Relationship School

1348 Relax and Succeed - Relationship School

This fall I will be starting the latest round of my course, The Principles of Healthy Relationships. I won’t pretend to know who or what is right or wrong for someone else. But I do know that by learning how to clear our heads and change our perspectives, we can learn to more clearly see what defines a healthy relationship for us.

Each of us comes to our relationships with unique histories, unique circumstances and a unique personality. Those factors in turn lead us to date in unique ways and to create unique relationships. We even have unique breakups. And yet within us there is a certain consistency that we see emerge as patterns.

The differences between us derive from small differences in how we weight our values and our preferences, and our patterns emerge because those rarely change. But what is helpful is that we all share a set of helpful principles that we process our values and preferences with, and we can become conscious of that process.

We all know it’s possible for us to be attracted to certain kinds of unhealthy situations, and we often have the same conflicts with multiple partners, both of which are indications of the invisible set of rules we have been using in our relationships. Yet, we cannot function wisely within them if we’re not even sure what those rules and boundaries are, where they came from, or if they’re helpful.

It is possible for us to be more conscious of what we bring to a relationship, both in terms of how we foster them in healthy ways and how we unwittingly undermine them. Because we not only need to know how to find joy, we also need good strategies for how to manage our particular brands of trouble.

Every good relationship runs into problems –even serious ones. But the healthiest relationships succeed precisely because they have calmly thought out good strategies for dealing effectively with the patterns we create with our lives.

If we understand our Selves and how we truly operate, we are then able to tell the difference between when our ego is over-reacting, and when we have an issue that truly needs a healthy resolution.

By slowing our dating, relationship and breakup processes down, and by seeing them in new and insightful ways, it is much easier for us to find healthy new routes into better quality relationships.

1348 Relax and Succeed - Being single dating being in a relationship

If we’re single we can benefit from gaining a better understanding of the differences between solitude and loneliness. That way we can avoid both hiding from relationships, as well as being pushed into unhealthy ones. (It’s no surprise that we often make better choices when we’re feeling healthy and not under stress.)

If we’re dating, that’s often through websites which match qualities and interests, and yet people in good relationships will sometimes share those and other times not, so clearly those are not the secret. Qualities and interests are important, but in the end what we are with in a relationship is someone’s true character. Knowing how to recognize it early helps us to figure out much sooner if someone is destined to cross one of our relationship limits.

And if we’re in a relationship, or if we’re thinking about leaving one, we gain by establishing much more clearly what our personal needs really are, and why we are with the person we are with. This can can facilitate very helpful dialogue and can just as often lead to a beautiful relationship renewal as it can lead to a compassionate and healthy break-up.

Whether we avoid someone, unite with someone, sacrifice to stay with someone or decide leave someone, in any case our actions should be motivated by the same underlying principle: because that choice will lead to a greater quality of life.

We can share our lives with others and we do not have to surrender ourselves completely to do it. At least not all the time. But we do need to know where our own balance points are, and how those correspond to our partners or potential partners. Without that we can easily see things tumble.

No one is ever wrong or right for everyone, but finding who we’re right for is certainly much easier when we have a clearer and more principled idea of what it is we’re really looking for.

peace. s

Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Senior Isolation

I had a horrifying realization the other day. It’s one of those things that you should spot right away because it’s right in front of you, but somehow even with all those clues I was maintaining an old and dangerous idea.

778 Relax and Succeed - It's the oldest story in the worldIf you were to ask me how my essentially never-unhappy father could possibly be depressed, I would answer that the only thing I could imagine doing that would be prolonged isolation. He just loves people too much. He loves to talk, he’s a great joker and he’s just a generally super-helpful person. And then it struck me.

There had been a bit of a pattern forming around Dad. I can always feel when one of those realizations is coming–it’s quite distinctive. A few times while I was over doing my daily visit I noticed that Dad wasn’t participating like he usually does. He hadn’t added many jokes lately. Just something was… off.  At first I attributed it to his stroke and then I realized that he looked sad for the first time in my life.

Sadness was so odd–so strange, so baffling–that it really stood out. And then I realized that through body language he’s told us what’s happening. He used to try to participate, but with his hearing aids that’s hard. We can use our brains and ears to hone in on individual speakers in a busy room but people with hearing aids generally can’t.

778 Relax and Succeed - The quietest roomThey aid delivers a different sound pattern to their brain than their ear did, and so they can’t do the filtering with their old wiring. And so my Dad–and I’m sure many others–eventually gave up. So now that he’s not making the effort we didn’t know we needed to change what we were doing. We have left him essentially alone in every room even if he’s with people. And I said, the only thing I can ever imagine making my Dad sad is if he can’t engage with the human beings he’s always loved so much.

The moment I realized that I was driving to my parents to play cards with my Dad. It’s one on one, he can hear me no problem, and he loves beating me at crib–which he often does. Two deals in and there’s my smiling Dad back, making jokes, teasing me, teasing my Mom and seeming younger and less like a stroke victim every hand. My only regret was that I couldn’t plan for it and I only had time for one game. But I’ll be playing against him again tomorrow.

I now know at family gatherings, my Dad hasn’t lost interest. It’s just too difficult. So from now on I’m his crowd-Sherpa. I’m going to lead him through those events so that he knows what’s going on. Even if it’s mostly just him and I–at least we can still have the same fun we always had.

778 Relax and Succeed - Remember that everyone you meetI don’t think older people would decline anywhere near as much if they were engaged with often. Too many institutional seniors homes look like warehouses and not enough like activity centers. We should stick playschools and kennels in the same facility as seniors and get all the love-sharers and fun-havers in one place.

When you see older people on the street remember: there is a lifetime of wisdom there. They’ve felt all the highs you’ve felt and all the lows too. As we age I think we like to think that things get easier but life is pretty consistently steep throughout all ages. A great attitude helps, but you might still have to carry your urine–or your lungs–in a container with you. Getting old is not for the weak. It’s some heavy lifting.

I’ve always been sensitive to seniors, but this situation with my Dad has really raised my awareness. So from this point forward I hope you will join me in trying to acknowledge and engage with more people who are not only younger than me, but older than me too.

We all have a lot to offer each day just by being ourselves. We should take more opportunities to do that. And we should make sure that wheelchairs, distorted voices or even hearing aids never get in the way of us being connected, generous and caring.

Have a wonderful day connected with everyone around you today.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.