As established in last week's column, relationships may be easy in the initial sprint, but difficult to go the marathon distance. (As if you need a column to establish that one!) So let's roll up our sleeves and get right to it.
What are the perpetual problems that plague most long-term relationships? In my experience, it usually comes down to sex, money and "tone." These are what typically fuel the "marriage-go-rounds" in which couples become trapped.
Tone is probably at the top of the dysfunctional hit parade. That is what it usually comes down to: the way we talk to each other.
So there is the problem; what is the solution? It's a complex question to answer. But here are three essential ingredients, in my book, to effectuating a conscious/constructive relationship.
When a member of a couple loses the ability to understand where the other person is coming from, it usually means they have crossed through the DMZ into hostile territory. You may not agree with your spouse, but you owe it to him/her to always make the effort to see how they are feeling, or thinking the way they do.
Here's a suggestion for restoring compassion and empathy when it has fled the marital dialogue. Separate from your warring spouse, go to your corner and write on a piece of paper what your partner's point of view of the conflict is. That's all, nothing else. You aren't allowed to insinuate your own rebuttal. It is not at all about you, but all about the other. Come back from your corner and read aloud the brilliant and compassionately rendered essay about your loved one's point of view. You will be surprised at how feeling understood, no matter what the disagreement, can change the tone of the discourse.
Standing in truth
If the implicit contract of a marriage or relationship requires you to abandon your truth, your way of seeing things, then you are most likely involved in either a codependent relationship or an abusive one.
Strong words, so let me explain. If you can't describe your feelings of anger, hurt or disappointment to your spouse because it is disallowed (through such typical maneuvers such as shaming or ignoring) then you are being emotionally abused and you don't have a viable relationship. If you feel you must squelch your feelings and thoughts because it will threaten or destabilize your partner (a common scenario with an alcoholic spouse), then you are codependent and, again, you are not in a conscious relationship.
Without safety, there is no intimacy. Yet so many distressed relationships devolve into unsafe harbors. Compassion and empathy are exiled. There is no shelter in which one can "stand in their own truth." Everyone who aspires to a conscious relationship must be aware of what they are doing to promote a safe psychological shelter for their mate to be authentic. Surely everyone starts out with this intention, but perpetual conflicts will, after a while, create a militarized zone. The couple soon forgets they are partnered in life and see themselves at odds in the pursuit of a shared life.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site: www.HealthspanWeb.com.