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Relationship - A Laboratory for Learning

LETS TALK - With Paul Beckow
Individual Couple Family Counsellor

Published in Goldstream Gazette
November 2010

It’s always been my opinion that if you are happy and satisfied in your relationships you can definitely acknowledge yourself because you have really accomplished something.

The truth is our record of success in relationships, is not that great. Just look at the statistics. Last year Canada’s divorce rate for first marriages was over 50%. Divorce in second marriages was close to 40 %.

This is not uplifting news.

And let’s remember, couples begin their relationship lives together feeling strong, enthusiastic, committed to their future ahead. Couples begin with a promise “til death do us part”. So we’re not talking about bad or uncommitted people.

Just what is going on here? What are we missing? What do we not know or understand that if we knew and were prepared for, might really strengthen us in the practice of our relationships?

Consider this. As children we were captured by the romantic fairy tales. We all begin marriage with a small yet significant misunderstanding.

What is the fairy tale we’ve bought into? “And they lived happily ever after.” That is, “If I just find the right person it should all work out. I will feel loved and taken care of. “

Ha! We all know it doesn’t work that way.

However, what we don’t know is that with a commitment to our relationship and its future together, we have entered a long and intense laboratory of personal learning. Relationship has so much to teach us. We have so much to learn.

To maintain intimacy in relationships is an always in-your-face, on-the-job, on-your-own, 30 – 50 year enrolment in a never ending school for learning.

When are we learning? Well not really when things are going well. No. Our challenge for greatest learning appears directly when we “are in the soup” with one another, directly in the midst of the challenges, frustrations, disappointments and misunderstandings, that appear along our path.

Now here is where a big problem appears. Because directly in the face of conflict, right in the midst of the lessons before us, our strongest tendency is to close down and protect.

And when we defend and protect, we don’t learn. And we can’t do both.

In relationship, we are either learning or we are protecting. Just like a turtle, it can either be safe and protected while it is withdrawn in it’s shell OR it can move forward and travel and explore upon the ground it’s on. But it cant do both at the same time.

The same is true for us.

When our eyes are fixed on our partner, on “how they should be” and “how they shouldn’t be” we are like the turtle in its shell. It’s not wrong, we all do it. When the finger is pointed “at them over there”, we’re learning THEIR lessons. Which all of us know doesn’t work in the slightest.

When our attention is on how they shouldn’t be, we are in their business. We have left our business. ( which is to learn and grow and take care of ourselves and our good will) . We are avoiding looking and questioning “What is relationship trying to teach me. What can I see about myself. What is this situation trying to teach me?”

To learn, and therefore to grow, requires a certain curiosity, openness and willingness to be responsible.

Notice I didn’t say the willingness to be to blame, or at fault, or the guilty one. I said the willingness to simply – be responsible. To be response able - to be able to respond. To learn to take care of ourselves and the other. To embrace conflict, to solve conflict, to grow and understand from conflict. To learn from conflict.

Learn and we grow. We have the experience of expanding and discovering something new through meeting often confusing problems. Defend and protect, that is, blame, avoid or withdraw- and we block our learning. We may feel safer or more correct in a way, yet we miss the point.

Yes, marriage is a challenging curriculum for sure. There is so much to learn. Learning to love another and to look after our well being may be one of the biggest courses of our lives.

Paul Beckow is an individual, couple and family counsellor on the West Shore and can be reached by e-mail, pbeckowLETSTALK@shaw.ca or by phone 250 721 2477

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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