What Can Poker Teach You About Fighting With Those You Love?

communication conflict responsibility strive principles May 11, 2024

There are many intriguing and unpredictable poker styles, but the two polarising types are game theory optimal (GTO) and exploitative styles. 

GTO is a strategy that cannot be exploited, even if opponents know precisely the strategy. It’s built on a deep and rich understanding of the game's fundamental principles. 

Playing an exploitative style is an approach that exploits weaknesses and tendencies in opponents’ strategies based on specific players' characteristics. 

While it's important not to become dogmatic over each end of the polarity here, to succeed, you need to develop strong GTO fundamentals before shifting to the game's more nuanced, creative and instinctual side. 

When I tried to become a professional poker player, I failed because I did the opposite. I tried to exploit people without having the solid principles and foundations of the game in place, and I struggled.

And In Life

I was in my 40s when my wife Liza suggested divorce. 

The deep dive that followed into the root cause of her pain and suffering revealed many problems on both ends of the relationship, but one thing stood out for me, and this was our unwavering desire to win each argument at all costs.

In short, the need to be right had killed our relationship. 

For me, the need to be right was an exploit I had picked up by observing people in relationships. It didn’t matter if it was my parents, teachers, workers, or friends - I had always seen people behave this way to resolve conflict throughout my life.

But was it right because the feedback I was receiving said otherwise?

The looming thought of a second divorce helped me sharpen my ‘get my shit together’ focus. I realised that when it came to the GTO of life, I lacked principles, or my principles were wrong. I needed a stronger foundation to grow and develop a conscious life. 

One of these principles is to take 100% responsibility for how you respond to life. 

STRIVE Principle #1: Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life

Let me use an extreme example.

I wake up one morning in a great mood. I’m in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, when my wife walks in and says, “How many times do I have to tell you? You have to wipe all of the water off the pans before you put them into the cupboard, you dickhead!”

I respond, “Don’t call me a dickhead, you bitch!”

An exchange like this drags you below the line into your ego, or what I call parts energy. Your system feels threatened, and you become enmeshed in drama, feeling like a victim and casting your opposite in the role of a villain. The need to be right and to defend yourself becomes paramount. For some of you, the accusation that you did something wrong, coupled with the aggressive use of the word ‘dickhead’ may trigger shame and a trauma response. Your biology kicks in, you lose executive function, your autonomic nervous system switches from parasympathetic to sympathetic, and you prepare to fight or flee. 

I usually fight.

The Rupture & Repair

You’re always going to have ruptures in your relationship.

What’s important is how you repair them. 

The most effective way to deal with rupture is to wait until your nervous system is fully regulated and then take 100% responsibility for your response to the other person.

Here’s an example.

“Hey, earlier, when you came into the kitchen and called me a dickhead for not drying the pans before I put them into the cupboard. I called you a bitch. I need a relationship where we treat each other respectfully, and I didn’t do that. I imagine hearing me calling you a bitch made you feel angry and disrespected. I’m sorry. Do you have anything you want to say to me about the incident?”

(Tone and body language are critical here because everything you do conveys a message).

The key here is NOT to expect the other person to do the same thing. It is likely that it won’t happen. The other person may double down and go for you again. If this happens, you return to the first principle of once again taking 100% responsibility for how you respond.

The STRIVE Method (The GTO of Life)

We all have a motherboard containing our life principles, values, morals and ethics. These shape our worldviews and beliefs, impacting how we feel and act. My wife’s request for a divorce and the following inquiry revealed many wiring faults in my motherboard. I knew instinctually that I needed to work on repairing them (instilling the GTO version of life), and then once I felt that I had a solid foundation in place (conscious behaviour - SELF), I could develop exploitative plays where I shaped each conversation based on the varying characteristics of people whilst not moving too far from my principles. 

Learning this crucial first principle has helped people I am in conflict with feel seen and heard and that they matter. I feel more respect from them; they trust me and feel safer around me because I am not rooted in being right. I am taking responsibility. 

Let me know what you think after reading this. What parts of it bother you? What do you struggle with? 

Much love and STRIVE on!


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