With relationships as both my personal and professional learning forum, I thought I might share a story of discovery and learning.
Adults, as we all know, tend to learn best experientially. Sometimes though, thanks to old habits and complacency, we don’t realise what a potential for wisdom and learning we have, in the people we see and experience every day of our lives …
She’d married in her early twenties full of bright optimism, and rosy-glowed expectations of living happily ever after.
Her knowledge of marriage was what the 50s and 60s had taught her. Divorce was scandalous and virtually unknown to her. If her parents fought, she’d never seen it. If she ever thought about it, she’d probably have decided that her father just always gave in!
Now here she was, seventeen years into this marriage, and sadly disillusioned. She felt stuck. She’d made a vow to keep this marriage forever, and felt committed to that. But, with teenage kids, a mortgage, and a man she certainly loved, but secretly labelled (not-so-lovingly or politely) an "emotional retard", she asked herself endlessly: Is that all there is?
In her mind, this situation was entirely of HIS making, because at least she opened her mouth and communicated. It was all HIS fault.
It’s a common enough tale of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, disappointment.
In the Noughties, it’s almost always the prelude to divorce. If it’s not working, ditch it! We’ve all become so used to built-in obsolescence.
Back in the early 90s, this young woman was me. Fortunately, somehow, my husband SweetP and I found a way to breach the massive gap between us and discovered that a relationship is the place where we could thrive and grow as humans.
It had NEVER occurred to us to even consider that was possible.
Our tertiary education certainly hadn’t given us any assistance, protection, or insights. Nor had our parents’ marriages or any Christian upbringing taught us what to look for.
Clearly we’d not picked up on the message! IF the message was out there.
So what was the message we had absorbed?
Relationships start out all rosy and gorgeous. From there, somehow it declines to the mundane, as age and responsibilities grow heavier.
Of course, we didn’t think it would happen to us as we floated down the aisle on Cloud Nine. Why would anyone want to think THAT would happen to them? It’s too depressing to even consider! We’d been to marriage preparation classes, so we assumed we were ready, and protected.
Yes, you’ve guessed it! We were very young and very immature and perhaps incapable of "showing up as grown-ups" in this relationship. But my point is that we didn’t get to discover anything different until it was nearly too late. Once we’d established the rituals of our daily relationship, it didn’t occur to us to change them. That is, until the disillusionment proved too great to bear.
So our turn-around, on a marriage enrichment weekend, was like bolts from the blue, lights going on, and alarm bells clanging, all at once!
On that weekend, SweetP said "I want what they’ve got!" And I did too.
Since then, curiosity has helped us discover that marriage is FAR from being a dead-end. It’s NOT meant to drain the lives out of us. It’s not intended to spiral downwards into boredom. It actually can be the making of us, as a couple, and as individuals. We found real joy!
Yep, sounds trite! Sounds banal? Sounds like the kind of word that a zealot might use?
If so, then I’ll ‘fess up to being a zealot, because I’m convinced!
Joy is not just possible in a relationship, it’s a necessity. If you haven’t got it, then why haven’t you? And what are you going to do to get it?
If anything, "joy" seems an entirely inadequate word.
It never quite seems to capture the intensity of my feelings. But, what other word can I put to the sense of safety and depth of connection we have in each other’s company?
The changes in us and our relationship were SO obvious, even our adolescent sons noticed!
We actually became nicer people, not just to each other but to our kids, our friends and our work colleagues.
I discovered that while I might have been the talker, what I said and how I said it was constantly critical and totally lacking in knowledge of, or responsibility for, my own failings. I’d never learned how to really listen to what he said, so he gave up saying anything! (That was a truly devastating discovery!)
What we also discovered was that the rosy glow wasn’t a mirage concocted to maintain the human race. It was real.
We’d stumbled into real love.
After all that early, romantic, exhausting, on-your-best-behaviour love, then that tedious, stodgy, going-through-the-motions love, we’d found this liberating love.
We found a love that makes the connection between us as important to us as oxygen. But how was it different?
The most obvious change was that fighting fair became normal.
YES! Of course we still fight! That’s a sign of human beings behaving normally.
But now the fights aren’t vicious, and protracted. They don’t turn into cold wars any more. You know! The kind of wars where the gap down the bed each night might as well be the Siberian Steppes for all the chance/inclination you’ve got of crossing that freezing cold threshold!
Wanting the best for each other is as natural as searching sleepily for the switch on the kettle first thing in the morning.
Listening to hear what the other is saying, rather than to defend your own position, was a skill we had to practise endlessly, and still do.
Problem solving considered "facts" like opinions and feelings, as well as other solid "data".
Friendship created a comfortable environment for the two of us, our family, and our friends. With friendship connecting us, we could find a way to present a united front to the storms that lash away at any couple’s lives.
Mutual respect created space for compromise when it was needed.
Honesty and transparency became the usual, because it was so safe to share the fears and failings, and the ideas, hopes, and dreams.
Acceptance became the soothing balm for such openness.
Security was our hammock.
And last but not least – sex became the ultimate communication…
We didn’t know THAT before! We just thought sex was about meeting physical needs. Ahhh yes, those discoveries about sex were particularly sweet! (Sorry to any of our sons reading this and being traumatised by the thought of their parents and sex!)
Look don’t get me wrong here! SweetP and I are far from being any perfectly married couple. We still snipe at each other and get sh***y with each other. He often says that all he has to do is breathe and he’s in trouble!
But that’s the point, that’s his way of flagging to me what I’ve done or said is unacceptable. From there we can have the conversation and make our choices about how we behave.
We’re NEVER going to have a perfect relationship. I don’t believe that’s possible. But a bloody good one is well within our reach! That’s what we’re endlessly learning and practicing.
With that kind of life-changing learning, I believed I had a responsibility to make a difference in the world. I think Rosa describes this as mana’o (deeply held, near-intuitive convictions). I wanted to teach couples a skill-set that would help them find THEIR unique way to communicate.
Why? Because I believe that:
- marriage/long-term relationships can be the best way for us to grow into being real, whole human beings.
- relationships are meant to spiral UP to increased happiness, contentment and connection and NOT down into tedium, and endless fights to maintain your own sense of self.
- communication techniques learned early enough can cut the downward spiral.
- even one individual in a couple relationship, who makes changes to their own behaviour, can put the brakes on the downward slide.
I felt compelled to share my learning. I needed to "pass it forward".
By the way, if I’m too far out there for you, then tell me how you see the world of relationships. Go on! The comments button is just a mouse swipe away. Let’s converse!
Finally, no self-respecting coach could talk without asking questions. Do me a favour, and stop your day for 1 minute and answer these honestly to yourself.
Do you have the "is that all there is" blues?
Where are you on the spiral of your relationship? Are you walking up a scenic path filled with contentment? Or are you sliding down a slippery slope, with anxiety or fear making the ride more painful?
I hope this gets you thinking, and talking with your partner.
Chris Owen is an Australian-based blogger and Couples Coach. She helps couples put the "zing" back into their relationships. Her conversational writing on relationships brings many readers to her blog Take A Bite.
She teaches couples how to step off the slippery slide. They discover how to tell each other about the important things, and how to listen till they "get it"! Armed with those skills, couples can begin to solve the problems that crop up in all relationships. You know the ones! Things like finances, parenting, in-laws, and leisure and household responsibilities.