Saturday, February 21, 2009

Still in the Wading Pool?

Russ Hardesty, PhD

The summer of

A hallmark event of my life occurred in the summer 1953 on a Kiamichi Mountain stream in southeast Oklahoma. Along with seven older boys and two WWII Army vets I lived among the ticks, mosquitoes and muggy heat for two weeks. The men taught us how to survive without modern conveniences – we ate dried or salted meats, dug holes in the gravel bed for drinking water, learned about latrines and I learned to swim! Earlier in my life the sink or swim approach had instilled in me a fear of water deeper than my waist. With the gentle encouragement and support of the vets, I learned to swim without fear. Before long I was jumping from a high bluff into water several times over my head. I felt the rush of achievement and gained confidence with my peers that I had long desired. I had learned to trust myself in water, and depth was no longer a barrier but an invitation. One of the great lessons the vets taught me was not to swim alone. I was to always have a buddy – one that can swim!

The Wading Pool

A fear of water can be related to the fear of commitment in relationships. Two people can spend their lives together and never leave the wading pool. They enjoy the water, but never experience trusting themselves to get into the deep. If one partner ventures into deeper water, the other may begin to move toward solid footing, projecting their fear of being in over their head. For some couples, commitment means not leaving each other, and is triggered when one of the partners launches into unfamiliar territory. This is commitment to sameness and familiarity rather than a commitment to a growing relationship and can actually be a prelude to disintegration of the relationship.

Living in “Fantasy Land

If you only go into the wading pool, you eventually pretend you are swimming. You can put on the water wings, swim goggles, and flippers and pretend to engage sea monsters, sharks and all other sort of dangers. Those fearing commitment are fantasy-dependent. The partner fearful of commitment may engage their active imagination to avoid the reality of their own emotional insecurity. But they will discover that their fantasies cannot fill the void they are experiencing. This void cannot be filled by their partner, by possessions or activities. As a result of ‘unfilled expectations’, erratic behaviors and self-discounting occur. The active form of fear of commitment, according to writers Carter and Sokol, may be expressed by avoiding closeness. The passive form of this fear manifests itself as ‘longsuffering devotion’ accompanied by fantasy reconciliation with their partner.

Deep Water

Learning to swim opens a world of possibilities – opportunities to explore, play water sports (water polo), know the thrill of diving from the high board, and even gaining the skill to save someone from drowning. This latter skill made all the difference for two teenagers caught in the current of the Columbia River in 1967. That is when the lessons I had learned 14 years earlier were employed. I was reminded that day that trusting self is critical when swimming in the deep end.

Building Commitment in the relationship

The couple seeking to strengthen commitment can do so by focusing on the aspects of a maturing commitment - solidarity, flexibility, and mutuality.

Solidarity – Both partners agree that the preservation of the relationship is top priority – they establish a preservation agreement. Each learns to swim alone so that they can have energy and skill to contribute in building the relationship.

Flexibility – Swim with a buddy! Be prepared to take action! Change is inevitable in every area of life. Accepting and managing these changes strengthens the preservation agreement. Old ideas and assumptions may be exchanged for new and often contradictory ideas. This is the opportunity for a couple to experience co-creativity and the resulting connection.

Mutuality – Never swim away from your buddy. Always check to see if they need something. Honoring each other’s needs is essential to growing commitment. Each exchange, giving and receiving, is as if it were the last and only opportunity to meet that need or want. If your buddy gets in trouble, you have one opportunity to help out! Maturing relationship happens with equal partners.

Committed partners trust themselves to go into the deep end of relationship. And they trust that their partner has the strength to go through the ‘deep waters’ that life presents. At times, when one is tired or weakened they trust their partner to be available with their strength, skills and desire. Commitment doesn’t need to be frightening if you first learn to swim alone and then with a buddy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Story of a Marriage ... A Love Poem

The Story of A Marriage a love poem, by my friend Jerry, tells of a quality relationship - a story of two fulfilled lives.

"She stood there smiling,
pincurls showing under her patterned scarf,
the belt of her camel's hair coat
tied loosely in the current style,
grey plaid wool slacks,
brown brouges with split tongues,
her sparkling eyes lighting the hallway
outside Mr. Arnolds freshman English class..."

The Story of a Marriage ... A Love Poem
Gerald T. Perkoff

Before we knew it a dozen years had gone by,
the spring of youth was going from our step,
especially when we had to carry everything upstairs from
a garage buried
against a hillside.
So we moved to a condominium with everything
Marion needed
on one floor,
room for art,
and room for my Steinway,
we had loved it through all the years,
now it had a place of its own to be seen and heard,
a home where friends came,
to eat and drink and talk in a setting some
described as a museum,
using that word in its best context,
it was the first house we had ever thought of as more
than a collection of
bricks and boards,
it had a screened porch that promptly captivated Marion,
who calls it the best room in the house.
It is the place in which we began to plan for "old age."
For many old age is loss,
no more cool mountain streams,
no more star-gazing from beds of pine needles,
no more blazing passion,
yet for us it became the quiet contemplation of art and nature,
soft night sounds that illuminate the skies with gentleness,
the confidence that love can heal,
the certainty a hand will be there to help the creaky
rise from a chair,
the melding of two into more than one and less than two.
Yes, it is a time of diminished capacities,
yet love fills the crevasses of age and brings comfort to
lives that have become
this long poem
without a final line,
the continuing story of a marriage now sixty years long . . .

You can order "The Story of a Marriage..A Love poem

Friday, February 13, 2009

Closeness – One measure of a Quality Relationship

Russ Hardesty, PhD

What are some clues that your relationship is less than you want it to be?
This was a question I read recently on one of many relationship websites. Some of the responses were:
"I no longer want him/her around"
"Decline in sexual attraction"
"Noticeable change in the pattern of sexual intimacy"
"One on one time diminishes"
"No longer spending time together alone"
"Not remembering the last time your partner said 'I love you!'"

Closeness is an Aspect of Intimacy
Three components of love, according to Robert Sternberg, are commitment, passion and intimacy. Closeness is definitely an aspect of intimacy, and a maturing relationship will have increased closeness between partners. Closeness is revealed in times of stress. When a couple is challenged with stress that life presents, the extent of the closeness of a couple becomes very clear. The changing economic enviornment we are experiencing has challenged the closeness in many relationships. Some relationships have grown closer while others have become more distant.

Arne Floh, a professor in Vienna, Austria, describes closeness as a measure of a successful relationship. He states that the idea or concept of closeness can be experienced in several ways:
  • frequent contact
  • impact when in contact
  • diverse kinds of activites
  • length or duration of contact
  • emotional content

Closeness requires frequent contact with your partner.
A couple who had sought out assistance in improving their relationship reported that their relationship was much better since beginning counseling. When asked to identify their evidence of improvement they both told of the increased number of phone calls to each other during the day, more text messages and love notes they had been leaving for each other. Contact doesn’t always mean face to face. During the courtship phase of relationship, frequency of contact is essential for the relationship to progress to commitment.

Something meaningful happens.
Closeness builds when two people come together and value is created for both. Value is created when both have a need met. Sometimes this value is as simple as being heard or being able to express thoughts. Again, in the initial phase of relationship something meaningful happens with each encounter; otherwise the relationship would not continue.

Variety is essential to closeness.
One of the enemies of closeness is habituation. the same ol’ same ol’ is the marker of comfort zone living and the mask of relational demise. To build closeness a couple can experience discovery and wonder together. Growing and expanding thoughts, skills and relationship tools together tap into the creativity and imagination of people. When two individuals work together toward a common goal, closeness occurs. Beginning a new hobby or interest together is a great way to build closeness. Other ways might include sharing a book together, or attending a personal growth workshop together.

Uninterrupted and unstructured time together
Some of the most satisfying and fulfilling times I have spent with my partner were those in which there was no agenda. Just being in the presence of each other without external restraints or demands allow a couple to be in a safe and secure place and to be vulnerable with each other.

Heart to Heart
Many relationships are task-driven. Earning a living, raising children; caring for parents, social obligations and even religious activities can take the place of personal relationship. Closeness builds when there is an emotional connecting. It is possible to have a closeness that comes from working side by side, but closeness is enhanced and deepened when emotions of the heart are shared and demonstrated with each other. A major complaint I have heard in counseling sessions over the years is, „he/she doesn’t share their emotions with me! I just want to know how he/she feels!“ Closeness requires sharing our whole being – our physical presence, our thoughts and our emotions and feelings.

Actions Steps:
1. Rate your participation in each of these areas of closeness.
  • Frequent contact
  • Meaningful Time together
  • Variety of activities
  • Uninterrupted and Unstructured time
  • Heart to Heart
2. Describe two things you can do to improve or create more closeness in your relationship in the next week.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Key Value for a Rich and Vibrant Relationship – Personal Responsibility

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Do you live with the belief that if you love enough or your partner loves enough you will be happy? This sentiment is expressed in many of songs of the day like Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion

For all those times you stood by me
For all the truth that you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life
For all the wrong that you made right
For every dream you made come true
For all the love I found in you
I'll be forever thankful baby
You're the one who held me up
Never let me fall
You're the one who saw me through it all

These lyrics suggest that it is only because of someone else that truth, joy, rightness, dreams and love exist. This belief is the substance of fairy tales, novels and movies. However it is also the formula for empty and failed relationships. A rich and vibrant relationship is built by two partners choosing to take responsibility for their personal happiness. There is an agreement, spoken or unspoken, for what each partner is responsible.

Responsibility for one’s inner life cannot be given to another
In the song, “Because You Loved Me” the responsibility for joy, dreams, peace and love were placed on the lover. That’s a heavy and impossible burden. When one assumes that their partner is responsible for their happiness, relationship success becomes dependent on one partner’s strength and the other’s weaknesses. Equal partnership is not a possibility since it requires that each take responsibility for their inner life.

Often partners engage in a series of self-defeating games
such as “If it weren’t for you….” Or “If you hadn’t…” which are symptoms of a partner not being responsible for their own inner life. These games have elements of blame, faulting and discounting. Evidence of a man or woman being responsible for their inner life is an understanding and being accountable for their response to their partner’s actions or behaviors. The feelings associated with those actions that are displeasing are completely under your control. Likewise, your partner’s feelings toward you are under their control. This level of personal responsibility makes for freedom from guilt and blame. Because of this freedom a rich and vibrant relationship is possible.

When unhappiness occurs in a relationship, it is important to seek out the core beliefs that create this unhappiness. Your unhappiness, just as your joy is your responsibility.

Action Steps:

1) Identify those experiences in your relationship in which you felt (or thought) unhappy or disappointed. Write them down.
2) Reflect on each experience and with intellectual and spiritual honesty determine your part in each situation.
3) What thoughts and actions can you change?
4) Describe how each change can impact your relationship. (Actionable steps)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Relationships Welcome Change

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

A relationship that accepts change is a vital indicator of growth and maturity. The nature of life and of living systems is expansion. Change wrought by healthy growth that is balanced with a soulful honoring of created memories and rituals gives enduring substance and meaning to relationships.

Failure to Grow

Failure or reluctance to grow personally is the leading cause for relationship failure. If one partner grows and expands their horizons and the other insists on keeping things the same, the space within the relationship becomes filled with tension and resentment. The relationship becomes toxic for the partner committed to growth and expansion. This partner begins to create connections with others as a part of this growth. These new people can be experienced as intruders by the reluctant partner. The reluctant partner begins to create a shrinking world that may eventually have only enough room for one.

“Standing dead”
Clinging to status quo within a relationship is characteristic of the one who desires habituation as a life style. Although each healthy relationship requires some predictability, habituation without attraction and appreciation is the formula for a deteriorating relationship in which one or both of the parties are ‘standing dead’. ‘Standing dead’ could be described as hoping to reach death as safely as possible! The qualities that initially attracted the partners are now despised. In the habituation life style a partner notices only those qualities that are ‘negative’. The qualities that were once attractive seem to be no longer present. Statements and thoughts like, “you used to…”; “you don’t ….anymore”; or “why don’t you…?” become the focus in the relationship. An individual’s growth only threatens the relationship when their partner clings to the status quo.

Change in your partner calls out

Those changes that challenge the way things have been are invitations for growth. Rarely do two individuals mature and change at the same rate. This difference is such a challenge to those who are reluctant to change their thinking and behavior. This change is a sign “that not only are the lights on, there is someone alive in there too!” You are in a relationship with someone that is vibrant, alive and full of passion. Their growth is your call to get with it! Longing for the “good ole’ days” will only widen the gap between partners.

…to the last moment

A most often repeated statement by my father-in-law, who is in his 81st year, is this …“I plan on retiring three days before my burial!” This attitude sums up the nature of a passionate and fulfilled life. Change is constant. Each of us has the option of resisting and denying the changes that occur or embracing, welcoming and authoring much of the change that we experience in our relationship. You can expect change right up to the moment of your last breath. Change is the opportunity for each partner in a relationship to access and more fully express their devotion and love.

Actions Steps:
1) List those changes that have been opportunities for personal and relational maturity.
2) With each change, what did you discover in yourself? In your partner? In your relationship?
3) Share these with your partner in a quiet time – a soulful time of remembrance and celebration.

Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ