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The key to building an US box is remembering that the relationship is not repairable, and that it is not going to serve as the foundation for the new relationship.  To do this, it is important to help the individuals see that the “us” in their relationship is and will be only part of their individual worlds.  Husbands and wives, for example, sometimes act and feel as if their entire world is shattered when their relationship stops working.  The same thing can sometimes be seen when parents or children discover a bad relationship.  In part, the reason for thinking that the world is coming to an end is that people tend to wait too long—far too long—before they accept the fact that the old relationship has “gone to pot” and will not work anymore.  Compounding the problem is the fact that people tend to do some rather strange things when they see that the old relationship is no longer functioning.  Married people sometimes decide to have another child.  Teenagers decide that being physically closer might help.  Friends quit speaking to each other, and so on, including those typical coping patterns discussed in Chapter 10.

As you work with people in conflicted and crisis relationships, it is important to help them maintain focus on the goal of building a new relationship, while avoiding the trap of trying to repair the old one.  The focus is on building a new US box.  It is important to see that the goal is not to change the individuals, building either a new ME box or a new YOU box.  They simply need to focus their attention on building a new US box.  They say to you, “But we will both have to change.”  No.  That notion should be put under the heading of “an old wives’ tale.”  The old adage says that when a relationship goes bad, both people will have to change.  This is not only silly but also quite unlikely.  As individuals, people usually do not change very much, and then only grudgingly because they feel they have to.  They may behave a little differently.  They may slightly modify some of their habits, reactions, demands, expectations, and so on.  But they are, nevertheless, the same people—relatively unchanged, but growing.  It is not unusual, after a crisis experience, to talk with people who indicate that things are much better, their new relationships are more satisfying, but they are the same as they have always been.  “I don’t feel any different.  I am the same as I always was.  It’s the new relationship that’s different.  That’s what makes the difference.”

Individuals who are involved in the process of building a new US box must agree that, as individuals, they are each all right.  They will not, and do not really want to, change each other.  They only want to build a new US box.  If either individual is unable to accept the fact that the ME box and the YOU box in the relationship are all right, we and they are wasting our efforts in trying to build a new US box.  Recall that the building process adds bits to the relationship.  If one of the builders thinks that the other one is not all right, he will add many bad bits to the US box about the other person.  As these bad bits accumulate, the new US box will begin to deteriorate.  Similarly, if either individual has been forced to make substantial changes or life adjustments, he or she will gradually resent the pressure and use of force.  Bad bits related to this resentment will begin to slip into the US box, causing it to go bad.  To begin an US box, both people must agree.

  1. I am all right the way I am.
  2. You are all right the way you are.
  3. We are going to build an ongoing, ongrowing US box that is acceptable to both of us.

As you work with people involved in conflicted or crisis relationship, if it becomes apparent that they will not agree to these three basic rules of US box building, you should refuse to take the process any further and should encourage them, as individuals, to save their energy and emotions for other times and other people.

Mike and Mary have reached a point of crisis in their marriage.  You ask: How can I help?  Mike answers: Our marriage is on the rocks.  We have three small children who deserve a normal family.  We have to get things back together for their sake.  You ask: How do you see the situation, Mary?  Mary: I agree.  There’s nothing that’s going to help our relationship, but at least we have to learn to be civilized for those kids.  You say: You both seem to feel pretty hopeless about your marriage.  What good do you think it will do to talk with me about it?  Mike answers: You can make her understand that she has to stay home and take care of those kids.  She can’t be always running around and spending all of her time over at the neighbors’, drinking coffee or whatever they do.  She has responsibilities at home, and I expect her to do them.  Mary: Don’t talk to me about responsibilities.  It’s not me that’s going out all the time, coming home drunk, acting like a wild man in front of the kids.  Mike: Get off my back!  I married you, didn’t I?  Don’t I go to work every day and pay the bills?  You have more than a lot of people.  I never told you I’d love you.  I told you I’d do what’s right by you.  I married you, didn’t I?  Mary, beginning to cry: Yes, and I wish you hadn’t.  I didn’t love you then and I don’t now.  I can’t stand you.  Mike: You might was well stop that.  It’s not going to do you a damn bit of good.  I told you with the first one I’d help you raise it.  I’m not sure the other two are mine, but I told you I’d help you raise them too.  You can just get off that stuff and quit acting like a little hurt puppy.  Mary: But I never thought it would be this way.  I thought maybe we’d get something worked out, and things might really be okay.  Mike: Things are okay, if you’d just quit acting like they were supposed to be something they aren’t.  You say: Neither of you seems to feel very good about the other one.  Mike: She knew what the deal was.  I don’t feel any different about her that I ever did.  I told her I’d do what’s right, and I’m doing it.  Mary: I know, but I can’t deal with it this way much longer.  It’s getting to me.  Mike: Then get out, but if you go, you’re sure not taking those kids.  Those kids are mine, and I’m going to take care of them.  If you want to leave, leave—but you’re not leaving with those kids.  Mary: I can’t leave the kids.  You know that.  Mike says to you: That’s where it is.  That’s where it always ends up.  She threatens to leave, and I tell her she’s not taking the kids, and she says she’s not leaving without them.  It just always ends up there.  That’s not good for me or for her, and especially it’s not good for the kids.  What are you going to do about it?  You say: It’s not my problem.  The problem belongs to you and Mary and the kids.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?  Mike: I don’t know.  That’s why we’re here.  You say to Mary: What do you think you will do about the situation, Mary?  Mary: I don’t know.

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