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A CARING PROCESS


Only when both individuals are at
the starting point—each agreeing that the other is all right and that they are
going to build an US box with care and concern—are they ready to build a new
relationship.  Now, how do they build an US box?  The how
of it is fairly simple.  The doing of it is extremely difficult and
requires much time and caring.  First,
they will each encourage and promote all of those things involved in the life
process.  Similarly, they will discourage
and avoid anything and everything that interferes with the life process.  Basically, this means that they will each, as
individuals, recognize, respect, and encourage the other person, and that they
each can and should expect and receive respect and encouragement from the
other.  Whether the individuals are six
or sixty, the process begins by recognizing and accepting the fact that their relationship
involves an US
box as well as a ME box and a YOU box. 
Each person should say, “My ME box is mine, and you stay out of it; only
with my permission can you interfere with it. 
If you keep this part of the bargain, I will do the same for you.  We each have our own lives, our own
interests, thoughts, and ideas, and that is good.  Our US box is only a part of our
lives.”


When a baby is born, he has almost
no ME box.  He is almost totally involved
in an US
box he shares with his mother.  As he
matures, he gradually develops a ME box, and in turn, his ME box becomes
involved in many US
boxes.  This growing and becoming is
central to his life process.  As people
build an US
box, they must recognize and remember that they each have their own individual
life process.  Although it is hard to do,
children need to see that their parents are growing and becoming, that they
have their own life processes.  In any
important and close relationship, whether it be between children, between
children and adults, or between adults, recognition and encouragement of the
life process is critical.  As people
begin the US
box building process, their contract starts with:


  1. We
    recognize, accept, and will encourage our individual life processes, our
    growing and becoming as separate and distinct people.
  2. We
    will avoid interfering with or trying to change each other’s life
    process.  That way we can devote our
    time, energy, and caring to the growing and becoming of our
    relationship—its life process.


The central point for both people
to accept is that they are, as individuals, growing and becoming and that their
relationship—their US
box—must keep pace.  If it does not,
their bad relationship will continue, and their US box cannot grow.  If they can start at that point, they then
need to develop some way of deciding what bits get into their relationship and
what bits stay out.  As they start to build
their new US
box, they must necessarily start with no bits. 
This is extremely difficult and emphasizes the importance of starting a
new relationship instead of trying to fix or repair the old one.  As you work with individuals in the beginning
stage of the US box process, you will want to help them become alert to
assumptions, ideas, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and so on, that they are
trying to carry over from their old relationship.  It will be very easy for them to
subconsciously or unintentionally use bits from the old relationship without
agreeing about whether or not these bits can go into the new relationship.  They will need to come up with some process or
set of rules about how bits get added to or dropped out of their new relationship.  Although, ideally, every bit should be
discussed and evaluated before it is added to the relationship, this is not
really possible.  Both individuals will subconsciously
or unintentionally put bits into the relationship, and you, despite your best
efforts, will not be able to recognize and pick up on every bit going into the
relationship.  It is important, then for
the individuals to have a way of confronting each other about bits that seem to
be in the relationship.  Those bits
needing discussion are usually feelings, perceptions, judgments, expectations,
and so on, that seem to have slipped into the relationship without discussion
or recognition.  The rule is, of course,
that any important bit put into the US box by one individual can only
be put in if he tells the other person about it.  If we are building an US box and I have a bit
that says that you are pretty, smart, unfair, lazy, too rough, bad tempered,
too skinny make extra work for me, or any of a million other minor to major
important bits, I have to tell you about it in some way before I can put it in
our US box.  At the same rate, if you
have a feeling or belief that I have put an important bit in the US box without
letting you know is some way, you have a right and responsibility to confront
me on that.  At that point, we will
discuss the particular belief, thought, idea, notion, and so forth, to decide
whether or not it will stay in the relationship.


In addition, you may have some
important bits about yourself that you want in the US box.  You may want me to believe and understand
things like: you like me, you don’t like messy cars, you get angry when I come home
late, you have a problem falling asleep and don’t appreciate my getting up and
making a lot of noise right after you have gone to bed, and so on, until you
have included all those things you want me to know, think, and believe about
you.  Parents and children, husbands and
wives, friends, and so on, will need to develop a way of letting each other
know what bits are being put into the US box as well as what bits about
themselves they would like put in the US box.


We can think of some important bits
that usually go into US boxes.  Only the
extremes have been listed, but each of the bits comes in a lot of forms and
varieties.  The list is, of course,
neither all inclusive nor exhaustive.  It
is only intended to be suggestive and that it may stimulate your thinking about
kinds of important feelings, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and so on, that
typically go into US boxes.


You
are:


pretty—ugly


loving—cold


smart—dumb


happy—sad


fun to be with—not fun to be with


fair—unfair


gentle—rough


reasonable—unreasonable


ambitious—lazy


considerate—selfish


As individuals become involved in
the US
box building process, they add literally thousands of bits to their
relationship.  In addition to this
process of adding bits to the relationship, however, they need to develop rules
and agreements about the process of dropping bits from the relationship.  For example, “I thought you weren’t trying,
but now I think you are.” … “I was annoyed with your sleeping so much, but now
I understand that you really are tired.” … “I was upset with you, but I am not
upset with you now.” … “I thought you were a responsible person, but I do not
think so anymore.” … “I thought you were the kind of person who would lie to
me, but I do not believe that anymore.” 
Bits that get tossed out of the relationship of course may be very
important or may be fairly unimportant. 
Both individuals need to know, though, when bits are being tossed
out.  As they think about building their
new US
box, they have already agreed to recognize, encourage, and not to interfere
with each other’s life process, while working on their relationship’s growing
and becoming.  Now their contract needs
to expand to include further agreements about the building process, so they
continue with:


  1. We can
    only add bits to our US box after we have in some way let the other person
    know about it.
  2. We
    each have some bits about ourselves that we want added to the US box, and
    it is our responsibility to let the other person know about those bits.
  3. If we
    feel that a bit has been added to the US box without discussion or
    understanding, it is our responsibility to confront the other person about
    this; and it is his responsibility to discuss the bit with us.
  4. If
    either of us is going to toss a bit out of the relationship, we have the
    responsibility to let the other person know what we are going to do, and
    we both have a responsibility to discuss it with each other.


Following their agreements about
the life process and building process, the individuals need to develop some
understandings and agreements about the meaning/valuing process.  They must develop some understanding about
things like: what’s good, what’s bad; what’s important, what’s not important;
what’s necessary, what isn’t necessary; what’s acceptable, what’s not
acceptable; what’s fair, what’s unfair; which things have to do with love and
caring, which things are not related to love and caring.  In most relationships, one of the greatest
sources of conflict is over the meaning and value placed on elements in the
relationship.  For example, a husband and
wife both agree that the husband is overweight. 
He thinks this is an extremely undesirable thing and wants to make every
effort to lose the weight.  She thinks
being a little overweight is healthy and gets angry with him when he tries to
diet.


Another example, a teenager agrees
to be home at 11:00 P.M.  His parents
think this is an extremely important agreement and that it should be kept very
specifically.  The teenager does not
think it is a particularly important agreement and felt that it wouldn’t matter
so long as he was home by 11:30.  When he
came in at 11:25, there was a rather heated argument.  For the bits in the US box, both
individuals agreed to put them there. 
But it is quite possible, however, that they may not be placing the same
meaning or value on those bits in the US box.  That can cause conflict and confusion.  As they build their new US box, they will want to give
special attention to the meaning/valuing process.


Nancy and Paul have been dating for
a few weeks.  Their physical relationship
had been fairly mild, mostly at Paul’s insistence.  Nancy
could not understand Paul’s reluctance and teased him about it one evening when
they were alone.  After they had teased
and joke about it for a while, Paul became more relaxed, and he and Nancy
enjoyed being more intimate.  Soon after
that evening, Nancy
started seeing Paul less and less.  Even
though she did not want to go out with him as often, they both enjoyed the
greater intimacy when they did go out. 
Paul is very conflicted, though. 
He cannot understand why she does not want to see him more, since he
thought the “bit” calling for greater intimacy meant that Nancy loved him.  The increased intimacy did not have anything
like this meaning or value for Nancy.  She saw it as pleasant, fun, and something to
do when she went out with Paul.  This
difference in meaning and valuing created a lot of misunderstanding and
conflict in their relationship.  Had they
been able to discuss the meaning/valuing of the bit before adding it to their
relationship, Paul could have avoided the hurt and anxiety, and Nancy could have avoided
having to deal with Paul’s confusing and puzzling behavior.


Mr. P has to work very long hours
and can’t spend much time with his son. 
They both have a bit in their US box that says “Dad has to work long
hours.”  When they are together, they
really enjoy each other’s company, have a very god time, can laugh and play or
sit quietly and talk seriously.  Mr. P
is, however, very concerned about not being able to spend more time with his
son.  He thinks that this will cause his
son to have difficulty as he grows and develops.  He feels that “deep down inside” his son
really resents him.  When Mr. P is
working, he frequently thinks about this quite a lot, feels very guilty, and
worries.  His son, on the contrary, feels
very good about his dad and understands that he has to work long hours.  His son feels that his dad is working such
long hours for the benefit of him, his mother, and the other children.  He feels that his dad is really doing
something for them when he is working.  From
the son’s point of view, hid dad is interested in him and pays a lot of
attention to him when he can.  When his
dad is working, he is doing it out of love and interest in the son and the rest
of the family.  Rather than harboring
resentment for his dad, the son has nothing but good, positive feelings.  The problem is, of course, with the meaning
or valuing of the bit “Dad has to work long hours” when it was put in their US box.  This difference in valuing and meaning is
causing the father unnecessary guilt and worry.


It is apparent that the
meaning/valuing process is an important part of US box building.  The individuals must, then, extend their
contract to include agreements about the meaning/valuing process.


  1. We
    will be specific about the meaning and value placed on bits in the US box.
  2. We
    will agree on the meaning and value given to any important bit before
    placing it in the US box.
  3. We
    will add no bit to the US box unless we can agree on a common meaning and
    value.  As a rule of thumb, if we
    disagree, we will only add the bit to the US box if we can agree to give
    it the least significant meaning and lowest value held by either of us.


Finally, both individuals have some
notions or ideas about what the US
box should be like, what it can be like, and what it should not be like.  They have some notions about what kinds of
bits belong in the US
box and what kinds do not.  They have
ideas about what bits go in before others, and how they should be arranged
after they get into the US
box.  These notions and ideas include
things like: how much, when, how fast, where, and so on.  It is rather like a recipe or master plan for
relationships that we carry around in our head. 
It lets us know what we should expect from each other and how we should
behave toward each other.  The blueprint
process is, typically, not something that people give a great deal of thought
to.  Everyone knows, we assume, what a
marriage should be like.  Similarly,
women have notions about what men are like; for example, they drive the car, are
responsible for the bills, are perhaps more logical than women, prefer showers
to baths, mow the yard if there is one, have their favorite chair, like
baseball games, enjoy drinking beer with their peers, and so on.  Men have notions about what women are like;
for example, they are supposed to clean the house, are more emotional than men,
don’t enjoy sex as much as husbands, like soap operas, gossip a lot, don’t need
as much rest, don’t work as hard, really want their husbands to be the boss,
and so on.  Parents have blueprints about
what kids are like.  Children develop a
blueprint for parents.  Everyone develops
a blueprint for friends.  Boys have a blueprint
for US boxes with girls, and girls have one for US boxes with boys.  The list could be continued on and on.  Everyone has a supply of blueprints for use
in a very wide rang of US box situations.


These ready-made blueprints present
some problems, however.  Some people have
one specific blueprint that they try to make fit in every relationship situation.  They try to relate to everyone in the same
way.  “I’m always the same.  I just can’t understand why many of my
relationship don’t work.”  This is
somewhat like a man who learns one part in a play and spends his entire life
playing that one role.  The problem is,
of course, that the play changes.  He
becomes involved in many different kinds of relationship, a variety of social
situations, and numerous US
boxes.  The problem is compounded when
two individuals try to use separate, ready-made blueprints for a
relationship.  If one individual has
specific ideas, notions, beliefs, thoughts, and so on, about how the
relationship should be and the other person has different notions, ideas, and
so on, the US
box will never grow.  It is rather like
two architects trying to build a skyscraper and a football stadium on the same
land, at the same time, with the same materials.  Individuals involved in trying to build an US box with
different blueprints have a problem.  One
of them will probably insist that the other’s blueprint is wrong; the other
will assume that he has the only right way to do it.  In other situations, the individuals may
start out with one mutually acceptable blueprint.  The problem is that they either do not stick
with it or change blueprints without discussing it with each other.


These people might be thought of as
blueprint switchers.  “I’ve tried
everything I can think of to get along with you, and nothing seems to
work.”  When you hear someone say that,
it is a good sign that he is a blueprint switcher; He first tried one way or
plan, then another, then another, and so on. 
The problem is, of course, that he did not bother to tell anyone that he
was switching blueprints.  Also, if we
think about the architects, it wouldn’t work very well, either, if they were to
compromise by agreeing to work for a few days building a skyscraper and then
continue for the next few days to build a football stadium.  The result would be neither a skyscraper nor
a football stadium; it would, however, be a mess.  A special note, “I’ve tried everything, and
nothing seems to work” is frequently heard as parents talk about the ways they
have tried to deal with their children. 
If the parents really have tried everything, it is sad to think about
how truly confused the children must be. 
Other signs of blueprint switching are: “We either fight or don’t speak
to each other” or “I never know what mood he’ll be in.”  Examples of blueprint switching are, of
course, endless.  Some people do it all
of the time.  Other people do it very
seldom.  If individuals are trying to
build a satisfying US
box, however, they must be very careful with the blueprint process.  They will need to expand their US box building
contract to include some final agreements:


  1. We
    will agree about the blueprint process, including a clear understanding of
    the kind of US box we are building.
  2. If
    we have different blueprints for the kind of US box we are building, we
    will not becomes involved in the building process until we have agreed to
    use one or the other of our blueprints or a new and mutually acceptable
    blueprint.
  3. Once
    we have agreed on a blueprint process, we will both stick with it and will
    only switch blueprints after considerable discussion and after agreeing to
    the switch.




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