Relationship- Our school for Learning
Saanich news - September 16, 03
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual, Marriage, Family Counsellor
In my work as a marriage counsellor, I've been helping people work through their relationship difficulties and challenges for 20 years. People often ask me: "What in your opinion makes a relationship lasting and strong?" Identifying one single factor gives me the shivers! Of course there's the easy answers - Commitment, flexibility, open communication, compatibility, determination, luck.
There is no doubt that being satisfied and nurtured in a relationship is quite an achievement today. In Canada the divorce rate is over 50%. Now if you or I were planning an airplane trip and we were told that we had a fifty per cent chance of making it to Montreal by plane, we would definitely drive or take the train! Yet couples are still marrying and it is genuinely "till death do us part." When beginning the future is open and bright full of hope, and possibility.
Don't you find it interesting that there is no curriculum for what may be one of the most fundamental and important activities of our lives - being in relationship? We have been taught very little about the skills it takes to make a relationship work.. We're left to figure it out on our own. Just like parenting, it's trial by fire. And I know we believed the fairy tales. If we just find the right person, then it would all work out. But too bad. It's just not that easy, right?
Remember Cinderella? When her Prince Charming carried her (glass high heels and all) up the palace steps and across the castle threshold, we knew it was going to be "happily ever after." The last page said so - "And they lived happily ever after." Yet notice we didn't follow them into the kitchen to see how the dishes got done or who fell asleep in front of the television instead of coming to bed!
No. In a relationship there's lots to work out. There is lots to do to make a relationship rewarding, peaceful, and satisfying. There's a lot of learning that needs to happen. And the most important lessons are often learned in the midst of confusion and pain.
The truth is there is no guarantee. When you marry, you are not promised positive results any more than if you go into business you are promised your business will thrive. In business, it comes down to our skill (and perhaps a little luck) as business people. Same thing in relationship. Having a great relationship is evidence of our capacity and skills as a "relator." And these skills are learned as you go. And perhaps never stop.
However, people often refuse to learn the lessons that are there begging to be discovered. Its easy to refuse. It feels safer to minimize, accommodate, ignore. It's easy to defend, feel misunderstood, and stew. We avoid pain by withdrawing, settling, tolerating. We can fester, protect ourselves, blame the other. Put up a quarrel. Or quietly give up in resignation. There's lots of ways to bypass the learning that's before us.
Even couples who come to me for counselling, committed to take things on, enter the office, sit down with me, and the fingers begin pointing. No one says to me: "Tell me Paul, I'm having a problem in my marriage, so will you listen and then tell me what it is I'm doing here or what I don't understand that is making things difficult?"
No. Regularly its: " If THEY would only do "x" (fill in the blanks) or stop doing "y"... THEN it would work. And our partner feels blamed and becomes defensive and circles the wagons. In the face of conflict, there we are, finding ourselves slightly defensive, protecting ourselves. In this state, we are neither curious about, nor searching for, the lesson or new learning that might set us free.
All intimate relationships bring us face to face with the challenge of conflict. Conflict is normal. Yet these dilemmas, misunderstandings, differences, invite and involve, not protecting, but learning - learning about ourselves, about the other, about being human, about the nature of relating.
And there is so much to learn: How to be authentic, to repair and clean up difficulties, to forgive, to let go. The mysteries of communication. How to ask for what we need and want. How to accept and honor differences. To understand ourselves, our hurts, expectations, our own reactions and ways of behaving. The impact of our childhood experiences and decisions in the present.. How to mingle our need for independence with our dependency upon the other.. Yes, lots to learn.
Learn and we grow. Life expands, leaving us vulnerable, open, alive, effective in responding to life. Our enthusiasm remains. Protect and we become suppressed, inauthentic, separate, giving less of ourselves, and a little more hardened.
Yes, being aware and open to learning seems to me the entry fee to mastery in relationship - to being complete and up to date and satisfied with ourself and with the other.
In this column I propose that we join in learning together, that we explore some of the challenges of relationship- as couples, as parents, as family. So I invite you to write me and - LET'S TALK.
Paul Beckow is a individual, marriage, and family therapist with over twenty years experience. If you have questions or requests you can contact Paul at The Victoria Family Institute at 250 721 2477 or e mail him at pbeckowLETSTALK@shaw.ca.
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.