Changing patterns

Have you ever wanted to start a relationship over with someone you love just so it can be even better and healthier? Have you ever had success in changing unhealthy communication, sexual and other patterns/behaviors in your relationships? What are your tips, secrets? Do tell…

I’m not sure what you mean by “start a relationship over”. I don’t believe you can start over again, but I think you can start out in a new direction with each other.

But as far as changing unhealthy patterns and behaviours, I think the communication is the first thing you have to change. Learning to listen and to really hear each other, learning to express yourself. I think that when you can meet on a level of mutual respect and understanding in your communication, then you have one of the main tools you need to help rebuild other aspects of the relationship.

But all that is dime-store relationship philosophy that you can pick up anywhere. I think what you’re really after are examples from our own experiences, and I’m kind of scared to share my own for fear of building a rant about the issues I have in my relationship with my wife, and I don’t think this is the place for me to do that.

However, if you would feel okay with sharing some of the things you would like to change about your relationship, I would be happy to try to pull some examples out of my own to respond to your issues.

I suppose one example is: one person gets in a bad mood, and it therefore ruins the day or at least sours the other’s mood. How to stop the whole thing from getting out of control. Do you make a joke? Stop and hug? Do you remind yourself of something special. If you say something rude/unkind, how do you recover the situation? Apologize? Say “Whoa, where did that come from?” And, how to not take it personally, what do you say to yourself, “Aw, he/she must be having a bad day…”

Also, how do you help your mate to change something… like for example, I am famous for saying “Oh, uh-oh, yeah…yep… sure… oh???” But I’m not actually listening. Oops! No harm intended, but it’s obviously not fun to be on the receiving end of that. Or, my partner might say something hurtful and then not even know why he said it. Like, “I don’t know why I just said it like that.”

All the communication stuff makes sense, but how to actually do it? How to stop yourself before you do something or while it’s happening? Also, how to help the other person. And what to do when it happens and you don’t want to sour the entire day, you know - either because one person hurts the other, or one person just feels bad about hurting the other…

Okay, I sure know how to ramble…


Short answer: read Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It answers a lot of these questions well, and also frames our modern problems with communication as rooted in our civilized acculturation (always good to hear props for rewilding).

Slightly-less shorter answer: using the skills from that book, I began to practice seeing everything from the angle of judgement-free observations concerning needs and feelings. It amazes me how much this cleans everything up. Like you express in your question, I used to worry a lot about “stopping things” before they ‘get out of control’. It wouldn’t surprise me if rewilders have a lot more sensitivity to these feelings than most people, like crickets telling the temperature or frogs dying off. We have to cut ourselves slack! So, I forgive myself, I forgive the other person, by sending empathy to MYSELF first, then to the other person. Like I’ve mentioned before, this has helped my animal tracking and observation skills considerably, and I’ve written a lot about empathy at my site. The three core rewilder’s skills: empathy, empathy, empathy. I don’t worry about things “getting out of control” anymore, because I can always excuse myself and take a walk, come back later when I have the resources to have the conversation [and though one may worry whether the other person will “let you” walk away, or what they will think, it amazes me how much people end up really respecting this practice and even relying on the stability it projects. the only way to choose to have conversations instead of arguments – walk away before the argument begins, come back when you can have the conversation].

I could tell my story about this on and on, but reading the book by Marshall Rosenberg will get you there faster and at your own pace.

[EDIT: Rereading this, I realized something…I 've heard/read many times about self-help books, relationship fix-it fads, and so on. But you never get to see the long-term effects. I’ve plugged away at “nonviolent communication” for 3+ years now, and you can track all the positive effects in my life. And I’ve supported my friends in seeing things this way, and it’s created good things for them. Perhaps Urban Scout will chime in here with his opinion, as I think he’s borne the brunt of my ‘nonviolent’ communicating! I definitely see communication as one of the ‘invisible technologies’ of our indigenous ancestry, one easily lost and hard to regain. Recommending the practice of nonviolent communication, I do worry about the ‘hard to regain’ issue - because it helps to have people support your interest ilife-giving communicating. Anyway, good luck.]


I like that…empathy empathy empathy…we’ve done the civil way and we know how that feels, now we do rewilding basically. We can empathize to ourselves first and the ones still there next. I walked in the woods the other day thinking, empathize for every body including myself, and I turned surprised to see how much of a good difference it made my adventure. I saw the stinging nettle and moved empathetically to it, thinking if I don’t empathize with the creatures around me I might do harm to myself and them. I imagined not having empathy and what it would do. I felt like it would make deer and others that sensed my careless and unempathetical vibe run away from my direction while hurting themselves on the nettle, poison oak, rose thorns, and other objects they might crash into while trying to flee from me. I didn’t want that to happen so I used my empathy and said to myself, I don’t like the stinging feeling I get from nettles and stabs from roses, I bet the other animals don’t either so I want to look empathic to the creatures that home this land more than me and let them sense me as a understanding human being.

empathy is definitely a powerful tool. not only does putting yourself in the other person’s shoes help you relate to their perspective, you can also try to put your own needs in a perspective the other person can relate to in order to make yourself more easily understood. I guess that would be a sort of reflexive empathy, kind of like doing the empathetic work for your partner so that they can get into your shoes more easily.

My wife does this all the time, and I’ve picked it up from her. She’ll hear about some kind of Broadway show going on (she’s a total show queen) with all of her favorite stars and composers and say to me:

It's like if Steve Brill and Euell Gibbons were throwing a wild foods dinner party where they showed you every possible way to eat cattails and Urban Scout was there debuting his new movie that he and Willem wrote in e-prime about tracking, hunting and processing a kill.

And I’ll be like “oh, now I see why you’re so excited.”

Your story really moved me, Dedom. Thank you.

Ha ha. I like it when we learn rewilding lessons from people who have no idea that they just taught us one (or maybe your wife does know…coyote howls in any case).

Wow. I feel as though I have nothing to say but thanks until I read Nonviolent Communication. So, until then… thank you all for sharing your thoughts and suggestions!

This is an old one but…

There is a ripple effect when we change the patterns of interaction and relationship.
I was part of a men’s group for quite a few years. This was a group with a real broad cross section of men involved. Not necessarily like minded. The main thing we had in common was that in one way or another we all were looking for a change in our relationships with people around us. There were men in the group who had been ordered by a judge to attend. There were men in their early 20’s and men in their 50’s. Loggers, truck drivers, grocery store clerks, hippies.
One of the things that we worked on was personal responsibility, and one of our guiding statements was “The only thing you have any control over is yourself.”

As the men in the group made progress toward taking personal responsibility and living that guiding statement every day, all of the people around them noticed. In time this way of being in the world “rubbed off” and the group members started bringing that up in the group meetings. Saying that they had noticed their partners, co-workers, friends, were starting to not only mention the change, but practice that way in their own lives.

It is an awesome group that has helped quite a few men in our community and also those who they are in relationship with.

I like that story a lot. I think there’s a very key component of human social behavior at work there.

A number of years ago, one of the most important friends I’ll ever have “rubbed off” on me. He made me want to change and improve myself, just by the behavior that he demonstrated. One of the major things I learned from him was how to give other people their space and perspective without sacrificing any of my own-- basically, how to treat people as equals and validate their ideas, feelings, wants, and experiences. Until I met him, I hadn’t really explored for myself what that might look or feel like in my personal interactions. I work to improve this skill every, single, day. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as he was at it!

“I work to improve this skill every, single, day. I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as he was at it!”

Yeah, well every step makes a difference. I can say that now when I revert back to my old patterns, I notice it and I don’t stay there as long. I don’t have to let the whole pattern play out now. Even under stress, I can often avoid falling back into the old way all together.