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AN EQUAL AND RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIP
From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi: Gourmet Recipes For A Gourment Relationship
Sharing Power And Struggling For Equality
I have a Facebook page dedicated to my book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi . I am attempting to generate some discussion about the book through a series of blogs on both Hubpages and Blogspot.
Today’s blog addresses an awareness that was a catalyst to writing the book, namely that thirty years ago, many couples came to therapy to convince me and themselves that their relationship was doomed and they should run to the divorce court as fast as they can. But since that time there has been a gradual shift.
Yes, couples, today, still fight over the same identical irreconcilable differences as they did thirty years ago. But they are not fighting to get out of the relationship, but they seem to be fighting to stay in the relationship. And what seems to drive their fights, more than the differences, is a desire to create and sustain an equal and reciprocal relationship. Such a relationship has been difficult and perhaps impossible before this particular time in history, because there was an automatic assumption that men and women were not equal. And yes, I know that plenty of you still maintain that position.
By equality, I do not mean the kind of homogenized unisex culture that we have created, but equality in the sense that neither one of us has to be in competition with the other, so that one of us is a winner and one of us is a loser. Why would you ever want your partner to be a loser? And equality in the sense that neither partner has to be inferior so the other partner can flaunt his or her perceived superiority.
And so our discussion of this shift begins here.
It is amazing to me that the history of civilization, all the way back to the beginning, is highlighted by the lives of very powerful women. I am posting two websites to get you started in knowing who these women are if you don’t already know some of them.
In more "modern" times (twentieth century), there were women like Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, and the reigning Queen Elizabeth, just to mention a FEW. Historically, there are women like Hatshepsut, pharaoh of Egypt, Heldegaard of Bingham, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Elizabeth the first, Empress Wu Zetian, and Queen Victoria, again just to mention a FEW.. The one website listed above gives you one hundred important women throughout history. And obviously, there’s more than a hundred.
So with all these outstanding and powerful women, it is quite amazing to me that women, in general, accepted "their" place in the family and in society up until relatively recent times. That "place" was never an inviting place, but one laden with submissiveness and servitude. A "place" that some would like to convince us was ordained by God.
It is amazing to me that my own Mom, a very powerful person in her own right, gave up her power in her relationship with her husband and accepted her "place" with rare exception. One of those rare exceptions was toward the end of both of their lives when she moved out of the house and made a list of conditions for her moving back in. Was my Dad stunned, puzzled, confused? YEA!
Back in the Fifties and perhaps even as late as the Seventies (twentieth century), when a woman went to therapy, the therapy tended to support her ADJUSTING to her "place" in the marriage or in society. If you look at Psychiatric Journals from that time period, you see advertisements for drugs like Valium which display before and after photos of women. For example, one ad shows a very haggard woman ironing clothes BEFORE Valium. In the next frame is a woman AFTER valium, wearing a very happy smile, her hair nicely combed, her clothes stylish, and she’s moving that iron back and forth across those clothes with such gusto, the picture would be better suited to advertise Dexedrine.
It’s just plain amazing to me that women went along with the "program" for so long when, in fact, there were models out there inviting them to be as powerful as they wanted to be. Again, if you have no idea what women I am talking about, check out the links above. I mean, come on, there are plenty of examples, through each period of World History, of very powerful women ruling countries, dynasties, and leading revolutions in politics, science, and even religion.
Well, not to belabor the point too much, but after all, the story about the first man and woman is about Adam and Eve. It’s not a story about Adam, and oh, by the way, there was this cute chick he had on the side (no pun intended). Let’s see, her name was, what was her name? Of course, it doesn’t go like that. It’s the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, one spin you could put on the story is that God recognized that Adam was pretty incompetent without a woman and the fact of the matter is, we still are!
Now, I am not naive or from some other planet. Well, John Gray says I'm from Mars! But anywho, I do get the struggle it has been for women. It's just interesting to me that amidst the struggle against repressive social, religious, and political norms, there were these powerful women standing up and being who they wanted to be. It's just interesting to me.
Women finally acknowledging their importance, their equality, their soulful value and worth, beyond prostituting themselves to masculine needs and whims, is changing male-female relationships across the board. The assumption of superiority by the male in a male-female relationship is akin to suicide. You’re asking for it! .
The roots of this change probably weave their way all the way back to Adam and Eve. In our Western Civilization, we can pinpoint a variety of historical moments, for example, the Magna Carta. In our own country, the movement toward freedom and equality goes to the heart of our modern beginnings when Europeans came to this country to escape religious persecution. Then there was the war of Independence, followed by the Civil War and subsequent Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Children’s Rights, the rights of people with disabilities, employees’ rights, and the list goes on. Throughout history, this movement toward freedom and equality, like a slow but determined river, has cut its way through the canyons of traditionally hierarchical social, political, and religious structures.
Ironically, I think we have known all along, at least in some paradoxical way, that men and women are equal. I mean, when you look at the picture of a man having his way with a woman, with the woman’s legs wrapped around his back side, you can’t ignore the man’s vulnerability, especially at that moment of no return. She’s gotcha! As a man, you gotta be out of your mind if you think you’re in control at that moment!
Okay so, women are no longer willing to take "their" place. Instead they are looking at being a whole and equal person in the relationship which makes it possible, if the man also is looking at being a whole and equal person in the relationship, for both the man and the woman to be TOGETHER in an INTERDEPENDENT relationship. Unfortunately, there is no reference point for us to see what an equal relationship looks like let alone feels like. What we know best is competition, winning and losing, being in control or giving in or up.
NOW NOTE. In the following paragraphs, when I talk about men and women fighting, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN ANY SHAPE OR FORM.
When I first opened my practice, couples often came to therapy fighting because they really wanted out of the relationship. The legal system was set up in a way that forced couples to prove that the other person was divorcable and their differences were irreconcilable. "See, all we do is fight!" Divorce was all about winning, proving your point, and heading off into the sunset with the best deal.
Yes, plenty of that still goes on in divorce court. But what I’m seeing more and more is that couples fight because they want to stay out of divorce court. Because of this pervasive movement toward equality throughout our social and political structures, many contemporary couples are pretuned to assume equality when they first meet and especially when they meet while they are still spinning from a previous relationship where equality was non existent. The taste is inviting. They like that taste, I think what drives many of their fights is a desire to have that equality all the time. Contemporary couples are fearless and relentless in their fighting. They’ve moved beyond winning and losing and know how to fight for the sake of fighting, so to speak, and to maintain the equality. But since their fights don’t seem to resolve in a traditional way where someone cries uncle, couples come to the conclusion that they need better communication skills. When I watch contemporary couples fight, they have excellent communication skills and tell it just how it is in very plain and often colorful language!
I’ve been inviting couples to consider that it is NOT communication skills that they need, but simply an awareness that they are in a dance to sustain equality, that they are in dance learning to share power. And I have a variety of hands-on exercises to bring the point home in a very concrete way which we will get into in a later blog.
So to summarize. Perhaps the struggles, the fights, the never ending bickering, is a result of couples, especially women, desiring to be in an equal relationship which means an interdependent relationship. And I think genetically we are designed for interdependence, but at a very early age, we were detoured into the world of competition and inequality which unfortunately is still alive and well in many segments of our lives, segments of our lives that could do well without competition.. And most of us grew up with parents who were NOT in an equal relationship, so our learning curve is skewed toward comptetiveness. And there are few if any visible couple models demonstrating what it looks like to live in an equal and reciprocal relationship.
There is a movie that came out a few years back, entitled, The Story of Us , with Bruce Willis and Mitchell Pfeiffer. I think the movie is a wonder-filled depiction of our discussion here, The film is both humorous, insightful, provocative, and profound, and I think gives a direction for all of us who want to do the interdependence dance, in contrast to the codependent dance or the independent dance of the Sixties and Seventies. You know, as Fritz Perls once said, something to the effect of, You do your thing, I’ll do mine, and maybe we’ll bump into each other every once in a while. I’m not sure what Fritz was referring to there, but I don’t think he was referring to the kind of marriage or partnership that many people are attempting to live today. .
And speaking of movies, what do you think of the relationship between Julia Childs and her husband as depicted in the movie, Julie and Julia ?
So here are some Questions for Discussion. If you like, share your thoughts here or on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/pages/edit/?id=130769310284553#!/pages/From-The-Frying-Pan-To-The-Jacuzzi/130769310284553
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Where do you experience equality and Inequality in your relationship?
Simply read or listen to each other’s responses. Do not argue with the responses. Do not try to problem solve your partner's responses, for example, if your partner experiences him or herself as inequal, don't try to convince them that they're not. Just listen.
Do not take RESPONSIBILITY for your partner’s sense of inequality, but you can think of ways to be RESPONSIVE.
So your partner thinks he or she is the better cook. Well, respond to them as if they are. Let them have that place of "superiority," and notice the transformation in your relationship. Notice that you do not lose anything or give up anything. You may, in fact, gain some free time out of the kitchen! .
If your partner thinks he or she is the better driver, hey, put your seat belt on, recline your seat, CLOSE your eyes, SILENTLY say the rosary and your act of contrition, and enjoy the ride!
2. Who are the couples in real life or in the media to whom we look for inspiration?
3. What do you think it is that keeps us together despite the pain and struggle in the relaltionship?
Listen intently to each other. DO NOT judge or criticize what your partner says. Listen carefully so you do not misinterpret what might be a freeing statement for each of you. So your partner might say, "I know I am a hard person to live with and I just know I will be hard pressed to find someone who puts up with me the way you do."
You can take that as the biggest admission your partner will ever make and the biggest compliment to you, or you can distort it into a statement that your partner loves to take advantage of you. GO WITH THE FIRST!
And if you like what's happening in your discussion with each other, for heaven's sake buy the book.