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THE EXPERIENCE OF MORE
IN WHICH PICTURES, DO YOU SEE THE "MORE?" WHICH PICTURES ARE JUST "NICE" PICTURES?
The Experience of "More"
In my book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi, Gourmet Recipes For A Gourmet Relationship, I talk about my experience of sitting with couples in the last ten years, who seem hellbent on making their relationships work despite the intense conflict between each other. You...hold on to a kind of Job-like faith and hope that there has to be a way to make your marriage work....For me as an observer, there is something very precious about your tenacious faith and hope. It rises to the level of the spiritual and perhaps an indicator that, as bad as our world appears to be getting, the world is also on a parallel path of healing (Page 10).
In the book, I note that couples wanting to hold-on (in contrast to either leaving or just going through the motions) is a sociological shift from say, forty or fifty years ago, and I attribute that shift to our increased consciousness of how we, as people, want to be treated in all areas of our life. We have rejected the notion that any one person has the authority to lord it over us or to abuse us in any fashion. For lack of better explanation, it appears that more and more people are attempting or perhaps even demanding to have an equal relationship in their marriages or partnerships as well as in every other area of life, including the work place.
It might even be true that today’s couples, particularly if they have a bit of maturity under their belt, may have a clearer awareness of this desire for equality even prior to marriage.
Yes, forty or fifty years ago, people married because they at least thought they were in love, but if one had looked closely at the relationship, they would have seen that the romance was in their heads and hearts but not in the relationship itself. In addition, forty or fifty years ago, people often got married out of survival and with considerable focus on roles and role expectations. Certainly this was true of couples sixty and seventy (or more) years ago.
And many couples today, who have been married for a long time, are having the rude awakening that perhaps they have never been “in love” as one or both desire to be “in love” now. They obviously have loved each other on some level. How could they not? They climbed the Mount Everests of marriage and family life together for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years, and have created an unbreakable bond, but they are also entrenched, big time, in destructive relationship patterns so significant that one might wonder if there was ever what we call a marriage or if there ever could have been.
When one person has a relentless need to dominate and control the relationship and, of course, we have to hold the other person accountable for allowing this, and the other person has a relentless need to be dominated or becomes accustomed to feeling trapped, imprisoned, and suffocated, then it is virtually impossible for the two people to create a life-giving relationship. They will both end up being miserable, and it is not surprising if, at some point, far too much water has passed under the bridge for trust to be restored. Trust that you will not take advantage of me if I let go of my controlling ways or trust that you really can sustain, over the remainder of the life of our marriage, respecting me as an equal and competent partner.
It is important to note that in these kinds of relationships, neither person is free, not even the domineering person. The dominant or controlling person is also in a prison, often times by being locked out of the partner’s heart. The great irony.
I hear couples being painfully honest about having checked out of the relationship very early on in the marriage. Some report not having any kind of sexual relationship for years. There is no closeness or intimacy to spark a sexual relationship. Dominance, submission, criticism are such prevalent threads in the fabric of the relationship, it is a wonder that they are able to stay together. They manage to stay together usually out of some kind of loyalty to their children, to their religion, or out of fear of not being able to make it on their own especially if they are in their sixties and seventies or older. It’s a daunting challenge to consider starting life over at that age and finding a mate who would want you with wrinkles, grey hair, flatulence galore, deafness, depends dependent, and the issues go on and on! Not to speak of all the financial considerations. They say older men have an easier time of it than older women. I do not know if that is true in fact, but it seems to be the belief.
I remember my Mom at age 81 leaving my Dad, when he was just two months from his death. Pretty wild! She herself was dying from asthma and later diagnosed with COPD.
Mom wrote Dad a very lengthy letter spelling out what she needed from him. He had controlled her every movement and practically every breath for 63 years. Well, have to give Mom responsibility here, right? She allowed him to control her.
Dad never read the letter, refused to read the letter, and at some point, she, out of guilt, out of “love,” caved and went back home. Two months later, when he died, she became a free woman for the first time in her adult life. Interestingly enough, her COPD and asthma eventually cleared up, and she was not only free but was able to breathe again. Unfortunately a severe and painful break in her lower back at age eighty seven stopped short what was looking like a long free life for her including a trip to Lisieux, France to visit the place of her favorite Saint Therese.
So here I am at age sixty five and looking “down the barrel” so to speak at being single again. Whoa! There are a lot of pieces that I pick up and look at, some quite painful, but I am really interested in going back and taking a look at both of my marriages, not to see where we went wrong or who was right or wrong, but to see if there are some gems there just waiting to be discovered. Yes, I am an explorer! That is an inside joke. Do you want to hear the inside scoop? Yes?
Well, when my Dad was dying, he would do many interesting things. For example, he would outstretch his arms as if to greet someone when there was no one there, at least no one that we could see. Whenever I would ask him if he was aware of what he was doing, he would say, “Yes,” but then go on to say he did not know why he was doing it. Without realizing that I kept using the word “explore” as in “You know it might be interesting to explore that,” he kept saying to me, “Vern, I am not an explorer.” And I would wonder what the heck he meant by that? All I could think of was early American history! Finally when I asked him why he kept saying he was not an explorer, he reminded me that I kept inviting him to explore this or that. I had to laugh at myself. Unfortunately it wasn’t funny to Dad, only annoying!
So I am an explorer!
Besides being an explorer, I can also get pretty heady sometimes to the point of analyzing the obvious. So bear with me. Yes? Okay!
I was thinking a lot today of what we learned in graduate school about families and relationships. The more I thought about what I had learned, it began to make sense to me why it is that some couples want to hold on and why it is also that some couples want out.
Back in the early fifties, there was a group of folks called The Palo Alto Group. They began to work with families in contrast to working with individuals when it came to psychotherapy. They also took systems theory and applied it to the study of families and relationships.
One of the most important principles of systems theory is the principle of non-summativity which describes the phenomenon that the whole is greater than the sum of the individuals within the system. Applied to a relationship, when two people come together to form a relationship, the relationship ends up being “more” than what the two individuals bring to the relationship. Unfortunately this "more" is not always life giving. One could never have experienced a suicidal thought in their life, but oddly find themselves thinking about it in their relationship with someone who has a long family history of suicide. Don't ask me how that happens. But it does.
Obviously, we hope, the "more" will be life giving, a rich "more." So before our relationship, I was uptight and never went any further than up and down the state of California. Since loving you, I have traveled the globe. Yes, scared, but glad I took those risks and glad you invited me to.
Jordan and Margaret Paul wrote a wonderful book entitled, Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You. It is often the experience in a unhealthy relationship that YES, we do have to give up ourselves. But Jordan and Margaret present us a way of being in relationship that eliminates giving up oneself.
And going back to systems theory, the principle of non-summativity also encourages each of us NOT to give up anything let alone oneself. And, in fact, this principle predicts that the two of us together will end up with more as a couple than either one of us brings to the relationship as individuals. And we are not talking material possessions, but of closeness, intimacy, friendship, reciprocity, equality, respect, responsibility, accountability. So it does not have to be a giving up, but it can be a moving to an experience of “more.” And unless otherwise noted, we will continue from this point forward, to speak of the "more" as the lifegiving more.
So what makes it possible for the experience of “more” to occur in contrast to the experience of giving up yourself? Wow, that is the million dollar question, and I am not sure I know the answer.
In the book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi (Pag167), I describe the experience of “more” as being able look into your partner’s eyes and see there unequivocally that your partner has your best interest at heart, and you are able to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that your partner does what he or she does for a good reason. What do you think of that?
I began thinking about this a lot today on my walk. I began to wonder if I have experienced that “more” in my previous two relationships. And perhaps the experience of “more” or the lack of it might be a way to assess if two people have a life giving relationship, if they have a marriage, or if it is possible to have a marriage, given what each brings to the table, or if they are ready for marriage.
I know in my first marriage, I pursued Roberta. I was never sure she freely said Yes to my pursuit. I know she genuinely wanted to separate for a period of time before we made a final decision to get married, and I regret to this day balking at her request. Hindsight 20-20, right? But looking back, I think if we had separated, we would have come back and married, but our relationship would have started out and continued on a “wholey” different level. I think had she had that opportunity, it would have provided her with the confidence to literally leave or leave in the sense of detach when I was out of control in many different areas of the relationship, including alcohol and finances. I think having the freedom to say no to me in the very beginning would have made a huge difference in our sexual relationship later on.
Unfortunately, Roberta passed away in 1998 from cancer. I was a good husband, a good lover, a good friend, a good man during her last six months, but I think during her bout with cancer, I was consumed, perhaps by necessity, as life has it sometimes, with growing up at age fifty instead of being more present and equal in the relationship. A painful admission, but honest.
Did I experience that “more” in my relationship with Roberta? Did she experience the “more?” Did we together experience that “more?”
I think there were times we experienced the “more” especially during the years that we were presenting marriage encounter weekends as a team couple. We really put our hearts into our relationship so we could be there for other couples. I think we experienced little miracles now and again in our relationship, spurts of unbelievable love and growth. But I’m not sure that we each experienced equality in the relationship. I am not sure that Roberta experienced herself as an equal to me. I do not think she saw herself as beautiful nor sexy. I saw her that way, but could never convince her.
The flipside of that is I always wanted to be her Prince Charming, and I was never convinced that I was. I always had a nagging wonder if she regretted getting married to me, if she saw herself settling for some guy, ten years her junior, and perhaps less mature than she was.
Again, ironies of irony, I think I secretly saw myself as the leader or controller in the relationship. And I shiver thinking about how illnesses come about, and if cancer was her only way out, so to speak, of being controlled by me. I know that is a heavy place to go, and I only go there to be open to the possibility. I believe I will have yet another chance at a relationship in the future, and I am not interested in repeating anything and missing the lessons. So I am open to looking at all the possibilities.
Looking at (exploring!) my most recent twelve year relationship with Dianna, I am not sure what Dianna would tell you. I suppose it is important for me to find that out for both of us to reach healing. Dianna has insisted that our relationship was never right from the start. I never wanted to hear that. I never wanted to hear that, discuss that, or even look at it. So here I am, living in a room in Bob’s house.
But obviously, she did not experience that “more” on any consistent basis or perhaps not at all. She says she felt inferior to me based upon things I would say about her and her children. I am always dumbfounded when she tells me these things and even quotes me. I could never deny the quotes, but I know what my intentions were, and they were only to share my own fears and not to lay judgment on her or her children. But somehow we were never able to work through that--whatever that is. It is more than a miscommunication. It is about what each of us brought to this relationship, our past, our life experiences growing up, our prior experiences in marriage, all of it. And what we brought became a barrier even to simple communication.
When I met Dianna, someone told me that my hesitation in being in a relationship with her was about my inability to be loved. I think that was true. But I bought so much into that I did not pay attention to what Dianna refers to the “not right” in our relationship. I overlooked, for example, all the ways we both systematically starting giving up parts of ourselves as ways to make the relationship work.
Yes, I know, it is all hindsight, but hindsight is good especially at this stage of my life. Perhaps there is more hindsight available than future sight. Or perhaps the hindsight makes it possible for me to create a more healthy future sight for myself and the people with whom I will be in relationship. Hopefully that includes grandchildren. I want to be a good grandfather.
So how does this “more” come about. Well, to begin with neither person in the relationship can give up any part of him or herself for the more to blossom. Two whole people bring their wholeness, their wholyness, to the table, and when that happens, the “more” happens. It is about learning to live with the other person’s wholeness or wholeyness.
And as you will read in the book, From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi, it is never about compromise. Compromise always ends in zero as does give and take. Compromise is about me giving up today, so tomorrow it will be your turn. There is no such thing as a middle ground. Think about a boat as it rocks back and forth to maintain balance as it makes its way through the water. There is no middle ground with balance. The middle is always shifting and changing, so even the concept of middle ground becomes useless and perhaps even irrelevant.
If it is not compromise, finding a middle ground, and give and take, then what is it? Well, it is giving and receiving, and it is a movement and a DANCE.
If you were to see the “more” on video, it would look like this.
❥First, you are very clear about each other. You know your quirks, quacks, and quocks. You stop trying to change the other person’s quirks, quacks, and quocks. You become more conscious of your own and make a commitment to learn what they are about for YOU. If you explore your own quirks, quacks, and quocks, you will inevitably see that many of them are defenses, armor, bandages, beliefs and sometimes even values. You will see that many of them no longer fit, they are outdated and no longer necessary. It’s like the combat soldier coming home from war. He or she has to come to the awareness that they are no longer in combat.
❥Hopefully you will each grow strong enough to explore your quirks, quacks, and quocks together. It’s a very wonderful and healing adventure.
❥The detailed picture also includes being truthful with each other without being hurtful. You become conscious of words that are more wounding than they are honest.
❥You both learn how to let go of your personality and gender differences so that you no longer need to hold on to them for dear life. You become more and more aware that moving beyond these differences leads to a really dear life.
❥You become mutually responsive to the other person’s needs, and you both learn the huge difference between being responsive and being responsible. Neither partner takes advantage of the other’s responsiveness.
❥You become aware of all the little things that are NOT going to change, and you support each other finding a life-giving way to live with them.
❥You support each other in letting go of your addictive behaviors and support each other in taking the risk to meet your needs in your relationship rather than in the addiction.
❥Your relationship becomes more important than anything else for example, children, pets, job, money, bills, possessions, and talents. You support each other in coming to the awareness that there does not have to be any competition between all these other part of your lives. It is possible to create a dance with these parts of your lives as well.
❥You become very clear that your striving to become your SELF was important, but no longer needs to be an anchor that keeps you from moving far beyond into a much more exciting realm of the relationship, the realm of US.
❥You enjoy who the other person is no matter how much they change because of age or illness. And as you change, you become conscious of making sure that YOU shine through it all.
❥You support each other in continuing to dream big dreams. You enjoy the light beaming from each other’s face when you dream together, when you eat ice cream together, when you make love at one hundred sixty two no matter how simple it may look to those young un’s! You continue to support each other believing. Believing in the mysterious, the miraculous, in each other, and last but not least in God (From The Frying Pan To The Jacuzzi, Page 169).
When you stop and think about it, we can find that “more” in all our relationships, not just in our relationship with our spouse or partner. We can see that “more” in other people’s relationships as well, whether we are looking at good friends, lovers, business partners, team members. It is a “more” that is there for the taking if the relationship is totally safe enough to let go in the relationship, be honest in the relationship, maintain good boundaries with our yes’s and no’s, and be free in the relationship.
There is yet another piece in the “more” than I am wondering about. It seems to me more and more, speaking of the “more” that I find God meddling in my affairs! Perhaps God always has and I just haven’t noticed. Maybe the older we grow, it is more possible for God to meddle! I am not sure of this part. But I am beginning to experience that “more” in a number of different relationships these days, and these relationships have come about at a time that I have let go and let God more than in any other time in my life. So that is something for me and for you to look at or think about. In twelve step “work,” one learns to turn his or her life and will over to the care of God. Emphasis on that wonder-filled word, CARE. So the less I try to make my life work the way I think it should, and the more I keep turning my life over, the more God literally invites me to make choices that will bring that "more" both into my life and to the people I love. And again, we have been discussing "more" in terms of the life giving "more." You can also choose to remain in a relationship that is killing both your body and your soul. There is "more" in that relationship as well, but the "more" is killing you as in the case of my mother.
I am beginning to believe that God wants that "more" for us, perhaps even invites us to the "more." We just have to pay attention and believe when we hear the call.
In Catholic theology, there are sacraments, which are said to be outward signs of God’s presence or God’s love. In this theology, matrimony is a sacrament, and the couple is to be an outward sign of God’s love for his people. I suppose just about anyone can be an outward sign of God’s love, but perhaps it is that “more” we keep referring to that makes the relationship a sacrament or a sign in contrast to being just another relationship, perhaps even a good relationship, but still missing that “more” piece.
And you know what? We see that “more” piece in lots of “places” other than relationships. The “more,” the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, shows up in art of every medium and genre, even in photographs. Perhaps it is a divine element. Perhaps whenever and wherever we see the “more” we are seeing the presence of God.
I KNOW THIS WAS A LONG ONE. THANKS FOR GOING THE DISTANCE AND THEN LEAVING A COMMENT. ALSO YOU MIGHT CONSIDER HAVING FUN AND COMMENTING ON IN WHICH PHOTOS YOU SEE THAT MORE AND WHICH ONES ARE JUST NICE PHOTOS
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Home Page An easy-to-read book by Vernon R. Bradley describing recipes for living in an equal and reciprocal relationship with your partner or spouse