Growing a relationship

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

The greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. 

– Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

If we look back over past generations, we see many areas where progress has been made. Whether we think in terms of technological change, advances in medicine, environmental awareness or human rights, we can see how things are much better than they once were. We are infinitely better off than our grandparents and great grandparents.

Ironically and surprisingly, there is one area in which little seems to have changed. That is the area of intimate relationships. Certainly, there is more equality; women work outside the home and men change diapers, but I am not talking about these things. I am referring to the patterns that occur between couples.

Communication is still often an area of difficulty. Couples still get into cycles of conflict, anger and withdrawal and still have great difficulty understanding the other’s point of view. Often, they are not even interested in how the other sees things, so determined are they that their view is the correct one. They get stuck in adversarial positions and are unable to move past them.

Most marriage vows include something about loving, honouring and caring for the other. When a relationship is new, the individuals are excited to have this person in their life and tend to treat them well. Over time, when the newness is gone, sometimes things shift so the relationship becomes more of a competition or a contest and less of a cooperative venture.

So what happens to move things from wedded bliss to the divorce courts or to lives of quiet (or not so quiet) desperation? Ego happens.

True love is unconditional. Think of the love we have for a baby or a favourite pet. They may inconvenience us at times or make messes for us to clean up, but we take all of that in stride because we accept it will not always be perfect. We forget those things quickly and easily return to a place where we can give love freely.

Although we may start out that way in relationships, ego takes us off course. We may have baggage in the form of old hurts or defensiveness that we bring to a relationship. Ego may have ideas about what it should receive and how it should be treated, without too much thought about what it should give to the other and how the other should be treated. Ego has tunnel vision that way.

When we are in conflict, ego has taken over. Even if things happen in the relationship that cause distress for one or the other, in an evolved relationship the sense of love and caring for the other allows for real listening and working it out.

Conflict tends to come when the other is not taken into consideration and is neither heard nor valued. When ego is busy defending itself or going on the attack, it is completely unavailable to the other. Often the one in distress ends up feeling even worse after bringing up the issue for there is an added sense of rejection and abandonment in the face of an unsympathetic, uncompassionate ego.

It is not surprising that this same pattern has existed for generations. Effective communication and relationship building seem to be a blind spot in our culture.

In school, children learn to write essays and solve math problems, but not how to solve interpersonal problems and verbally communicate in a productive way when there are differences.

At home, if parents are still reliving the old patterns of their parents, the children will not learn new ways there either.

We have a long way to go. If we could simply grasp that we do not kick the dog or hit the baby and similarly we should not be harsh with loved ones, it might be a start. We must value the happiness of others as much as our own and sometimes even put their happiness first. And not simply to please them, but rather to show genuine compassion.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles, and information about her books, CDs and new “Creating Healthy Relationships” series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.