Seanne Emerton, Marriage and Family Therapist
Family Resources of Greater NE, P.C.
“My husband (or wife) is driving me NUTS! Please fix him. I’ve tried and I’m giving up.”
I hear these words or variations of the theme in my office on a daily basis. In fact, I have thought these same words myself at times – because marriage is hard work. And we can’t really change the other, we can only change ourselves. The good news is that when we do change ourselves (for the better), it often has a positive ripple effect on our mate and then we end up getting more of what we want from him. But we can’t go into it for that reason.
A dear friend and I recently re-read and discussed together a favorite book of ours called The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. This couple’s writing is easy to read and inspiring for anyone who is interested in personal growth. Rosamund is a family therapist and a landscape painter. Benjamin is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. My friend and I especially focused on the chapter in the book called “Giving an A.” It’s a simple but powerful concept described as follows:
“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. An “A” can be given to anyone in any walk of life…to a waiter, your employer, your spouse, to other drivers in traffic. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them the room to realize themselves.”
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold accountability or speak assertively to our needs. It’s a way of perceiving the other that creates the shift. When we see the core beauty within and know it is there, we approach the other with more respect and dignity, without judgment. In other words, we accept what is and yet work toward the possibility of transformation. The other often experiences this as grace. There is an attitude of encouragement which ripens the environment for positive change.
It works best if we start with ourselves and define how you will look, act and feel when you are giving yourself an “A” for your thoughts and actions towards the other. Your own internal A is truly the secret. It has to be done with love and compassion though, not critical self talk. It’s helpful to say to yourself “Oops! I’ll try again” when you notice you were giving either yourself of the other less than an A in your head. Thoughts determine behavior. If you’re hard on yourself or others, you can bet it shows outwardly to others.
Journalist Bob Simon’s last story for “60 Minutes” aired on February 23, 2015, entitled “For the Love of Opera.” It featured James Levine, the New York Metropolitan Opera’s music director. The maestro returned to work in late 2013 after a devastating fall that left him partially paralyzed. He loves his work so much that he beat all odds and is back conducting. The musicians interviewed all described him as the most encouraging and supportive director they have known and, as a result, they give their best. He truly has mastered the art of giving an A, not only to others but himself.
Try it and see for yourself.