Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships
Ah, yes, Change, the inevitable. How many people look at their relationship when it begins and is so glorious and hope it never changes? How many people in that same moment look at their relationship and look forward to its evolution? Many more in the former than the latter.
“Life is change.”~Heraclitus of Ephesus
“We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”― T.S. Eliot
Heraclitus lived from 535 BC – 475 BC and was a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe. Everything changes moment to moment so why would it be any different for us as humans? The self we are is the sum of all of our inherited and lived experiences up to this moment – no, wait, this moment, oh, and there goes another one. Every moment is an experience that may or may not change us, and the sum of these moments is who we are today, and maybe a different us tomorrow. We hear too often about one partner in a relationship resisting changes in their partner. We have seen people halt their own personal work for fear of loosing their partner if they themselves change too much. We also hear all too often, “this is just who I am” declining the possibility of change within themselves.
To live a long lasting relationship as art, embracing change is fundamental. We will change and our partner will change. What is your attitude about this? Resistance? Acceptance? Support? Encouragement? We want to suggest support and encouragement. Do you really want to be with exactly the same person for the next 50 years? That just might get a bit dull and boring not to mention the holding back of a self-expression that is change can be damaging to our psyche.
Supporting partners comes in many forms. What we are speaking of here is supporting your partner in change, their personal process to better themselves as a person, and/or them dealing with their issues. One form support can take in a relationship is using the relationship as part of one’s path for conscious change. This is the person you are with daily and is THE thing (person) most likely to push your buttons. There is no escape, but then why would you want to? Instead of fighting it, use it.
Different parts of ourselves will change at different rates during our lifetime. Among other things, we physically age, we emotionally mature (hopefully), our energy level will shift, and our sexual expression will transform. All these things will happen. I checked and found many, many quotes on “growing old together.” What does that even mean? If you are choosing to be together for decades, it will be useful to be curious about what will it be like in 40 years? What you do now sets the stage for who you will be, and what your relationship will be like in the coming decades. To set that stage it will be useful to support how your partner wants to change. From early on, support each other’s growth, find a way to allow each other to take advantage of opportunities that arise in life even when it looks challenging to be able make it happen. Many times Madeline or I have remarked, “We’ll find a way to make this work.” What higher ideal than to want the best for your partner?
Set up a time to have a conversation with your partner. Before the conversation, each partner take some alone time to consider their ambitions in life personally (like personal growth) or professionally. Focus on individual ambitions even if there is some joint aspect such as family business ambitions. When you have the conversation, one partner speaks their ambitions while the other partner listens. Ask questions for clarification. Then ask the speaker, “How can I support you?” The speaker can then make request of support from the listener. You may request moral support, verbal support, monetary support, or any combination of these. As the listener, don’t just arbitrarily agree. Make sure you can fulfill the promise you are making and follow through. Switch roles and move through the process again.
Have attention to how you are in this conversation in both roles. On the speaking end, be clear about your ambitions. Watch if your “stuff” attempts to undercut your real desires. Will you ask for what you really want? It may be that you have never spoken a particular ambition to your partner before, and it may be a surprise to them. Be bold. On the other side of this, make sure your ambition is realistic. There are conversations floating around that suggest, “You can be anything you want!” This has value in assisting us moving forward and being bold, and yet sometimes suggest moving towards something that is really not possible for us. I could have the ambition of being a lineman for the 49ers football team. Not gonna happen! I don’t like football, I’m too old, and I’m not big enough! Notice where you might hold yourself back or strive for things clearly out of your reach.
As a listener, you want to practice listening. Have attention to possibly wanting to make suggestions, to assess their ambitions, or to fix something. As listener you are practicing supporting your partner. There may be another time or place to have a further conversation about their ambitions. This is not that place. Even if you feel compelled, it’s not your job in this conversation to talk them out of it. If a request is made and a promise given, fulfill your promise.
If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.
Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome http://www.relevantelephants.com