Relation-Ships — Swim, sail or sink
Relationships. So many of us struggle to live with them, and struggle to live without them.
A common thread of discussion among my friends, and with my clients — people looking for a relationship, wanting to improve the one they have, trying to get out of one or getting over one someone else got out of. So it's not just me then.
I laughed out loud reading the passage of Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love, (Penguin, 2007) about her psychologist friend.
Having gone off to work with Cambodian boat people, concerned how to relate to their suffering, she found that the women mostly were fretting about whether some guy fancied them or not, or who was going out with whom.
Relationships, ours or other people's, seem almost a universal preoccupation.
I just can't help feeling though, despite our obsession with them, many of us are still boggled by how best to approach a relationship, how to make it a good one and ways to maintain it.
This past weekend I was asked to perform with Improv Bermuda at a Singles Conference at BUEI, organised by Spiritual By Design.
The crowd was warm and welcoming and the show well received. After our set was done, I stayed on to hear the discussion, curious as to what a ‘Singles Conference' would entail?
What I heard were a lot of empowering messages, especially about how to thrive in and make the most of our ‘seasons of singleness'.
As a single person myself, four years after the dissolution of my marriage, I could relate to many of the experiences shared by panellists and participants.
Particularly regarding the pressures and societal expectations around relationships: when we need to have one by, how long they should last, what they should be like (not to mention who we should have one with).
And it seems the consensus is often: any relationship is better than none.
I remember ducking into the pizza place one evening to grab a bite.
There was a wait so the host taking names asked how many in my party? “Table for one. Just me,” I said.
You'd have thought I'd told him I was to be shot at dawn. “You poor thing, we're not going to make you wait all on your own. We'll find you somewhere,” leading me to back table, “so you can have a little privacy”.
Was it being single or leprosy? I was just happy to skip the queue.
Negative preconceptions abound, regarding being single. It seems like it's something to be ‘fixed'.
Folks in relationships often offer advice (seldom solicited) or try to fix their ‘lonely single friends' up together.
Singletons can equally be reluctant to admit we're single, perhaps afraid of being preyed upon, or buying into the misguided associations that there's some kind of failure in not being in a relationship.
Even more fear accompanies admitting that we are looking for a relationship, afraid it might make us look ‘desperate' or ‘weak' and unable to admit we might need some help to meet people.
For a long time I held the perception that being single was just something I needed to get through until the next relationship.
In a relationship, I could relax. There was a sense of completion. I didn't have to look anymore, no longer putting my neck on the line, safe (for now) from rejection.
Get a wedding band on the finger and one can rest on their laurels: done … sorted. The ‘happily ever after' can now begin.
I found though that ‘our future' looked almost exactly like our yesterday. There is no fairy dust.
The problems we have going into a marriage or relationship will stay problems until they are either worked out or we are worn out.
How many of us are given training or direction as to how good relationships work, before we dive head first into one?
It's trial and error. If we're lucky we have a positive role model, but rarely as outsiders do we see what goes on and into making a marriage work behind closed doors.
When I got married, I hadn't a clue. I'd heard catchphrases: ‘you've got to work at it' … but nobody tells you what that work looks like.
I spent it cooking meals, trying to ‘play house' well, putting up with things, which all felt like work — but not the kind that was needed.
Communication — another thing we're blithely told is important to a good relationship. When we were both blue in the face from shouting at one another and doors were slamming, we were each clearly trying to communicate something!
But we didn't have the tools then to healthily express our needs, to air our resentments, to listen effectively and not only hear but allow the other person to feel heard.
People in relationships are often afraid too, of admitting they need help. Many never do and either suffer on … or move on, taking their misunderstandings with them to the next relationship.
I feel fortunate that since then, through my training, and work like the Hoffman Process, reading relationship experts like Harville Hendrix and coaching clients around relationships and divorce prevention, I am forever gaining more clarity and understanding into the complex dynamics of human relationships, particularly our intimate ones.
Of course, putting that theory into practice in my own life proves to be an ongoing adventure.
The rubber ring I take with me is, we're all in the same boat.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, even those who have given up hope that it is possible for them, a healthy, happy relationship is something most of us desire in life.
“Relationship magnifies the human experience,” my coach said to me. It doesn't complete it, it's not absolutely necessary, but sharing our lives can help us see ourselves more clearly and experience life more fully.
I've learned that taking our time to understand ourselves and what we want to bring to a relationship, discovering each other's needs and expectations and learning the tools of trust, vulnerability and intimacy (and getting the help we need) to be able to build and maintain a strong, positive partnership, are worth the effort and wait.
Author, Susan Jeffers, in her book The Feel The Fear Guide to Lasting Love, (Vermillion, 2005) says that the highest purpose of relationship is “to learn how to become a more loving person”.
I would say this is true of any stage in our ongoing journey.
Whether we are single, dating, divorcing, widowed, married, celebrating a Ruby anniversary — these are all opportunities to learn how to be more loving: of ourselves, our partners, of the voyage itself …
It is an ever evolving process of finding our sea-legs, steering towards our goals, yes, sometimes slipping off course but always correcting, and navigating the unpredictable waves with the best maps and instruments available. Bon Voyage!
Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.