4 Stages in Learning to Love

January 21, 2015

 
How do you learn new, more fulfilling ways of being in a relationship?

 

With Tuesday’s New Moon presenting at the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, it feels like a timely moment to release the patterns of the past in order to lay down a new foundation for a new future. Mercury will move into retrograde the very next day, adding zing to help you go over old territory in a way that will help propel yourself forward.

 
Leaving Behind Patterns that Don't Work

 

Many of us are familiar with relationship patterns that don’t work. Pursuing men that are not available. Hiding your authentic self, only to end up feeling disconnected from yourself and your partner. Getting involved with men that have a very familiar brand of anger “management.” Feel free to add your own favorite pattern to this list.

 

We’ve all been there to some degree. I know I have. There’s no shame in being human. And yet most of us would greatly benefit from learning new ways of being in a relationship.

How do you do that? How do you walk a new path with love?

 
Stages in Learning Something New

I

’m reminded of the four stages of competence.  This is a psychological theory that was created in the 70’s.  It basically says that there are four stages to learning something new.

 

In the realm of relationships, a new skill to learn might be how to be exquisitely transparent.  For some, learning how to relax into the unknown could really serve their love lives. For others, telling a loved one your needs without shame or blame could be truly revolutionary.
 

No one can flip the switch on embodying a new relationship skill; it takes time and development.  You and the rest of humanity will inevitably go through the four stages of competence before you can be masterful at the dance of love and intimacy.

 

Here are the four stages:
 

1)Unconscious incompetence. At this stage we are unaware of what we don’t know. When it comes to relationship patterns, most of us have an iceberg’s worth of submerged material. Our first models of partnership and intimacy got imprinted in our psyches in the womb and early childhood. Of course you aren’t going to be aware of what you absorbed before certain parts of your brain came online. To move beyond this stage, it really helps to assume that you don’t know your patterns fully and ask for the reflections of loved ones and/or a counselor.
 

2)Conscious incompetence. Here we become aware of what we don’t know. Sometimes we become aware of what we don’t know how to do from the sheer pain of an experience. Pain calls our attention like no other. Before I turned 34 I didn’t know for the life of me how to break off a relationship. The pain generated from being in three relationships that went well beyond their expiration date got me really conscious of the fact that I didn’t know how let go well.

 

Exposing ourselves to healthier models can also be illuminating. I used to have very little awareness of how to be fully transparent about my thoughts and feelings with my intimates until I came across a couple that modeled it beautifully. The contrast woke me up to what I didn’t know.
 

3)Conscious competence. At this stage we have some new awareness of what it takes to do what we didn’t know. And doing that new thing is awkward and challenging. Steps need to be broken down. It requires a lot of focus and effort in order to get more and more confident. When it comes to learning new ways to be in a relationship, it really helps to have teachers, books, and/or a coach to help you break down the steps and inhabit the mindset needed to do love differently.

 

What exactly does it take to manage my jealousy? Okay. I’ll try that. Oops that didn’t work well.

What might I do differently next time? Okay, that’s where I went wrong. Good to know. Ahhhh.

That went much better. Yay! Thanks for the support.

 

What would you suggest I do differently next time to get even better at this?

 

4)Unconscious competence. At this stage, you’ve had enough experience learning a skill that it now lives in your body’s wisdom. You can do things effortlessly without much thought. Remember how challenging it was to learn how to drive a car? And now you can drive while eating a burrito, playing with the radio, and having a conversation.

 

Giving your partner space could start off as really challenging and awkward. But after enough practice, support, and experience you can know how to do it without much effort. You can still do your work in the world, enjoy your life, and tend to your other relationships. Not a problem. You have what it takes to master that skill.

 

Questions to Ponder

 

What stage(s) of learning are you at in in your relationship skill set? What level of support do you need to help you move along in the learning cycle?

 

Is it time to sincerely ask for feedback from loved ones or a professional to get more conscious of what you are unconscious of?

 

Could you use a little compassion and love as you wake up to what you didn’t know about yourself?

 

Maybe a coach or a class or a teacher is needed to help you get really good at new ways of being in relationship.

 

Or maybe some celebration and witnessing is in order to help you become more aware of what you have learned and mastered beautifully!

 

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