Master Class - Healthy Relationships

Posted 14 December 2010 12:00 AM by Haji Shearer, Teaching Artist

The Shubert Theatre; a beautiful place to conduct a Healthy Relationships Master Class for the Citi Performing Arts Center’s young adult interns and participants. When I arrived some of our participants were helping to hang holiday ornaments. Helpful, cheerful, artistic young people, this was going to be a treat! We had about a dozen youth sitting in a half circle in the Shubert's ornate lobby a half hour later. My wife, Radiant Jasmin, and I started the workshop with an icebreaker designed to help the artists describe themselves in positive ways. "You're familiar with affirmations, right?" we asked the group. Heads nodded up and down. We then described how the brain works like a computer and gives you answers to the questions you ask. Too often though we ask disempowering questions like, "Why is my life screwed up?" And your brain creates answers, "Cause you're stupid, or poor, or fat, or skinny, etc, etc"

So instead we went around the circle and asked questions that are naturally affirming and had a healthy relationships theme. "Why do you care? Why are you a good listener? Why are you forgiving? Why are you brilliant? Why are you lovable? Why are you creative?" All the youth got to keep an index card with their question on it to ponder and reinforce their magnificence at other times. One of my favorite answers was the young sister who responded to "Why am I excellent?" She looked to the ceiling for a second, smiled and then said, "Because I am here!"

Then we created a relationship vision. Not all group participants were in a romantic or sexual relationship, but we talked about how good relationship skills can be used at work or school, with non-intimate friends as well as in full out Love relationships. This was a high functioning group of young people and they all diligently completed the worksheet which asked them to identify three things. First was aspects from their parents relationships (where we first learn about intimacy) that they would choose to use in their own relationship. "Nothing," said one young man at first. Two, aspects of their parents relationship they would choose not to use and, three, new qualities they would like to add to their relationship. Radiant Jasmin shared some items from her list to role model. Then we asked for volunteers to share.

It was exciting to see the young folk open up and talk about some of the joys and sorrows they've witnessed in the world of relationships. Several people mentioned a desire not to have drug abuse and fighting in their relationship, other people wanted to keep communication and eating meals together, and some participants wanted to add taking trips and spirituality to their relationship. It was exciting to see people start to define for themselves what kind of relationship they wanted! The young man who started by saying there was nothing he wanted to keep from the relationship he saw his parents have, even revisited the question and realized his parents had a great sense of humor, and though there were many negative aspects of their relationship he wanted to let go of, he wanted to keep the humor. And throughout the afternoon, the group saw examples that he had!

The relationship vision exercise was intense so we balanced it out with a short movement exercise. Some simple stretching and deep breathing and the group was ready to get into more activities.

Two hours is a short period of time to talk about such a big, important subject. We felt time closing in on us as we moved to the last section on communication. We talked about the two parts of communication: sending and receiving information. And we discussed how, although there are lots of classes on public speaking and assertiveness, people are not really taught how to listen. When we brainstormed a list of characteristics of a good listener, these bright young folk got all the critical components: pay attention, listen for underlying meaning and feelings, be open minded and non-judgmental, use your body language to let the person know you are listening. Haji disclosed that he is bilingual. He speaks English and body language. He explained even if you don't understand the words, you can pick up a lot just from the speaker's facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Radiant Jasmin described the importance of using "I-statements," speaking from our own perspective instead of trying to tell the other person what "they" are thinking or feeling.

We broke up into pairs and practiced listening and reflecting back what our partner said to us. Everyone agreed it felt good to be listened to like that, but it would be hard to listen to your friend, or partner, or family member with that much attention all the time. As the workshop leaders, we agreed, and talked about how listening is a skill you develop and just like doing pushups you can get better by practicing. Even a few minutes a day will help to build trust and intimacy between people. Almost before we knew it, it was time to leave. A couple of group members hung out to ask personal questions about challenging aspects of relationships and we had fun connecting some of the activities we did in the group to real life situations. Radiant Jasmin and I have been married for 21 years and not only are we more in love then when we met, we know each other and more importantly, we know ourselves better than when I knocked on her door for the first time in 1985. Healthy relationships take work, but they are definitely worth it and A LOT more fun than unhealthy relationships.

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