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Ingrid Martine and Rick Maurer - The Un-Game Book Interview

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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Your Challenging Relationships: Why Not Make Them Exhilarating?

Un-Game Principle: Either/Or thinking is harmful to the thinker and to relationships

14-02-18 Your Challenging RelationshipsIf Olympic athletes find challenges exhilarating, why do most of us gasp at the mere thought that challenging relationships could be exhilarating? Well? Don’t we want them to be? Especially those that matter most, like spouses, lovers, and children? I speculate that the gap between what is and what can be… feels like an impossible mountain to climb.

Henry Ford said: “Belief creates the fact.” And as Einstein observed, “We can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. And for those of us who interpret the latter to mean work harder at it, no, that’s not it. That would just be more of the same that has gotten us to where we are at this moment.

So what’s the key to shifting our point of view from impossibility to possibility? From despair to hope for our challenging relationships?

The Ford and Einstein quotes can help. But only so much.  And shifting  the conclusion “My intimate relationships can be exhilarating” and making a case for that conclusion rather than its opposite is doomed (although shifting your attention from a dis-empowering conclusion to a more empowering one—then laser-focusing your attention on making a case for it—is an awesome skill worth honing).

Why is shifting to a direct opposite conclusion doomed? Try it out and see. If this is a conclusion you truly believe to be fact, say it out loud. “No way can challenging relationships be exhilarating.” Notice how your mind jumps to building your case. It wants to make you right. You remember the time you wanted to be listened to, and your significant other didn’t listen. You remember how you asked for help and the answer was “I can’t.” You get the picture.

Now switch to the opposite of that conclusion. “Challenging relationships can be exhilarating.” Notice what happens in your busy mind. “No they can’t,” you hear. “Whoever thought of that is an idiot!” And on and on. You get what’s known as push-back from a mind that has made itself up! What positive thinking is unaware of is that the exact opposite conclusion is just the opposite side of the same coin and the hardest one to make a case for when your mind is made up. Excuse the analogy, but it’s like spraying perfume on a turd. Sigh. It’s still a turd. So it’s best to turn to a conclusion where you have little or no push-back.  Perhaps something like this: “I can learn to be more powerful in dealing with relationships that are now challenging.” Did you try it? Was push-back as great as for the direct opposite conclusion? I suspect not.

Let me share something relevant to this conversation that has knocked a lot of socks off. It’s a blog post from my coach, friend, colleague, and client, and founder of a highly respected Omaha, Nebraska law firm that specializes in divorce. (Yes, we manage all these relationships, and they are exhilarating!).  Susan Koenig writes this in her blog at :

Hold on to This

“Knowing that death was just months away, John (her husband) began to get rid of things. He tossed tattered manila folders from his filing cabinet. He gave away books. He added clothes to the Goodwill box.

I could struggle with letting go of a calendar from 1987, but if John held on to anything it was because it truly had value. John knew to let go of what no longer served him.

So when he left his journals, I knew it wasn’t an accident.

John died in September of 2011. By October I had made my way through most of what he had written. John had journaled for decades, including the two we spent together. While many of his later reflections were about the journey of living with a terminal cancer diagnosis, I became obsessed about what he wrote about me, about us, about our marriage.

Was he faithful to me? Did he think I was a good wife? Did I make him happy? Did I make his life better? I was hungry for affirmation.

While answers to those questions were on pages of spiral notebooks and little leather-bound books, I didn’t seem to notice them as much as the evidence I gathered about how hard it was for him to be married.

I could not stop reading and rereading the passages that hurt me the most. I made an absurd attempt to create a chronology of our love on a pink legal pad the way I would create a chronology for a divorce trial when I was trying to figure out exactly what the facts were. I put tiny tabs on the pages that either affirmed my version of the verdict I wanted or damned me to inconsolable sorrow.

For weeks I stayed up too long past midnight with the journals spread out on our bed in which he died beside me. Searching. Searching. Trying to find proof that what we had was good. Searching and sobbing.

By winter I calmed. I was weary of wallowing in what I could no longer change and of the constant replay of the painful passages I focused on. The truth was that we were a tenderly loving couple. We had countless joyous times. Our life together had meaning and purpose. I knew that more than one thing could be true, and that I could decide what to hang on to.

I gave myself a solo weekend retreat to grieve. I turned off my phone, opened my heart, and looked at all the love we had. Pouring over photographs of him with our children and that magical trip to Cinque Terra, I shifted my focus to comforting words written over the years: “We can work quietly yet have fun together.” “Probably the best wife in the world.” “I love Suzy.”

I was willing to learn lessons John taught me: Hold on to that which has value, and toss the rest.

Marriage, like divorce, is complex. Your marriage ending may be full of sorrowful notes, but surely plenty more. As your life goes on, toss that which no longer serves you, decide what to hold on to, and hold on tight.”

~Coach Koenig

The major lesson for me is that “more than one thing can be true.” Exhilarating relationships depend on putting this knowledge in action. It means that you can get out of the constrictive either/or thinking and live with the tension of both/and thinking.  The former illustrates Henry Ford’s quote. The latter gets us closer to the implied invitation in Einstein’s quote. For relationships of the living it doesn’t mean ignoring those things that break your heart. It means building your awareness and skills for engaging in courageous conversations AND shifting your focus as Susan did. Both are within your power.  Why not open your heart and your mind to allow exhilarating relationships a place to reside?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:, or connect with Ingrid at: and