Interview with Aeric Meredith-Goujon: How to Negotiate and Coach Relationships
If you're a human being in, wanting to be in, or who just got out of a relationship, you won't want to miss this interview with relationship coach Aeric Meredithgoujon.
Aeric is a visual artist, musician and relationship coach. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids.
In this conversation, Aeric and I explored
- How getting married is an exercise in interest-based negotiation
- How relationships can have a purpose
- The difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict
- How different orientations can cause misunderstanding and, what to do about it
You can learn more about Aeric here: aeric.nyc
You can sign up for my upcoming webinars here:
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 47 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
How are you thriving this holiday festive season?
My go-to greeting is Happy Merry Everything.
Happy Merry Everything!
Today I have a special conversation that I’d love to share with you with a relationship coach.
And if you are a human being, you are in, you are wanting to be in, or you may be just gotten out of a relationship. And in this season of merry-making, relationships come to the forefront of our minds because we are reconnecting with loved ones, with family, friends, lovers.
My life-partner and I have been together for 11 years and our relationship continues to evolve and our relationship continues to support me so that I can thrive and show up and coach and do the things that I love.
Aeric Meredith-Goujon is a visual artist, a musician, and a relationship coach. I met him at coach training and I was fascinated by what he does and immediately wanted to have this conversation with him to learn more about what it means to negotiate and coach relationships.
Because we do that all the time, we just don’t call it that.
Aeric lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids and in this conversation, Aeric and I explored how getting married is an exercise in interspace negotiation, how relationships can have a purpose, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict, as well as how people have different orientations around speaking or communicating, and how those differences can cause misunderstanding, and what to do about those misunderstandings.
I have to say, this has been one of the most useful conversations. What I learned from Aeric I applied to my life and my relationship and immediately saw an improvement.
So I hope you will enjoy this conversation and I will talk to you soon.
Have a Merry Happy Everything until then.
Jamie: Hello, Aeric!
Aeric: Hey! How are you doing?
Jamie: How are you?
Jamie: Awesome. Thanks so much for joining the Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee podcast.
Aeric: Thanks so much for inviting me.
Jamie: Yeah. So, here’s a question I ask everyone who comes on the podcast: I’d love to hear about a negotiation in your life or career that had the biggest impact on you.
Aeric: Yeah. I was thinking about this question and something that occurs to me is that I think it’s true that when it comes to very important decisions, especially ones that have to do with other people or other parties, negotiation actually isn’t my default. It’s more, I try to actually be more in a consultation framework or headspace when it comes to things that are actually very important, and so…
Jamie: Can I just interject here...?
Jamie:...And share that I define negotiation as simply a conversation where you’re trying to reach an agreement but in reality everyone has the right to say no. So, yeah, a consultation approach definitely makes sense, especially when you’re trying to engage in a conversation, trying to understand what people want and help them reach an agreement. So, do you feel that you’ve done something like that?
Aeric: Oh, sure, sure. It’s funny, the first thing that pops into my mind is actually the decision to get married.
Jamie: Ooooh, that’s a good one!
Aeric: Right? And the thing that I recall most about it is that there was no proposal dynamic going on. It was very much a mutual decision that we arrived at together after evaluating ourselves and our goals and our situation and our lives at the time. And it was a very, kind of, I guess systematic is the word, approach to evaluating whether this was going to be something we were going to do or not, whether this was a…
Jamie: Let me ask you this: When did it click for both of you? When was it that you were both like, yeah, we’re gonna get married, it’s a no-brainer?
Aeric: Um. It was almost...not instantaneous but it didn’t actually take very long to get there. We hadn't actually even known each other for very long. I think the subject first came up after we had been going out for maybe three weeks or so.
Aeric: And I think that’s because, at least for my part, that was always my orientation. That was the purpose of any relationship that I would be having, right? So, I just wanted to be up-front about that from the get-go and it was probably about three months in when it became clear that this was actually where it was going.
So we already had a framework in place from the beginning of our relationship that this was the umbrella, like this was the sphere in which this relationship existed. And then once it became kind of clear that we were basically on the same page about things like values and goals and guiding principles, from then on that was how we kind of evaluate each stage in our relationship, whether it was going on kind of according to these values and principles.
Jamie: That’s really interesting you say that because the way I teach negotiation is about getting clear on each side’s shared values and interests and that’s exactly what you’re saying. You’re saying you realized you shared interests and values and a sense of purpose with your partner and so then getting married became a no-brainer.
Jamie: Getting to yes became a no-brainer for you.
Jamie: So, yeah, that’s like a very classic example of mutual benefit, interspace negotiation.
Aeric: Right, right.
Jamie: It doesn’t sound romantic and yet, you know, I imagine it’s very fulfilling.
Aeric: Mmhmm. Yeah. Yeah. I mean there’s a lot that’s, I guess you could say inherently unfulfilling about romance. I mean there’s a difference between thrilling and fulfilling, you know.
Jamie: So what did you learn from that?
Aeric: You mean what did I learn from that experience of the very beginning of a relationship?
Jamie: That’s right.
Aeric: Hmmm. What did I learn? I learned the value of understanding one’s values.
Jamie: The value of understanding one’s values.
Jamie: Absolutely. So, you are a relationship coach among many other things, like a musician, a photographer, and I’m really curious to learn how you coach couples, how you coach relationships. How is that possible? How do you do that?
Aeric: Well, it starts with having clarity on the fact that the client is the relationship.
Aeric: Rather than being the individuals in the relationship. There’s a difference. So we set things up with the discussion of that being the framework, with that being the orientation. And so that means we are treating the relationship as a living entity in and of itself.
Jamie: That’s fascinating, that a relationship has life.
Aeric: Right. It has life, it has goals, it has interests. It needs nourishment, it needs feeding, it needs education, it needs training. All the things that an individual needs to function in a healthy way, a relationship also needs. And the two parties in the relationship are the parents of this little life.
Jamie: Wow. And so, I’d imagine that when there is conflict, when there is perceived conflict between two people, that’s when people have the perception that oh, this relationship is at risk.
Jamie: And I’d imagine that you have a way of differentiating between healthy and unhealthy conflict.
Aeric: Yeah, yeah. One of the things that helps to navigate that is, going back to this idea of understanding values. And so, for the individuals in the relationship, I encourage them to really take a look at the things that are important to them - what their goals are, what their values are, what their guiding principles in life [are]. And from there, once those things are identified and articulated, then the two people can see where there are areas of overlap, where there are areas where they have ways of mutually assisting one another in the realization of those goals and that’s where the relationship lives.
And so when conflict comes up, it can be much easier to resolve or at least figure out how to address those conflicts when you’re looking at them through the lens of principle, of guiding fundamental baseline principle and goals. And you can ask questions like: Is what’s happening in furtherance of our purpose or not? And if there are agreed upon purposes to begin with, then you can start to answer questions about what are we going to do about it? Or how important is this point of conflict?
Because there’s some points of conflict which actually aren’t as important as they seem once you look at them through the lense of the ultimate goal, the ultimate purpose or result or value?
Jamie: Can you give us an example of that? Like what would be healthy conflict? What would be unhealthy conflict?
Aeric: Hmm. Healthy conflict. Um. Let’s take...I’m trying to think of a good example here...Sorry for all the dead air...
Jamie: Like have you seen an example where two people had conflict that actually brought them together as opposed to further apart?
Aeric: Right. Oh, there might be, like the areas I guess that tend to be most volatile or most impactful are things like child-rearing or money or sexuality. Things that are fundamentally tied to our sense of ultimate security, right? So, let’s say we’re trying to decide where we want to live, where we want to buy a house, assuming that buying a house is something that is already an established goal.
One way to address that is to ask the question: What do we want our life to actually be? And while one party might be drawn to living in the suburbs, definitely, one partner might be drawn to living in the city, just as a matter of personal taste, or familiarity, where they grew up or whatever. It could be easy for the conflict to live there, like, well, this is what I want and this is what you want.
But if you say, well, what is it that we want our relationship to achieve in the world? If it is something like, I don’t know, a certain kind of service to the community or maybe it is focused primarily on a certain kind of environment for children. Then, the personal tastes can take a backseat to the ultimate goals, right?
And if part of what you want in your education of your children are things like exposure to culture, exposure to different kinds of people, I don’t know, vibrant and ready access to arts and museums and music and things like that, it might be that you decide, well, we’re going to live in the city because we value these things more than we value our personal tastes.
Or if you value space, a certain amount of quiet, a certain amount of regularity and predictability and distance from the stimulation of the city, you might come down to well, that’s the thing that we value and so we’re going to make our home someplace that has those qualities. And again, irrespective of personal tastes, it might come down to that being the decision. And so the conflict is sort of mitigated by paying more attention to big-value things than small-value things.
Jamie: I find this idea very fascinating that a relationship can have a purpose. It’s a relationship, like you said, has life, it needs nourishment and it can also have a purpose. As coaches, you and I help people clarify their sense of purpose and at the same time, a relationship can have a purpose. That’s a really fascinating idea. And what I’m hearing is that’s how, once you’re clear on the purpose of the relationship, that can help mitigate conflict and help bring people together. So, how do you help couples clarify the purpose of their relationship?
Aeric: Yeah. Well, the first thing is to introduce the idea of purpose in the first place because in my experience it’s not something that people really are in the habit of thinking about when it comes to relationships. Like most of the time, I think…
Jamie: Or even their lives. People don’t even think, we just think oh, we do the things we’re told to do and we have to do.
Jamie: What is my purpose? I don’t know!
Aeric: Yeah, but even then, we’re growing more familiar with the idea of life having a purpose. Like, that’s not a strange concept. Even if an individual hasn’t necessarily thought about that for themselves, it’s not too difficult to wrap your head around the question: What is the purpose of your life?
But when it comes to relationships, most of the time, people experience it kind of, almost in a passive way. It’s something that is a result of feelings. Like I have a strong feeling about this other person. I want to be with them. And a relationship results from that, right?
But I think that it is possible and even good, healthy and productive to think about the relationship as something that is more active than passive. Like, what is the purpose of it? What can it do? Not just what can it provide for me as far as a receptacle for my feelings or an environment for my feelings to exist in. But what can it do?
And some examples I give to sort of help people start to think about this is, like, the obvious one is family and child-rearing. Like, the purpose of the relationship can be an environment for raising children. Or the purpose of a relationship can be as an engine of service to the community and it can be a vehicle for our mutual development as a way for the two parties to assist each other in their emotional, psychological, spiritual development and then part of the purpose of the relationship can be an active engagement in that endeavor, in that process.
Jamie: Yeah. If you don’t mind my asking, I’m curious, what do you feel is the purpose of your relationship?
Aeric: Well, those examples that I just gave, because those are the things that we’ve kind of identified as the core elements, the core purposes. So, when we are making decisions about things, or we are at a crossroads in terms of deciding things or in a place of conflict, we can look at those three things and ask what action would be in furtherance of those purposes?
Jamie: Yeah. And what was the process of you two, you and your wife, getting clear on that sense of purpose?
Aeric: Oh, gosh. It’s been...I think...hmmm. We’ve been married for 26 years, so it’s been kind of a long, steady evolution towards this understanding.
Aeric: And one of the main elements in helping to guide us to this point has been our faith, our religious orientation, which is the Baha’i religion, and there are many things in the scripture of the Baha’i faith about the question of purpose and about marriage and family life which act as very useful guideposts in kind of evaluating these kinds of questions, so that’s a big thing.
And it’s also kind of an almost daily reflection on our marriage as this living entity. And being in the habit of looking at it like it’s our first child I think gives us a certain orientation towards evaluating it and kind of drawing a picture of what we think it should look like, of what our process should be.
Jamie: This is really interesting to me because I’ve been with my life partner for almost 11 years and sometimes I feel like we can be each other’s child but I hadn’t thought about the perspective of treating the relationship that he and I share as our offspring, so this is really interesting to me.
And I’d imagine that throughout this process of you reflecting and using, well, not using, but being inspired by your shared religion that there were a lot of conversations, that there was a lot of open communication and you and I know that communication between two people in a relationship can be thorny sometimes.
Sometimes it’s like the person who is closest to you you feel like you’re not getting through to because we’re not so accustomed to them being right next to us and yet we feel like they are the ones who are not listening or somehow we’re not getting through to them even though they’re always there for us.
And so I wonder if you have some advice, some tips that you can share with me and my audience who are really interested in improving their communication skills and, you know, my perspective is that communication really is the language of leadership even in our personal relationships. Is there a myth about good communication between two people in a relationship that you’d like to dispel for us?
Aeric: Well, I...hmm. One thing that we discovered, and it was probably 15 years into our marriage before we figured this out, we were having a very common kind of communication issue, I mean like you were just saying where you’re talking to the person but you don’t really seem to be hearing each other correctly.
Aeric: And it’s funny how we think of that as a communication problem even though the people involved are actually very good communicators. My wife is a lawyer and I’m an artist and communicating is what we both do as our jobs, right? So we’re not bad communicators. And yet there was something awry in our ability to make ourselves understood to each other. And through a lot of trial and, I don’t even know if it was error so much as a lack of true understanding of a certain truth about ourselves, we figured out that the thing that was happening was that we have a different orientation towards speaking, towards the act of speaking.
Aeric: And this was not something that I was even aware existed. Like, nobody told us that this was ever a thing. But it turns out, we were able to figure out that, for her, speaking to another person is a way of processing thoughts and for me, speaking to another person, specifically her, is a way of relaying already-processed thoughts, see?
So, we would have conversations about stuff and at the end of the conversation, I would think that we were finished because for me internally, that’s how it works. I think about things and when I’m done thinking about them, I speak. But for her, the end of the conversation wouldn’t be the end of the conversation, so the next day she would sort of start in again on this thing that I thought was concluded.
And that was very, very confusing to me because I didn’t understand that she was doing externally what I naturally do internally, right? And because [broken] she would perceive that I was not engaged or not interested or not paying attention because I wouldn’t be saying anything in the course of the conversation about this issue that we were having, which she read as not being present or being…
Jamie: Not caring even.
Aeric: Not caring, yeah. And so what was happening was that we were actually misreading each other’s behavior and interpreting through our own lens of what’s natural for us, right?
Aeric: And so once we figured out that this was what was going on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to change how we do things, but it does change our understanding of what the other person is doing. So that means that, going forward, I can have the presence of mind to say, “I know I’m not saying anything right now, but I am listening to you and I’m processing all of this and I’ll get back to you with my thoughts when I have any.” So, you know, I’m addressing my understanding of her reality so that she can be assured that I am there, I am present even though I’m not saying anything, right?
Jamie: This is such a good conversation and I really appreciate your perspective, your male perspective, because as a woman in a heterosexual relationship myself, I encounter very similar frustrations and dynamic where I think I’m just kind of thinking out loud and expecting somebody to…
Aeric: To like engage and...
Jamie: To help process.
Aeric: Yeah, yeah.
Jamie: My partner sometimes is impatient, why haven’t you already decided?
Aeric: Right, right.
Jamie: What haven’t you already made up your mind and told me what your decision is?
Aeric: It’s funny how people with these different orientations often wind up together.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah. And I want to make sure I’m not making some sort of gender assumptions, not every woman, not every man is like this.
Aeric: Yeah. Certainly there are patterns to it but I certainly have come across couples where it is the opposite, where the man is the out-loud thinker and the woman is the internal processor, so I have seen that too, yeah.
Jamie: Ah. Interesting. Well, this is really good information, I think, for all of us who have to communicate with people who process information differently, who have a different communication orientation, so I appreciate that. So, Aeric, where can people learn more about you and the work that you do?
Aeric: Well, I have a site, or I will very soon. It’s aeric.nyc, so you’ll be able to reach me there and learn a little bit about my coaching from there.
Jamie: Excellent! Aeric.nyc, it’s coming soon!
Aeric: Coming soon, yeah.
Jamie: Excellent, excellent. Well, Aeric, thank you so much for your time and your expertise and I hope you have a wonderful day.
Aeric: You too. And thank you so, so much. I really appreciate this.
Jamie: Okay! Bye bye.
Aeric: Take care, bye bye.