(April 2014, originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL)
My wife and I attended a seminar called “Financial Peace” this winter. In one of the sessions, the speaker spoke (because that’s what speakers do: speak) about the power of marketing. He informed us that our society has bought into the myth of good credit and needing credit in order to function well within our society. He said that this myth has woven itself into the fabric of our society because of good marketing, because if something is said enough, no matter how true (OR NOT TRUE) it is, we will take it as truth, and thus make it a way of life.
I was working with a couple recently that has been stuck for a very long time. They have been working really hard to recover from some “mean things” said and done repeatedly over the course of their marriage that had turned into bitterness and resentment. What has entrenched the “meanness” are the “ghost” conversations every since: “Did he/she really just say that? That’s not the truth and you know it! You have absolutely no idea—of what is going on, of what you think you know, of anything! Calling me a ____. He/She is an idiot!” (or something like that). The content reinforces the negative feeling, builds on it, and revisits at least once a week, if not every day. In a way, it is all negative marketing that leads to the belief that nothing will work, that they are irretrievably stuck, and that the relationship has neither hope nor future.
And so when they walked in, and he held the door open for her, and let her enter first, and said something nice, I asked her how that impacted her. She had no idea. She admitted she would not let it sink in very far, and that she doubted any content that did get in (not a problem; totally understandable). She went on to say she knew she needed to give him the benefit of the doubt, that she could see after all this time of counseling that he was trying, but all she could hear was the negative conversations and connotations.
I encouraged her to change marketing companies.
Her head tilted slightly to the side, as an animal’s does when it is not certain of what it just heard, but knows it heard something.
She needed to receive what he offered, and she could cultivate the ground of reception if she recognized what was offered and then worked to repeat it to herself over and over, as much as she repeated the negative statements and interpretations of previous behaviors. She needed to repeat the good. In doing this, she would employ a self-marketing tactic, that, given the repetition, would soften her heart more and more to notice and receive the positive things he was offering, and inevitably changing how she viewed him, if he was consistent, humble, loving, and growing/changing himself. She could and would receive his growing good heart toward her, as fertile soil receives good seed, and the positive beliefs of one another, the delight, hope, and love with one another, could and would become a way of life.
When you are in a relationship with someone that has had a rocky history, and effort is being made to grow and change, but there is a consistent hindrance of doubt and negative interpretation, give the growth and change a chance by telling yourself regularly (daily, hourly; moment-to-moment; dare I say it, as a discipline) the new thing that was just said or done. Keep it fresh by repeating it to yourself. After a while, the relational marketing will pay a dividend, and you might just see yourself buying into that for which you have hoped, for such a very long time.
Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist, a professionally licensed counselor and a nationally certified counselor. You may reach him at 205-807-6645, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is available for marital, family, or individual counseling or consulting, or for speaking at your local organization. His office is in Greystone Centre on Hwy 280.