The 5 A’s

Letters, we get letters! A little while ago, our friend John wrote the following:

I have just read David Richo’s How To Be An Adult in Relationships.

In it he describes the 5 A’s that we need to give ourselves and others. These are attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing ourselves and others to have the freedom to be who we and they truly are. Perhaps this thought might give you an idea for an article.

golfnothing like learning a little acceptance

I like getting e-mails like this, if only to broaden my experience with other writers who I may have missed. In this case, I think I ‘get’ where Richo is coming from. Even if I don’t, I can certainly play with his words and concepts.

So, about the 5 A’s: the first thing that happened was that I was reminded of being at Interfaith and learning to be a Therapist. This may have even been during my first classes there. Way, way before I became an Intern. (I spent 5 years studying at Interfaith, part, then full time.)

My memory of the context was that the instructor said, “There may be times when you get stuck for what to do next in a Couple Counselling session. If you do, ask them to describe their relationship in terms of caring, sharing, affection and sex.”

I think the 5 A’s fit the first 3, and I also think I’ll write, this week, about 1, 2, 3, and 5, and next week, about affection. Then about the missing piece in sexual expression – eroticism.

Let’s look at the 5-A’s from the perspective of Into the Centre:

Attention: “Pay attention!” is something we’ve heard since birth. Most of us suck at it, though, if what I hear in my counselling office is indicative of anything. And, of course, I miss stuff too.

Last Wednesday was Dar’s birthday, and I was in Port Elgin. I came home with card in hand. Here’s the inattention part. Dar sent me an e-mail today, asking, “What about dinner tonight?” I cracked a joke and said I’d meditate upon it. She e-mailed:

And here I thought you would have something special planned for my birthday!!!! (That was my expectation anyway – I like to be looked after ya know!)

Oops! I e-mailed back:

Ouch. So, what would you like for your birthday? I could cook a meal for you tomorrow. My brain just doesn’t go there any more. I’ll work on that. Ouch again. I may be taking you for granted… hmm… Love you too, even if I forget to cook…

The “ouch” is code. Dar and I both use this (and know this is how it is being used) to mean, “Boy! I just hurt myself.” I’m “ouch-ing” out of embarrassment for failing to remember. No whining. No excuses. I also just added “make dinner” to my Palm Pilot for Dar’s next birthday and forever. And I’m making Dar dinner tomorrow.

Attention, paying attention, is all about not taking people for granted. It’s listening to them, and learning about them. This requires actually sitting down with someone, no distractions, and hearing what they are about.

And within this idea is also the concept that paying attention is an acknowledgement that the way my “partner” is, is worth paying attention to.

Far too often, people seem to want to come home and tune out. They don’t want to have to pay attention, to listen; to “get” what’s up for their partner. Pretty soon, no one is hearing anyone, and we have two solitudes under the same roof.

Acceptance: I figure that attention has within it a component of acceptance, but let’s separate them anyway.

I have a client whose husband occasionally comes along, usually when his frustration level reaches a certain “pre-set.” I can predict with some certainty that my client will be feeling unheard, and will ask to paid attention to. One of the things she repeatedly asks for is comfort if something has gone “wrong” at work or with her family.

As soon as she does, husband replies: “I don’t do that. I’m not your father. I won’t pat you on your head and tell you “It’s OK.” Grow up! Get over it!”

In truth, the husband accepts precious little about his wife, and vice versa. They have decidedly different worldviews, and for 12 years they’ve been trying to get the other to change.

Indeed, I am deluged with people who are desperately looking for assurance that, not only is their view reasonable (I figure most views are reasonable) but right. They get something in their heads and just can’t let go of trying to sell their belief to the world.

Reminds me of a section of the movie, “Dogma” where one of the characters says something to the effect that having “idea” about god is better than having “beliefs.” Ideas change, beliefs cause wars.

Acceptance means being able to say,

“The person I am in relationship with is the person I am in relationship with. I have nothing invested in changing him or her.”

I think of this a lot, as people argue in my presence that their partner “should” change – as they look for my support for the project. I find this to be so arrogant.

It’s arrogant because the person with the “should,” with the burning desire to make their partner over into their image of how they should be, is just some bozo (as are we all) with an opinion. I don’t get how they move from there to, “She should change because I want her to.”

At the end of the day, even if the person’s view is “right,” it’s only right for them. In the client example above, I hear each partner talk about how to “do” life, and both views are reasonable and sensible. I might be drawn in one direction over the other, but cannot decide which view is “right.”

To spend a lifetime singing, “You Have to Change” is a waste of time. Seems to me that I either want to be in relationship with Dar, as she is, or I want to be elsewhere. Why would I want to stay with her and try to change her, as if she’s broken and needs my rescue? What crap.

Appreciation: You wouldn’t think you’d have to ask about this one, would you? I remember back in the early days of doing counselling, a program we led, called Couple Communication, or CC for short. One of the exercises was, “I value you, I value me.” We would train people to let their partner know that their behaviour was valued, or appreciated.

As opposed to what passes for “normal” a lot of the time, where silence or mindless chatter is all you hear, and then boom! Criticism. I imagine that, if I was blind, I might assume that one person was speaking harshly to a recalcitrant child. Or, you get that tone of infinite, frustrated patience, that conveys “Boy, are you ever stupid. Now, I’m going to go real slow, and explain the error of your ways to you.”

So, I expect to hear, “You don’t actually expect me to say nothing when my partner is so obviously wrong, do you?” And I respond that such a question is meaningless, as the person asking is making several mis-assumptions:

  1. he’s assuming that he can judge right and wrong for someone else, as opposed to different,

  2. she’s assuming her partner is her student as opposed to her equal partner,

  3. he’s assuming that his partner can’t think of anything she’d rather do than change to make him happy,

  4. she’s assuming being in relationship is about changing one’s partner.

I, on the other hand, am grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with Dar. Period. Not Dar with a couple of changes that I want her to make, but Dar. My gratitude is such that I want to let her know all about it, all the time. I appreciate who she is, what she does and how she thinks. My gratitude is not conditional on her behaving herself and acting and doing what I want. I’m her partner, not her owner. And vice versa.

Affection: (next week!)

Allowing: Now, I’m not all that thrilled with the word, “allowing,” as it looks like I’m giving my partner permission to do something, and that’s not my job, nor my responsibility. On the other hand, without is saying, “allowing,” you’d have the 4 A’s and an “e” – for encouraging. Or something like that. I get the point, though. Richo is saying that, in a couple, we need to be reminding each other and ourselves that it is perfectly acceptable to be me and for my partner to be who (s)he is.

I don’t know why this is so scary. I spend a lot of time working with clients who think that they know best and that people should actually care what they think. “If only she would change, then I would be happy.” And I wonder, who cares? I certainly have no intention of spending my life doing stuff to make other people happy. If I did, that’s all I’d be doing. I used to get that one, in spades, when I was in the Ministry.

“The last minister would…,” they’d say. And I’d say, “Too bad he’s not here, eh?” Or, I’d sit in a Session Meeting and 15 elders would each attempt to tell me how I ought to be spending my days. I’d hear 10 different plans, and hear 15 people telling me that their wants and needs were the most important. If I had tried to do it, I’d have been working 24/7 and still wouldn’t have gotten it all done. And I’d have been continually criticized for not getting the priorities straight. So, I’d say, “Not going to happen. I’ve heard your input, and thanks. Here’s what I’m going to do. If you want the other stuff done, you do it.”

I’m perfectly capable of living my life fully and deeply, as me. I’m not broken, and don’t need fixing. If I have a problem, I realize it, and I go see someone. That I am different from anyone else goes without saying. That doesn’t make me wrong – that makes me different. Just like all of you. Once you get this, your life stops ending up on hold. And you can just hang out with whomever you choose, without the need to change them.

Well, that was fun. On, next week, to some practical ways to express affection, as well as a look at eroticism and sex. Stay tuned!

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