, our guess about the worst case scenario will tend to be a projection.
Francine says to herself, “My lover is going to walk away and find another and never look back,” and so, to protect her heart, she walks away and finds another and never looks back.
Elaine says to herself, “Jonathan doesn’t say ‘I love you’ to me as often as I say it to him because he fears commitment and therefore I can’t trust him and will have to draw back.”
There’s a reason why the most interesting characters in most movies and stories are the villains. To create a villain, all you have to do is imagine what you would do if you gave in to the temptations you work so hard to resist. If you suspect your partner of being villainous, you will tend to suspect him (or her) of being villainous in the way that you could be.
So there is a danger to settling on your worst case scenario, at least at first.
Still, your worst case scenario could well be correct. We tend to be very attracted to people who are strangely familiar.
This takes us to the second of the three guesses.
If your first guess was your favorite worst case scenario, your second will be your favorite best case scenario.<
Some folks reverse the order. The first and second guesses tend to be paired. When we are scared and in love we tend to expect either the best or the worst and we tend to bounce back and forth between the two. That’s why we have to have three. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The best case scenario also tends to be a projection. Usually, when it comes to thinking about how someone can be a very good person, all we can do is to imagine ourselves at our best and think of what we would do. This is because it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to make decisions based on virtues we don’t possess.<
If you are not, say, the kindest, or hardest working, most loving person in the room, it’s hard to understand what kindness, hard work, or commitment to love can lead one to do. No one excels in all the virtues.
But again, your guess about the best case scenario could be right or wrong.
The third guess is the one that takes you beyond your thinking habits. To make a good third guess, you have to take a much closer look at all that’s happened. It’s a discipline. You will find that the first two guesses are the easiest.
The third one is the one that forces you to observe more carefully and think more deeply about the possibilities. The third one is the one that draws on your compassion, your accurate empathy, and, often enough, your ability to forgive. The third one is a gift of Love because it forces you to see a bigger, more complex world than the one you are used to living in.
Love calls us to be a bigger, wiser person than we are ordinarily. The rule of three guesses is a gift Love gives to both partners.