Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Fresh Perspective. With me today, Grete Becker. Thank you so much for joining us, Grete, and giving us your time.
When I spoke to Carol Dickson last week, I invented the new word “wisdoms”. That’s a classic example of mother tongue interference. So I look forward to all the wisdoms that you will also share with us today (laughs). Just to kick off, what is it that you do?
What is it that I do? Francois, I always dread that question - when people ask what is it that you do? I do a lot of stuff. I’m not a clinical psychologist, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a GP. I think the day brings to me what I’m going to do and which hat I’m going to put on for that day.
You know, I’m also borrowing from Hedy Schleifer, whom you know. Hedy was talking about - she’s in the autumn of her life. And I think, I’ve got the privilege as well to be in the autumn of my life. When we refer to COVID-19, I’m one of those that should stay home, because I’m in the risk category. But with that age, I think it brings to me a lot of privileges that - I can just be for the day. So what do I do to earn a living? Imago relationship coaching. In the old ways, they refer to it as marriage counselling. But Francois, you and I know that it’s way more than marriage counselling. That’s an old-age word. So I work with couples, I love the time that I spend with couples and guiding them. Coaching them to a place where the other one’s otherness is not scary anymore.
The other one’s otherness is not scary anymore. Okay, I already have two questions for you, Grete. So one is, I like the perspective on the privilege of being in the autumn of your life. So, first talk about that, and then talk about not being scared of the other’s otherness.
When I started out as a young teacher, I was all frenzy and busyness. It was that - you know, I need to get a career. And then people will ask you, what is it that you do? I think that’s the question that’s kind of scary. Because invariably when I would say to them, I’m a marriage counsellor, there would be two reactions: they would either get this dull, blank expression, and they’d start looking where they could escape. Or they’d start to think about their problems, or how they’ve got this amazing marriage, and they share with me all their wisdoms. So that’s the one part. Where were we with this question? (Laughs)
I wanted to know why you call it the privilege of being in the autumn of your life.
So now, when I meet someone and they ask me what I do, I can choose for that day what it is that I do. I’m pretty sure, Francois, you also saw this video clip – Dewitt Jones, Let’s Celebrate… Well, it’s not even a clip, it’s a long section that’s an educational, motivational mini-movie that he made. Dewitt Jones has always worked for National Geographic. And they then gave him this job to make this motivational movie. He called it, Let’s Celebrate What’s Right in the World. And I think that paved the way for me to say, I’m in the autumn of my life. I can now celebrate each little moment as it shows up.
So when you ask, do I see my grandchildren at this stage? Whether I’m with Katie or whether I’m with Liddie, I show up as a grandmother. And when I have an interview with you, I show up as me, with all the curiosity that Francois brings and what Francois is doing in his life. So here’s a new word. Presencing, Francois. I think with reaching the age where I am, I grant myself the privilege to just be present with whomever I’m with at that specific moment. And that brings me to the work that I do with couples now. I know they come to me to sit in my presence. This is not - it doesn’t come from a conceited place. It’s because I’m grounded, I’ve been there, done that, I’ve got most T-shirts.
I can bring my wisdom and what I’ve learned and experienced in my own relationship, I can bring to the couple. Obviously, with all the theories that we’ve got. Back to the clip, Dewitt Jones, Let’s Celebrate What’s Right in the World. There’s a section in that movie where he goes to Scotland. And he’s going to interview a master weaver. He says he arrives there, after quite a long journey and quite a walk, because it’s quite secluded on a hill. He arrives there, and it’s this small little unimpressive house. She opens the door, and she says - you will just have to wait a bit. Now remember, this is this world-renowned National Geographic photographer arriving there. And she says, you will just have to wait a bit, because my brother who I’m looking after, is sick. So I need to go and take care of him. Eventually she comes back, and they go to the loom. He asks her questions and he’s photographing her in the process. He says to her, so what do you think of when you weave? Without taking a moment to think about it, she says to him, when I weave, I weave.
That’s it. So when we’re having this conversation, we are having this conversation. And for couples, if they allow that little bit of wisdom to land… when we are having a fight, we are having a fight. And when we are making love, we are making love. And we do not allow the fight to interfere with what we’re doing now. Isn’t that beautiful?
Wow, yes. But you have to unpack that some more. I wanna know more about that presencing, but also not being afraid of the other’s otherness.
I think in all the years that I’ve been working with couples and guiding them, actually, back to their own full aliveness, to be who they should be in this world, and not be scared to laugh, to cry, to be who they are in that moment… in my work with couples, I’ve realised that it’s always the fact that you are so different from me that will creep into the relationship. When you are so different, I do not know what to do with that.
I’ve actually experienced it now in the first three weeks of lockdown. With tests - and where I am tested in the relationship. And I realised that we are amazing friends. We like doing the same things. We’ve got a nice rhythm. We’re really in the same rhythm. But sometimes I look at him and I think, wow. I wouldn’t have done it that way. Wow.
(Laughs) You always say, wow.
I think it to myself. And I realised, in the two times that I was really upset with him, where he pushed my buttons, it was when he was so different from me. Len knows what he wants in life. And he claims what he wants in life. I’m different. I’m respectful, obedient, always considering everybody else, your needs come before my needs, which is a personality trait I would say (laughs). But sometimes, Len pushes my button in that place. I’ll give you an example.
Yesterday morning, again - he got up and decided, that’s it. It’s time to get up. I was in a nice deep sleep, and I think I had quite a nice dream as well. And it was like - that’s it! Open the curtains, time to get up. And I thought to myself, no man. Have a little respect. This side, I still want to sleep. But what he wants, he acts out. And he claims it. Fully alive, he claims that. And I feel disrespected. So you see the otherness there. I wouldn’t do that. So I get up in the morning, and I see he’s still fast asleep. I get up quietly, I go down the passage, I make my coffee, talk to the dog because I don’t want to disturb him. But what’s the lesson for me in this whole thing?
You see, Francois, I’ve learned with couples: it’s when you push my buttons in that place where you are so different from me - I need to look to me, what’s happening inside of me. Why am I so sensitive to your behaviour? And nine out of ten times, that’s the guiding light for me that I need to reclaim something in my life. That I need to put something back in my life. So in previous years, I would have described him as extremely selfish. But now I say, what is it that I need to put back in my life? What can I learn? What page can I take out of Len’s book, because the fact that he’s so different from me in that specific place, that’s my guiding light to show me where I can change, grow, yield, maybe - if that’s the word you want to use - in the relationship. Do I make sense?
Very much. So let me mirror it back to you. What I hear, is, that the person you are in a relationship with - they are very different from you. So Len is very different from you. And the areas where he is most different, that pushes your buttons. But in those areas that he’s so different that it actually pushes your buttons, that’s where you are invited to grow and to yield and to connect to something within yourself.
Yes. You’ve got it spot on. Spot on.
Okay. So meaning, that you’re very nice and considerate, but you can take that page from Len’s book, and say, sometimes it’s okay for me to go for what I want.
And not be too worried about how it affects others.
Yes. Because you see, I can become so subservient, so looking after others, taking care of others, that I don’t take care of myself enough.
So if I don’t fill my own teacup with love, patience, care, I can’t give it out to you. And at some point in time, it’s going to turn, and it’s going to develop into something. In Afrikaans, we say ‘n Sannie-jammergat. (Laughs)
I’m going to fall into the “poor me”, the victim mode. So Len is my teacher, my constant teacher, that it is okay to have my own boundaries. It is okay to sometimes say, no. I’m going to read a book now, you go and make your own tea.
Even if it feels wrong, because of the way you were brought up.
Yeah. Absolutely. So the other person’s otherness is there for you. It’s a mirror. You talked about mirroring just now. The other person’s otherness is - he or she is holding up a mirror for you to say okay, what’s happening in my life? What is my history? What is it that I’m bringing into this moment, here and now, that I’m triggered? That I’m feeling bad, or sad, rejected, or angry. Because invariably, we’ll feel angry, that’s what we can feel in the body. My heart will pound, I’ll start sweating. Your body will tell you when you’re triggered. But then to just, all right, what’s underneath here? What is it that I need to let go of, or what is it that I need to learn in this situation, not to be triggered so much? Hedy says it nicely. She talks about the way we are - everything is in our history. It comes into who I am at this stage.
Makes a lot of sense to me, Grete. Would you say that that fear of the other person’s otherness is like the most common thing you help couples deal with, or work through?
Yes. It’s difficult to really love when one is so different from the other.
Do you mean that it’s difficult to love if one sees the fact that the other is so different as a problem? Or what do you mean?
No, it’s absolutely a gift. It’s a gift. If I had to be married to myself,
It would be quite boring! So, no. We need the other person in our life, to show us and to help us reclaim full aliveness. As therapists, we know that story - how our history plays into the here and now.
But do you mean, that that difference is what makes it hard for couples to love one another sometimes? Because they don’t understand that the difference is actually the gift?
Yes. Because it’s not in my consciousness at that moment when I get triggered. I just know, you’re irritating me now. But underneath that, there will be something like, you’re inconsiderate.
Yes. Like the story you make up that explains that behaviour.
Yeah. So you will find, once you get to that place, that neighbourhood, or that emotion, whatever you want to call it - underneath the anger is the feeling that you’re inconsiderate. You don’t care about me. So you have to drill it down. You’re inconsiderate. What’s underneath that? You only care about yourself. So invariably, you don’t care about me. And once you land in that place, you can go and say to yourself, all right. Let me go back in my history and see if this is a common place for me, emotional landscape for me, to land. That I feel you don’t consider me, I feel neglected, whatever the case may be. And once you’re there and you can join the dots, you can build your own puzzle. You can see the whole picture.
And then you can do something consciously about it. Because we’re getting triggered in a subconscious way. We’re not always sure why it happens. But there’s a dance between each and every couple. And it will manifest in something like, you never open the door for me. When we’re at a party, you never pour me a drink. You never ask me whether I would like something. So what’s underneath that? Again - I don’t matter.
And when you’re there, you can say to your partner: you know what, when that happens, and you do not actually acknowledge me, you don’t ask me whether I need a drink, you just stand by the fire and have chit-chat with your friends, you forget about me. Okay. Let’s see why this is such a difficult place for you to be? You forget about me. And when you start drilling down back into the past, what I’ve experienced with one woman, is that she eventually remembered how her mom, who was an artist, would be so into her painting, that she would lose track of time. And she would forget that it’s 2 o’clock, and she needs to be at the school to pick up her little ten-year-old daughter. And this little girl would sit - well in those days, it was safe. It’s not a recent story. She would sit there on the pavement, and one by one, all the kids’ parents would pick them up. And there she would sit, totally alone. Neglected, forgotten about. The teacher would come out and say to her, just come and sit in the classroom, and I’ll phone your mom. So there’s that neighbourhood of feeling you don’t care about me.
Now, fast forward to the braai, and the husband who’s supposed to love her. What does love look like and feel like to her? You will see when I need you. You will see that you need to take care of me. At that moment, we fall into the subconscious past. And you become that little girl sitting outside the school on the pavement, forgotten. The story you start to believe about yourself is, I’m not important. I’m not important enough for you to take care of me, to look out for me.
To remember me.
So once the couple gets to that point where they can have that conversation, things shift in the relationship. Understanding the real story. Understanding my history. Dan Siegel has got a nice way of putting it, Francois. You will know this - he talks about interpersonal neurobiology. Isn’t that beautiful?
So if anything happens between people, it’s in the brain, but also in biology. We can’t pull them apart. They’re not separate entities. It’s one. So when the body tells me and goes into the emotion that I’m angry, or sad, or whatever, it’s the history and the brain. Because that’s where everything is stored. My whole past. All my previous experiences, stored there. But it’s only when I’m in a relationship with somebody else that you’re going to push my buttons. If I’m on my own with my dog and my budgie, it’s fine.
Yeah (laughs). No triggers.
And your kids will do the same thing. Your kids will also push your buttons in that place where you need to come out of just reacting in the body, to a place of, all right. Where does this come from? Join the dots, build a bridge, and see what’s in your past.
Okay. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks, Grete. So can you maybe share with us the different approaches you use, the different techniques you use to help couples do that? To embrace the otherness, and see, you know - visit the past to see the real story. Why I feel certain emotions when you do this or don’t do that. What tools do you use to help and guide couples to that?
Because of my age and the fact that I’m in the autumn of my life (laughs), I’ve looked at a lot of different approaches to relationships. So each couple is unique. When they arrive, I first get onto the same page that they are. I get into their space. I ask them a lot of questions to just get a feeling of what’s living in this space between the two of them. And when I talk about the space, I mean, what’s in the relationship? What is the climate in the relationship?
Then I will draw on theory to normalise it for them. So this is where I’ll draw on the Imago theory, and I will explain to them that there’s a natural progression for all relationships. That we start from the romantic stage, which is biologically induced, wonderful euphoria. It can’t last. That’s a natural progression for relationships, to fall into a place where there’s a struggle. And sometimes it’s a real power struggle, sometimes it’s just that fact that you are so different from me. I do not know how to work with your otherness. So I would first of all, just explain to them that’s a natural progression for all relationships. And then I go - and I’ve found this is very important. Couples need to understand that love is really completely different from romantic love.
They will say, but I’m not in love with her anymore. Of course, you’re not in love anymore, you can’t be in that romantic stage forever. It’s just impossible biologically. Then I draw on, and I explain to them, that it’s a choice that you make. Love is a choice that you make, to stay with the other person. And that you’re going to come and do this work with a coach, a guide, a therapist, to understand the dynamic in the relationship. Then I bring in Edith Eger’s book. I don’t know whether you’ve read her book. I think, if there’s one book that I advise each and every person to read, it is Edith Eger’s book, The Choice. It’s an amazing book. So it’s very similar to Viktor Frankl’s book -
Oh wow. Man's Search for Meaning?
Yeah. Because the two of them both survived the Holocaust.
Yeah. In his book he focuses on, what is it that I need here to survive? But she suffered from a lot of survival guilt. So her book focuses more on that side. But it’s all about the choices that you make in life. And I think the fact that they were in those horrible, horrible circumstances - you know, she describes in her book that when at the end of the war, when she was saved, she was amongst a lot of corpses. And she summoned - she says, with her last piece of energy she had - she just summoned this cry so that people could realise there’s one living person amongst this heap of bodies. Can you imagine?
Yeah. So the choice that she made every step of the way, in the concentration camp - oh, she tells the story of how she was summoned to go and dance for Mengele. Now imagine, you need to go on stage where all the soldiers are now having their fancy meal and laughing, having a beer and having a cigar, and she’s on stage. She’s doing ballet for them. And she says that she chose to go in her mind to a place where she thought she was on stage in Vienna, in the opera theatre there, and she was dancing there. The choice that we make for survival. And the choice that we make for commitment. Amazing book. So I show my couples that, and I say to them - you need to choose for this relationship. It’s easy to run away. But you need to choose for this relationship. Once you made that choice, we get closer to real life. Sue Johnson of Emotionally Focused Therapy, she also puts it nicely. She says love is only a word until you give meaning to it. Isn’t that beautiful?
Yeah. So in my approach with couples, they need to know that, where you find yourself now, challenged in this relationship, that’s normal. All couples go through that (laughs). And you will go through that until you’re grey and 80. It’s always going to be there. But you’re not going to get stuck in that horrible place of, I don’t speak to you, or you’re so weird, you’re so this, you’re so that.
Is that the difference between conflict that gets you stuck and conflict that actually moves you forward?
Oh yes, oh yes.
It’s the choice you make. The fight and flight, the aggression, that lives in a subconscious mind. That’s in the reptilian brain. It’s instinctive, there’s no logic, there’s no reasoning there. If you go into the biology of the brain, you’re going to see where that sits. We’re designed that way, to get away from danger. Sometimes, Len is flipping dangerous! (Laughs) In my subconscious mind. Because he’s so different from what I am. So, yeah. The normal progression of relationships, then the choice that you make to be in the relationship. And then, to start working on the relationship. You asked about presencing as well. So that’s the next step, then. That once you choose for this relationship, this is where Sue Johnson comes in. Then you need to start acting so that you give meaning to the word love. And then we start working with - so what does love look like, feel like, smell like for you? I assist the couple to really become present for themselves, but also present for the other one. And this is the new word presencing. So I think the modern-day work is to be mindful.
I don’t know if you get this question. I get it a lot. When do you know it’s time to leave? How do you help couples know how and when to make that decision?
Again, it’s the choice you make. So what’s feeding your decision-making process? We’re all different. The one will come from a biblical background where they will say, the Bible tells you, you should not divorce unless this and this. So if that’s your framework, your guiding principles, you know - we’ve all got guiding principles. But Francois, when people decide to stay in the relationship because it’s too shameful - dis ‘n skande om te skei - I feel so sorry for them. Because then, pride comes in the way, and they are too proud to go and see somebody. That’s sad.
Can you relate to this, Grete? What I found - well, you brought in the Bible now. And what’s fascinating for me to see, is people that come with that mindset that it’s wrong to get divorced and so forth, they struggle to make that choice. To make that commitment. And I’ve never thought of it as pride, but it makes sense to me when you say that. Because they will not do the work. They will not do some of the exercises that I give them to do, to help them reconnect and move forward. Move to that definition of love, giving meaning to the word love. They won’t do that work. But they will pray for one another. And the prayer will always be focused on changing the other person. I’m just praying for the Lord to soften his heart. I’m just praying that God will show her a new way. Or help her understand. The prayer is not even focused on themselves. And you’re right. It’s prideful, actually. And it damages the relationship even more.
Francois, I think what I hear from you as well, is that it’s easy then - when people pray in that way, they do not accept the responsibility of, what is my part in this relationship? This is the other guiding principle in working with couples: they need to know that each one is 100% responsible for what happens in their relational space. It’s not the one that’s wrong, selfish, lazy, obnoxious, alcoholic. There are two people in the relationship. But now, when there was an affair, you know, it’s very easy to be self-righteous and say, oh, but it’s you who had the affair. You’re the culprit. You’re the one that must say sorry, and you’re the one that must change. And this is where it becomes very difficult for the party who was not the affairer (laughs) - is there such a word?
There is one now. I’m all for creating new words. We’ve got wisdoms, presencing, and affairer. (Laughs)
I don’t know what you’d call him or her.
The adulterer, I think.
Well, the one that didn’t stray. So it’s very difficult. And you need to work very softly and slowly, because they’re righteously indignant, or what’s the word… they’ve got a right to be indignant about what’s happened in the relationship.
It makes sense. Because it hurts them.
But then, for them to accept. And they will say to me, don’t tell me I’m also part of this thing, that I’ve got a part to play in this affair. Yes, you have. And that’s a place where you need to sit with soft eyes and lots of empathy. Yes, both of you create the climate in this relationship. I had a young dad who said to me the one day, that - you know what, I don’t even want to go home anymore, because when I arrive there, they’re both in front of the TV. They don’t even get up and come outside to say hello to me. And I’ve worked the whole day to provide for our family. So when I walk in there and nobody looks up, they just carry on with their TV-games or cooking, or whatever they’re busy with… he says, I just want to turn around and go back to the office. So there’s the environment, you know. The two people at home are creating an environment for this young guy to say, I’m going to go somewhere where somebody is at least pleased to see me. Where there’s a warm pair of eyes, saying wow, it’s you. Hello.
And that’s the hard part in relationships. To own up and take responsibility for my part in creating what’s going down in the relationship. So again, it’s back to choice. Do I choose to take responsibility for my part in what’s going down? It’s easy to just blame and project everything that’s wrong in the relationship on the other one. You need to show up, you need to make a choice to take responsibility for your part in the breakdown, or the conflict, or whatever it is. So, conflict is the other wonderful thing. So when a couple arrives, and they say - oh, and this was great, Francois - a young couple comes, and we’re getting to know one another. He said to me out of the blue - I just need to tell you: we’ve been married now for five years, and I think we’ve just had our top best fight ever in the car on the way here. Out of the top three, I think this was the top one (laughs). And he said to me, he’s still seeing white, he’s still very angry and wow, he doesn’t know how they’re going to do the work. And then, you know, to use the conflict, and to say to them - guys. You need to really rethink conflict. That is the gift in the relationship.
Yes, yes. Preach it! (Laughs)
I listened to what they had to say about what went down, and immediately, then and there I said to them, I wish I was in the car, I wish I could have observed what was happening there. And I said to them, don’t you wanna continue? And he says, Yes! Ek is lus vir haar! (Laughs)
So right then and there, I allowed them. I said to them, you know, I’d love to see this for five minutes. And they went right back into that fight. Then I stopped them. Again, used that as a teaching moment, to say to them: right. You’ve now been captured, the reptilian brain took over, it’s fight or flight. Let’s do it differently. Then I taught them this whole new way of just leaving your world, mirroring the other one, visiting the other world, and deeply listening to what’s happening there. Fortunately for me, they had been to a typical Imago session before. So they knew about mirroring, and the dialogue. I didn’t have to teach them that.
It’s difficult to listen. Ask me.
Yes. Yes, it’s hard work to really listen.
Hard work. Oh, my word.
(Laughs) I have another comment slash question for you, Grete, regarding choice. What I recently learned, is that we - we may have a lot of options, but we only get one choice. And I like to think of it that way. Because when people ask, should I leave or should I stay? The way they stay, there’s a lot of options there, the way they leave, there’s a lot of options there. The reasons, like, is it the spiritual? The Bible says I’m not allowed to get divorced, so I will stay, but I will make it horrible. I’ll make it as unbearable as I can for the other person to be in this relationship. Maybe until they cheat, and then I can go, okay, there you go. Now I know I have the right to leave. But even though you have all these options, you actually only get one choice. So sometimes people, it seems to me, don’t understand that. They want to have more than one choice. They want to stay but also leave. They’re not really staying. They actually made the choice to leave, but they think they made the choice to stay. Can you comment on that? It’s just something I learned recently.
Yeah. I think what I’ll do in that instance, I would really cross into the other person’s world. And I would really listen to them. Because you know, Francois, the moment somebody else mirrors your thoughts, your feelings about something, you’re getting to know yourself. If somebody just stays present for your reality, the penny will drop eventually. And you will have this aha-moment. Hopefully. So I would really just cross the grid, stay present for their story. Because when a couple comes, I deeply believe that they know the best for their relationship and what’s best for themselves. I trust their inner wisdom. And I tell them: I really trust that your essence will come out. The fact that I’m half-in, half-out, I wanna do my own thing, that’s not essence. Essence is that I want to love, I want to be happy, I’m creative, I’m passionate. That’s essence. So I’ll listen, listen, listen to them, and say, all right. What is it that you hear your inner wisdom saying? I’ll validate that and I’ll respect that. But then: how do you choose to leave the rest of your life? Lurking between… you know. And not being happy. You’re like, walking into an environment where it’s dark, it’s gloomy, it’s full of fights. Or where do you want to live? Choose that, and then - the difficult part about this work is closing the exits, Francois.
Can you say what you mean by that, Grete? What are exits?
Oh, yes. Oh, we’ve got so many exits. They’re wonderful exits. So instead of spending 80% of my energy, my full aliveness in this space with you, our relational space, the family, I will take my energy, my enthusiasm somewhere else. So some people will start running. I always wonder about the Comrades marathon runners (laughs). Is it really a passion? Or is it the fact that you need to just escape the duty, the heaviness, the burden, the responsibility of the family? And now you’ve got an excuse, very honourable excuse, to take yourself out of this space for hours on end. Or Iron Man. When Len and I, when we were in a difficult patch in our relationship, I went back to university. How honourable was that? How amazing (laughs). I used it as an excuse to escape the intimacy of the relationship. So some people will cook and bake. Some people will get tremendously involved in the church, in the school. They’re on each and every board. In a nutshell, I take my energy, my enthusiasm, somewhere else where I’m recognised. Where I feel fulfilled. And then, this is where I feel fully alive.
Fully alive is the thing. You know, when somebody must choose, am I staying or am I leaving? Where do I want to be fully alive? Will you really be fully alive with the next relationship or the next person? Because believe you me, the dance will follow you into the next relationship. You know that well.
Yes. Very true. And how do you help couples close those exits one they’ve identified them?
Oh, it’s a choice, it’s a decision. There’s no magic in that one. You need to choose that you’re going to close that exit. So for some people, it can’t be just poof! Closed. It’ll be gradual. It’s like a smoker. You can’t just go cold turkey and give up all cigarettes. Some people will do it, they have to do it (laughs). But it’s a gradual process. And then you work with the couple. So what is it that you can do for now, that’s comfortable for you? Because, you also know, Francois, we find that some - this is maybe jargon - the clinger and the distancer - will be attracted to each other. So you need to work with that carefully, slowly. But sometimes it’s a cold turkey. Especially when there was an affair. You need to close that door. There’s no way that you can work on your relationship and still see the other person once a month. Again, back to the choice that you make in the here and now. Do I choose for the relationship? And then, do I choose to be fully alive in this relationship? Because if it’s going to be a long, drawn-out battle, people will get sick. So then I think, rather leave the relationship. When do you tell people to leave, Francois? What would you advise people when they ask you, do I need to stay, or do I need to get a divorce?
For me, it’s about knowing why. Are you leaving to escape something, and do you know what that something is? Because usually, that something is like you’ve explained in the beginning of this conversation, within yourself. So when you leave, you’re taking yourself with you. And you take that self into the next relationship. And that’s why, as you also know, Grete, the pattern will repeat. So even when people have an affair, they leave their marriage to be with the person they had the affair with, and they see, oh no. How did you change into my ex-wife? You’re the same. But actually, they are the same. They just attract the same kind of things that are actually there to help them heal and grow, that push those buttons.
So for me, that’s it. If you’ve done everything to make sure that you are the best version of yourself, then you will know how to make that choice. Here’s another way that I try and do that, Grete. Maybe you can comment on this. I try and explain it in terms of levels and standards. The standard according to which they live. So when they are in that battle, that fight, there’s a certain level on which they engage. They’re on that level. But if one person chooses to raise their standard, meaning - you know this, Grete. When you’re in a fight, you’re not your best self. You’re not the way you actually want to be. You don’t feel the way you want to feel. You don’t think and say things that you actually mean, or want to say. You’re sub-standard according to your own standards. So for me, it’s when you are able to raise that standard and be the person you want to be, regardless of what the other person does or doesn’t do. Then you have the perspective to understand and make a choice that’s healthy. Then you’ll be able to say, yes. I should leave, or I shouldn’t leave.
But what happens most of the time in my experience, when one person doesn’t want to come to any kind of coaching therapy session, but the other does, and this happens, this invites and challenges the other person to also raise their standard. Because now this one is treating the other one differently. Love and respect, because something inside changed. And when this happens, the divorce isn’t the option on the table anymore. It’s, how can we improve this? But if it doesn’t happen, they have an answer. They can make the choice, not reactively, but consciously. That’s what helps me.
So what I’m hearing from you, if I put it in my language, is that: if the one is not prepared to come to therapy, the one who wants to do the work can do the work on his/her own. That person can become the best version of themself that’s possible. Once you, with therapy, become the best version of yourself, obviously you can stay present for the other one’s meltdowns, and the fact that he or she is so different from you. Because you come from a more mature, grounded place where you’ve got compassion for the other one. But you need the other person to trigger you so that you can get to know yourself, so that you can love that part in yourself, to become a better person. I’m reading Joyce Meyer’s stuff, and listening to a lot to her work again. She’s also got a lot of wisdom. So I tap from her wisdom. She actually said that because she came out of an abusive relationship with her dad, and the childhood that was less than ideal, she couldn’t even love herself. And if you cannot love yourself, there’s no way that you can love somebody else. So when we do the work on our own with our own therapists, we learn to love ourselves. We can accept the grace from above. And then we can really give that love out to somebody else. So she said that she’s so grateful for her second husband Dave, I think his name is, in her life. She says, no matter how she performed, lost her temper, he still loved her. And his love for her, that constant, warm, predictable love that she saw in him, opened her heart to become the woman she is now. So there’s something in that as well. If we can just learn to love ourselves. And now we’re not talking about a narcissistic love, but that deep love. And then I can give it to you, and I can stay present for your meltdowns.
Eventually, I’m learning now - I’m a slow learner, Francois - when Len and I go into a meltdown, when the reptilian brain takes over, we go into our fight or flight mode, I can sometimes now say, wow, let me just take a deep breath. I’m way too triggered now. And that’s a way of loving myself, to know, I need to give myself space now. I need to just ground myself again, and then I can talk to you.
Yes. Absolutely, Grete. I can identify with that. For me, it’s like, how do I stay connected to the person I want to be when I’m triggered? You know, when Nicoliene and I, we go to that conflict kind of space, how do I stay connected to the person I want to be? That person who’s caring and loving and present, who’s understanding, has clear boundaries, does not take responsibility for things that cannot be controlled, but is present. Is not blaming, is not defensive. And when I’m able to do that, something that would’ve been a fight in the past is nothing at all. We get the information from the conflict, we learn - okay. Actually, I’m triggered because of my own stuff, because of the story I make up about why she didn’t do that or why she did that. I make up a story to explain it.
Yeah. Relationships, it can be amazing, but also challenging. And that’s why we need people like you and me and all the other Imago-trained, relationally trained therapists. Because you cannot really work with the relationship coming from the individual paradigm.
There is something about that. But I also know, we’ve just talked about it - if I don’t work with myself, then I can’t be present for anybody else in my life.
Yeah. What’s great about the conflict within a relationship, it actually helps me set up the agenda of my growth. It helps me plot the past. The stuff where I need to focus or work on. The thing that upsets me. That angers me, hurts me, makes me sad. It’s my story. It’s me. I’m angry. So that becomes the agenda, which I think is one of the great gifts. But Francois, that’s the difficult part. And I think that’s why couples don’t really want to do the work. It’s to be so conscious and so mature about the fact that it’s my stuff. It’s difficult to take responsibility. It’s easy to project it all onto you and say, you need to change. We started there in this conversation. But it’s you that must do this. You must change. Become more attentive. The work is on this side. And eventually, you would be able, in a conversation - tell your partner, that when you do this, it leaves me feeling a, b, and c.
Definitely. I call that healthy selfishness. So I’m just playing around with words to try and make that clear. But when you’re focusing on what the other person is doing, that’s the most selfish you can be. Because that is not about the other person, it’s about you. But when you start just focusing on yourself, really become self-centred in a healthy way, what can I do? What can I control? What am I thinking and feeling? What do I believe? Those things - like you said earlier. You’re 100% responsible for those things. If I focus on that, the way I see the other person changes drastically.
Grete, wow. Thank you so much. We could just keep on going. So maybe next time, we should do a whole episode just on affairs, because I think it’s such a big question for people. And maybe in another one, talk about singles, you know. The whole dating scene (laughs).
Yeah, interesting places one can go to. But this was lovely. Thank you very much. This chat was long overdue, Francois. Yes for lockdown! (Laughs)
And once again, thank you for what you’ve meant to me and Nicoliene in our marriage as well. For your guidance and wisdom, and input. We appreciate you.
So where can people reach you, Grete, where can they contact you? How do they find you?
I do have a website that… I thought, now in lockdown, I’m going to upgrade that, but I didn’t (laughs). Len and I had too much fun in lockdown. But we don’t want another again. So there is a website - www.gretebecker.co.za . And my e-mail will be there as well.
Great. My last question, Grete, before I say goodbye, is - you know, this podcast is called Fresh Perspective. So what do you think you have a unique and fresh perspective on? Or what makes you odd? But also gives you that edge of seeing something very different?
Relationship-wise, or generally?
Generally. Or both, now you’ve got me curious.
That’s a big question. Francois, I think I come back to where we started. The fact that I’m in the autumn of my life, and I can give myself the privilege to just be. Sit back and not do a lot of stuff. So my perspectives actually, at this stage, come from reading a lot. Especially new things. And then I come back to an old perspective, Francois, that - the world is a strange place at this stage. We do not know what’s going to happen, even tomorrow. You know, this black swan - I never thought in my life, I would see a black swan event. I’ve always heard about black swans, but now it’s happened. And I realise that if you’re not grounded in something bigger than yourself, you’re going to be blown around in this wind and wave of new things and Covid-19, and am I going to make it? Am I going to die? What’s going to happen to me? Is the business going to make it? There’s a lot of doom and gloom. So what is our capacity, what is it that we need to stay positive, grounded, still laugh, still have a sense of humour? And for me, that is to be attached to a higher power outside myself. I think if you’re not grounded in something way more than just the world, it’s going to be very difficult. So I’m reading a lot in my Bible again at this age. I’m looking for a lot of answers in this old book that’s been around for how many centuries, Francois? Yeah, I don’t know. And I’m getting so many fresh perspectives out of just reading the most ancient book of all. Feeling positive, relaxed and calm, so -
I can see, I can see (laughs).
Yeah. I’ve got friends who are petrified to go out of the house. And when they see somebody not wearing a mask, they’re like, how can you do that? Len and I walk - I walk to the shops at 10 o’clock in the morning, I go buy my bread and milk, and some policeman must try and stop me! (Laughs) So I’m not scared of the virus, I’m not scared of the police. It’s nice to be in the autumn of my life where I’m calm and at peace. Hopefully not ancient, but… happy and content. Yeah. So that’s my perspective at this stage, Francois.
Love it. That’s why I immediately asked you about that. It makes sense that that’s your fresh take on life.
So my question that I’ll ask people, is: what are you holding on to in this crazy time of a black swan event that’s got the world topsy turvy? What is your rock, what are you holding on to for sanity? So that’s me, Francois.
Thank you so much, Grete. Thank you once again. It’s been great chatting to you.
Yeah. Love to Nicoliene and the kids, I saw them on Facebook. They’re beautiful.
Thank you so much. Say hi to Len for me.
Books referenced in this episode can be found on Amazon by following the links below: