What is a Thriving Relationship?
This is the second in a series of articles on exploring the full potential of your relationship. In this article we will examine thriving relationships, what they are and how you can have one. Our definition of thriving is to participate fully in life, both as a person and as a couple. We’re excited about this concept because it has changed our reality about what a partnership can be, namely a place where one can thrive as an individual within the relationship AND as a couple. Our personal lives and our relationship have flourished as a result of this new way of being. What we continue to find as we look at successful relationships is the idea of responsibility, taking responsibility for one’s life and everything that happens in it.
Most couples tend to relate in one of two ways: they either protect their position or learn from it. Protecting is usually done to safeguard ourselves against pain or fear. We protect our position by defending our viewpoint without allowing room for another’s ideas. This could include a situation as simple as the correct way to load a dishwasher or as complex as buying the right home. When we choose to relate by defending or protecting, we avoid personal responsibility and become victims. We feel we have no say in the situation and simply react. The result of this form of relating is usually a power struggle, boredom, lack of fun, distance, or fighting.
Learning, on the other hand, has many components. It includes taking responsibility for our feelings, thoughts, and actions; recognizing that others do not always share our viewpoint; and finding out why we react as we do in a given situation. Dr.’s Paul and Margaret Jordan in their book, Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You, ask two essential questions: “Why is it so important for me to get my way or be right? What fears, expectations, or beliefs lie behind my feeling threatened or irritated?”
Chuck: It is important for me to be right and get my own way because my definition of giving in is losing. I feel good when I win and bad when I lose. If I have to give in all the time then I am in a losing relationship and I have lost my power. As a man, power means everything to me. For example, I have been in relationships where I would always give my power away because I was afraid of dealing with my partner’s anger. I would meekly accept whatever my partner said in anger because I didn’t want to make waves. As trite as it seems, I had to get in touch with my own feelings of anger before I could feel safe being with another’s anger.
I can trace this back to the age of nine when my father started traveling. I was given the responsibility of being the head of the house with seven younger siblings. I was always taking care of my brothers, sisters, and mom’s needs while mine were being ignored. In this way, I learned to accommodate others and swallow what I wanted. This affected all my relationships as I had learned to give in to what my partner wanted without voicing my needs. I felt powerless. As a result of choosing to notice recurring patterns in my life, I learned that I have problems with other’s anger. Recognizing this, I can choose to respond differently. If I own what I am feeling I can be there while my partner rages, knowing that it’s something she needs. This no longer triggers my feelings of not being heard nor does it give me the feeling that I am losing. By using this method, I have regained my power and I can still meet my partner’s needs . We have both won.
Marilyn: I find that I get most irritated with people when they don’t live up to my expectations. My expectations about people are that they are trust worthy, they have an innate sense of integrity and fairness, and they are true to their word. When this is not the case, I become irritated and disappointed. I grew up in a family that did not share my beliefs. My mother, having grown up in an environment where she was continually disappointed, held the strong belief that given the opportunity, people will disappoint you every time. I constantly fought this belief and tried to prove her wrong. Apparently I hadn’t fully resolved my conflict with these opposing beliefs, as they were manifested further by my ex-husband. He made a habit of making promises that he did not keep. I was so busy reacting and being disappointed, I didn’t see that I had choices. I was the victim. All my energy was used up feeling sorry for myself.
Between my mom’s beliefs and my experience with my former husband, I’ve had a difficult time balancing what I want to believe with how I’ve lived up until now. Presently, my original beliefs are getting stronger. Now, when I choose to relate by learning (instead of reacting), I can see that I have choices in every situation that arises. When I find myself becoming disappointed with my partner, I can ask myself: Is this feeling from the present situation or from the past? What is my part in this misunderstanding? What do I want? In this way I respect both myself and my partner. We both learn about ourselves and one another. We begin to heal old wounds and feel more whole and empowered.
Chuck & Marilyn: As we’ve seen, learning always includes the other person and accepting the situation in which we find ourselves. Acceptance is the key to taking responsibility for your life. It’s all a matter of personal choice. The results of choosing to relate by learning are greater self-esteem, more self-confidence, heightened personal freedom, and greater intimacy in our relationships. This happens because we stop trying to control and blame others. We take full responsibility for what occurs in our lives and attempt to make conscious choices about how we want to fulfill our desires.
When you begin to use your relationship to learn about yourself, you can experience more happiness and the feeling that you are actually creating your life. Your relationship grows because your partner is getting to know you at much deeper levels. This is the true meaning of a thriving relationship and the place where real intimacy begins.
This article, written by Marilyn and Chuck, is reprinted with permission from Woman’s Way Magazine. Copyright © 2001 the Relationship Specialists, Inc. All rights reserved.