THE BLOG

The Elephant in the Middle of the Room

21/02/2014 12:06 GMT | Updated 21/04/2014 10:59 BST

I saw a cartoon recently that made me laugh out loud. It was the picture of a psychiatrist's room and lying on the couch was a huge elephant. The elephant was saying "Sometimes, even if I stand in the middle of the room no one acknowledges me! It was a fun statement on how we so often ignore the poor elephant. But it also got me thinking about it too.

I was recently speaking with a client who had a huge elephant in the middle of her marriage. They had financial problems and it gotten to the place where all they felt was anger and blame and guilt.

The husband was feeling guilt and overwhelmed by having been the one who had created the problem in the first place. The wife was just furious that not only had he 'done this to them' but that she had allowed it to happen to her. This anger, blame and guilt had now become the big elephant in the middle of the room. The only way they were coping with the actual situation was to ignore it. They could no longer speak about it together, it tainted everything they did and it was tearing them apart. They definitely could not get past it and find a solution.

At times like this is very hard to start to acknowledge the elephant in the room. There seems to be no starting point - no place marked 'enter here'. So much negative emotion has built up that it overwhelms both parties. Problem is that if that situation is allowed to continue it will get less and less likely that a starting place for the conversation will ever be found. Couples drifts apart feeling angry and frustrated and the love that once was there is so clouded out by the huge shadow the elephant casts that it is totally obscured.

So how to turn this around, how to deal with the elephant in the room? When I am coaching a client about this kind of situation I always suggest to start with looking for something else to focus on. This may sound like more of the same but hang in with me. In my clients example I ask what has your partner done right? What can you see that you can appreciate about him? What qualities does he still have that you fell in love with in the first place? Often when we get so caught up in something that is wrong it is impossible to even see what is right. So you have to go looking for it.

What is different is that this is not about ignoring the elephant in the room but to redress the balance of your thoughts about the person you are feeling angry with. Why? Because if you can start to remember what is good about them you will start to see them in a slightly different light. You might even start enjoying that which you love or like about them. After all, this situation is not the only thing in the relationship; it is one part of it. This will begin to reduce your emotion towards the elephant in the room and instead of focusing on it all day every day you will be in balance with it and it will start to take on the proper proportions.

At that point you will find that you can begin to address it not with the anger and frustration but with a calm feeling. That calm will allow you to finally talk about the elephant and find a new way of dealing with it. Not blaming, not fighting but looking for positive solutions to change whatever the situation is. Only when you start to talk about things can things shift.

And this is true for all elephants, be they in your relationship, your friendships or even at work. Change the eyes with which you look at the person concerned, shift what you focus on and you will find the way marked 'enter here', you will be able to find a solution. And, you finally get your room back!