Relationships Chess

Mike's adaptation of family constellations, written by Manya

I was a bartender in the Village, NYC, and Mike was a homeless guy who used to hang out in the area. He was off his meds at the time, but we became friends anyway, and he taught me this neat exercise for evaluating your relationships. It's probably a modification of the family constellations therapy founded by Bert Hellinger. Family constellations are a lot more complex (and highly controversial), but how Mike applied the idea sounded brilliant to me. We lost touch, but I use his technique once in a while, share it with friends, and they find it helpful as well. Here's how it works:

Find a flat surface (like a table) and a set of chess pieces. If you don't have chess, you can use any other objects you like, as long as they differ in size/shape/color. Mike showed it to me with salt/pepper shakers and various other loose items I had behind the bar.

Pick one piece that's going to represent you, and place it on your surface. Pick the next piece that's going to represent someone in your life, and place it on the surface as well. Continue till you feel that all of your important relationships are covered, should be about 10-20 people. It doesn't have to be about immediate family; by all means add all non-relatives that are important to you: friends, lovers, coworkers, etc. You can skip family members that play no part in your life, but only if they honestly play no part in it, e.g. your biological dad whom you never met and never thought of. If someone passed away but is still a big part of your life, you can place them on the surface as well.

Pay attention to where you're placing the pieces in relationship to each other. If your "mom" piece is closer to you than your "dad" piece, is that an accurate representation of your relationships with them? Are they standing close to or far from each other? Where are your siblings in relationship to you and your parents? Be honest with yourself, do it how it is, not how you wish it were or how you feel it should be. It sounds easier than it actually is, play around with this till you feel the picture is accurate. This is the therapeutic part, don't rush through it.

Once you feel you have a correct representation of your relationships - evaluate the picture. If your "online friend" piece is standing closer to "you" than your "spouse" piece, or is much larger in size - are you happy with this arrangement? Do you want to put more time and effort into your marriage? Do you want to divorce your spouse and marry this friend you have? Or you're comfortable with having friends that are closer to you than your spouse? There are no right or wrong answers, this is just an awareness exercise, the point is to simply be conscious of the choices you're making. Once you're done, put the pieces away and move on. You don't have to tell anyone about your discoveries, or do anything differently than you used to.

A lot of relationship disappointments and conflicts come from simply losing track of what the relationship is in the first place. For example, wanting sex from a friend or therapy from a spouse. Simply restating the nature of the relationship (and letting it sink) is often therapeutic on its own. Family constellations take a whole day, involve many people, and have a supernatural tint to it, like talking to the dead people (and getting responses too) - while this relationships chess technique takes no resources and not much time, and you can try it whether you believe in supernatural phenomena or not.