ADRIENNE: Valentine’s Day is only a couple days away. It’s a generally lovey dovey occasion, but it’s also a day when many relationships end. If you’re thinking about whether you should stay, or you should go… our wellness columnist, Scott McPherson has some advice on how to go about that in the most healthy way. Hi Scott!
SCOTT: Hi Adrienne.
ADRIENNE: Scott– you’ve helped guide many people to a decision on their relationships. Is there a marked difference between someone who comes to you alone, versus if a couple approaches you about this?
SCOTT: In the case of the singles, they come in primarily to get more clarity, then make the decision. If they are deciding to leave, then they build the courage, and then we figure out healthy ways to end things.
With singles, as an experience, one person goes through the breakup alone; then notifies the other person, who then begins their own experience of the breakup.
In couples, they aren’t really comparing the relationship to no relationship at all. They know they want to be in a relationship for sure, their question is: is this the right relationship for me? The couples are less about ‘what’s right for me,’ and more about ‘what’s right for both of us?’ It’s quite beautiful to witness. It’s an expression of cooperative, unconditional love: They want what’s best for their partner, even if that’s not them.
ADRIENNE: Is there a process you can take them through to figure out if they’re right for each other?
SCOTT: We obviously discuss a lot of things in sessions, but I have developed one tool that almost all couples found extremely useful in their should-I-stay, or should-I-go debate. It’s also simple enough that we can explain it right here on the radio.
ADRIENNE: Ok– what’s the first step?
SCOTT: With the couples, we generally start with an agreement that they both want to be in a relationship, even if it’s not the current one. The only other agreement I ask for is the acceptance that there are no perfect people. So far I’ve never had anyone disagree with that.
ADRIENNE: Alright– then what do you do?
SCOTT: I show them a glass vase, filled to the brim with all sorts of different marbles. I explain that the vase has 93 marbles, and that it was designed to represent the average person, who is primarily good, with a few flaws.
I then give each of them a sheet of paper and a pencil, and I ask them to list the top 3-5 marbles that led them to fall in love in the first place. It’s always quite heart-warming how quickly these things come to mind for people. I get to read things like, “Her soft skin,” “I loved his family,” “she was super funny,” or, “my parents were both alcoholics, and she was as straight as an arrow.”
ADRIENNE: I can see how it would be positive to be reminded of the things you like about the other person, but most couples split up over their differences. What about those?
SCOTT: That’s what the bowl is for. After I have the sheets describing their favourite vase-marbles, I set them aside and I take out a bowl with the missing seven marbles. I explain that the bowl represents our flaws, and that one or more of them is why the subject of breaking up is even being discussed. The bowl is why we’re there.
I then give them two more sheets of paper and ask them to write down the key reasons they are thinking about breaking up. One is usually the person who initiated, so they will be more detailed. The second person is often much more vague in the description of the issues. Either way, this is why they each feel they might split, so I respect their perspective on that and I set those to pieces of paper aside with the others.
ADRIENNE: So– essentially we’re doing a pros and cons list? Where do you go from there?
SCOTT: It can just feel like a pro and con list, until I give them two more sheets of paper. This is often where people find their curiosity piqued. At this point I ask: if these second sheets –about the flaws in each other’s bowls– are why you would break up, then write down who you’d stay with. This is almost always met with total confusion, because people have tended to only consider half of what they’re undertaking.
ADRIENNE: What is that forgotten other half?
SCOTT: I remind them that they said they wanted to be in a relationship if not this one. And then I remind them that they both agreed there were no perfect people in this world. Everyone has a bowl. So my question is, if they’re going to split up over the bowl and vase combination they have, then what bowl would they stay with? What faults are they prepared to accept if not their current partner’s?
ADRIENNE: So– it’s really thinking about whether the grass is really greener on the other side?
SCOTT: Pretty much, yes. If we’re leaving the bowl we’re with, we need to find someone with a bowl we like better. But we often only look at the upsides in that equation. The couples will often have trouble even understanding what I mean at first, so I’ll offer them examples.
I tell them to think about the complaints their friends have about their partners. I’ll throw out suggestions: Anger issues. No. Serial Cheater? No! Bad parent? No!! Drug addict? NO!!! Has trouble holding a job? Nooo. Untrustworthy? No no no! Then I remind them we’re getting down to, leaving socks lying around, or forgetting to take the car in for servicing.
We have to remember, everyone’s bowl needs something in it. I think you can see, on the list of possible marbles in the bowl, a lot of previously annoying things can start to look pretty good. But we’re still leaving out a huge aspect of this.
ADRIENNE: And that is?
SCOTT: Each person has to remember that this isn’t just about us. We also need to find a partner that is willing to deal with our bowl, in the long-term. Just as we put up with things, our partner does too. Would another person do likewise? That’s worth thinking about.
ADRIENNE: So we all need to remember we have– we have as many flaws as the next person… and finding someone to accept us is as equally as difficult as accepting the flaws of another?
SCOTT: Yeah. It might seem strange, but great love is built on tolerance. I’ve seen people leave and then have trouble finding someone who will accept them. It turned out their partner was giving them more than they thought.
ADRIENNE: But, where does this leave us? There are still these things that bother us about our partner?
SCOTT: Yes, many people do feel this leaves them back where they started, but I point out some important facts. Vases and bowls are mandatory. Meaning the couple had their bowls when they fell in love.
The question becomes; why would they divorce over a bowl of marbles today, when they had previously gathered their friends to walk toward the bowl, down an aisle? Married to divorced, it’s often the exact same bowl. So what’s the difference between then and now?
Of course, the difference is, back then they gave little thought to their partner’s bowl of faults. They were way too focused on bragging about the many qualities in their vases.
This is often where many couples recollect how they used to tell friends about how great their partner was, yet they realize that now they mostly discuss their faults. This is helpful, because they start to see that you can’t grow flowers in our gardens if all we do is water the thorns.
ADRIENNE: So in the end, it’s about being more mindful about what we’re concentrating on? More gratitude?
SCOTT: Yes. It can save us from regret, and it can also lead us to make a decision that will take us to greater things. Either way, seeing more of what is really going on is always helpful.
ADRIENNE: Scott McPherson is our wellness columnist. He is a writer, speaker and instructor at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
Every Tuesday at 5:20pm, I join Radio Active‘s host Adrienne Pan, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to the bottom of this post within a few days of airing.
Valentines is only a few days away. It’s not only a day for proposals and engagements, it’s also one of the most popular days for a relationship to end. If you would like to know more about the relationship you’re in, and whether you should stay or go, tune in today at 5:20pm.
If you get to hear it and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the show. They have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.