Being in Relationship. Excerpts from The Hidden Issues of Marriage How Care, Respect, Interest, Play, Attention, and Power Determine Success and Failure in Our Relationships By Robert Caldwell, M.Div.
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Excerpts from The Hidden Issues of Marriage
How Care, Respect, Interest, Play, Attention, and Power Determine Success and Failure in Our Relationships
By Robert Caldwell, M.Div.
Money, sex, in-laws, vacations, communication, children—these head the list of explicit concerns couples struggle with in their marriage—right?
There are deeper and more significant issues…often these are hidden from direct discussion or awareness.
Care, respect, interest, play, attention, and power
are the REAL issues couples have.
These are the themes that make for happiness or misery, that fulfill or destroy dreams.
When John and Sara fell in love with each other – for what is“falling in love” but finding another whom we believe meets—and will continue to meet—our needs.
They married and, alas, a failure of “caring” soon began.
Sarah attempted to be supportive, but John’s absence from the home, his drives across town twice a week to fill in for the nurses (taking care of his brother who was made paraplegic in a car accident in their first year of marriage), his continually being on the phone to doctors, began to sink Sarah’s heart, as she wondered what happened to the man she married.
She no longer felt John’s caring.
Caring is the constant and tender ministrations that we all look for in our partners.
The most fundamental question is: Does she or he care?
We need for persons to intend the best for us and to have us in their minds…and to carry out acts of caring.
“I care for you.”
“He doesn’t care for me.”
These are among the tenderest, most sought, and most feared sentiments persons express to one another.
When caring behaviors become sparse, couples are fading in their vital attachment to one another.
Ellen, at first enamored of Newton’s vast intellect, and proud of his talent at engaging any person in fluent conversation, came to despise “his narrow academic interests.” She deplored his long work hours and his extended field trips. Fundamentally, Ellen did not respect his interests, his style, his friendship.
Newton, at first attracted to Ellen because of her needfulness, after a few months of marriage began to see her less as loveably vulnerable than as one whose unhappiness was a drag on his contentment. Her vulnerability became, to him, a contemptible craziness.
The relationship, having made an 180 degree turn from affirmation of each other—to denigrating practically everything about one another, found itself on a steady course of decline and, eventually, divorce.
To be trapped on a path where each partner judges the other as not living an admirable life is fatally demoralizing.
Hardly a marriage survives in this atmosphere.
Respect means liking and affirming your partner for who he or she is in the world.
Mitchell and Lori had only been married a couple of years. In the beginning their fascination for each other never cooled. He depended on her for stimulation, for keeping things going that were fun and engaging.
However when her job began to keep her into the evenings and weekends…Mitchell lost interest.
Interest is the life of relationships.
How can you make the uninteresting interesting?
By paying acute attention.
Anything looked at up close and personal (or with new eyes) is interesting.
Rosemary bore five sons and gave herself to twenty years of active and consuming motherhood, along with making a home for her work-aholic husband.
Rosemary craved play. She didn’t know its name, but she knew she needed something. She tried tennis, encounter groups, therapy, religion, dancing. She discovered she liked all of them.
Now, relieved of the demands of her large brood of children, she was ready for grown-up play. She desperately wanted to engage her husband with her, but his manner of play was to sit quietly with the newspaper, keep up with the stock market and sports, and follow his sons’ progress.
Play is losing ourselves in unplanned pleasurable abandon of mind and body. Play feels good.
Play expands the body, loosens the breathing, rushes the blood, releases endorphins, epinephrine, and dopamine.
Play is not purposeful…nor activity that leads to something else that justifies your effort.
Play is the purest and fullest expression of joy—the most basic positive emotion.
Jerry wants to be “heard.” He has countless stories about how Jennifer repeatedly paid no attention to what he told her.
Jennifer’s story is of her futile attempts to have Jerry listen to her terror of his family and their loud and condescending ways that make her shrink with discomfort and fright.
Through their failure to listen attentively to each other, they lost each other…and gained anger and disappointment with each other.
Did you ever speak to someone when you thought she or he was in the room with you and found the person walked out leaving you talking to air. How did you feel? Perhaps disappointed, foolish, annoyed. That is what it is like not to be heard, not to be attended to. You begin to think that actually you don’t exist.
If you are to learn better to attend and be attended to, you must become aware that listening, indeed, is critical
Take a look…how self-absorbed are you? How often do you inquire about your familiy’s feelings or even their everyday experiences?
Paul washes the dishes and points out to Anna that she should appreciate his efforts. He claims that what he does more than compensates for her vacuuming the house. She then argues that, not only did she vacuum but she shampooed as well and this puts her ahead…and on and on it goes.
Elizabeth is an assertive and demanding victim as she approaches most of her talks with Brian, with a full agenda of grievances for his “failures” in treating her well. Brian is ever eager to please, but nothing he does ever seems to be enough, nothing ever seems to work. If his behaviors are “right” then his timing is “wrong.
When the dynamic themes of your relationship are suffering from failures of loving connection, developing “power-over” often becomes by default the mode of choice.
Power is the booby prize for failure of respect, care, et al. If we can’t be with our partners, at least we can exercise power over them.
Human beings abhor feeling “less-than.” We can’t bear for another to get the upper hand. We have many ways to even scores.
In all of these hidden issues there is a common theme, whether care, or respect, or interest, or play, or attention, or power…
We are social creatures and the central question of all human existence is: Do you accept me?
At the core of the human psyche and soul is the yearning for the continuation and fulfillment of the unconditional love.
The hidden themes of marriage are variations on acceptance.
Unconditional acceptance is life’s first gift…and our lifetime task is to recover and amplify, in the specifics of our relationships, the infinite variations on this theme.
I know from first-hand experience the ways in which each of these hidden issues has played out in my relationships.
As I have matured, as I have learned from the many courses I have taken, as I have gained deeper understanding of myself and others….I can truly say that things are better…much better!
The most powerful tool for me has been the Enneagram (9-sided figure), an incredibly valuable and dynamic system for understanding self and others.
Human beings, as an animal species, look alike …we all feel, think, and behave in characteristically human ways….BUT, underneath the surface behaviors is an ocean of differences. Most of what we see on the outside is DRIVEN by what we can’t see on the inside….the unconscious.
More often than not, people are just doing what they’ve learned to do from a very early age…to cope and to get along with people. Their behaviors are often automatic, unconscious, and repetitious.
Once you see that, for yourself and others, you are on the path to growth and development.
Learning about yourself and others… what triggers you, how you affect others, your basic fears and desires, etc…is key to creating whole, fulfilling, and loving relationships.
The Enneagram (9-sided figure) has become one of today’s most popular systems for self-understanding.
Based on 9 distinct and fundamentally different patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting, the Enneagram is unlike other “typing” systems.
The 9 types are based on where your attention goes…
often unconsciously and predictably when stressed.
Each of the 9 types has a belief structure about what is necessary for survival and satisfaction…and a corresponding set of perceptual filters that determine what is experienced and what isn’t.
The Enneagram reveals our worldview or "habit of mind" and helps to explain our strengths, core motivation, coping strategies, and where we run into difficulties with our selves and other people.
It is an incredible tool for gaining deep understanding of self and others….clearly paving the way to become more accepting, tolerant, compassionate and to having authentic and loving relationships with the people in our lives.
If you haven’t got a good system or framework for understanding others, I highly recommend the Enneagram.
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Sandy Lundahl. MPH, MA
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