The 7 Best Things Happy Couples Do... plus one
By John Friel, Ph.D., Linda Friel
The Man, the Woman and the Sea
In The Soul of Adulthood, we wrote of the simple, extraordinary magic that comes to couples from their unconscious minds when they are in tune with themselves and each other in this true story about a couple we know. This man and woman had been together for several years and were creating a deep and abiding love for one another. They had shared many a struggle and many a joy. As they got to know each other, the man told her how much fun he and his brother and sister had swimming in the ocean every summer, and how important water had become to him during his childhood. The woman shared with him her fear of water, and of how her father had not been a very good swimming teacher because of his impatience and gruffness. But swimming outdoors in cold clear lakes and thundering ocean surf had become so deeply embedded in the man's soul that he was secretly disappointed that the woman wasn't as excited as he was about it.
They discussed these things for several years but always came to the same frustrating conclusion. The woman did not like being in the water and felt misunderstood and angry. The man, on the other hand, felt betrayed deep inside by her reluctance. But he kept trying to get her to change because he was convinced that their relationship would be ruined if she was never able to join him in the ocean as his brother and sister had.
One day when they were at the beach on a fairly calm day, the man tried every trick he could think of to talk the woman into going into the ocean with him. Purely as a gift to him the woman finally agreed, and as they began to walk into the surf together a swell came out of nowhere and washed over them, forcing water into her breathing passages. When he saw the terror in her eyes the man felt awful, and he vowed to himself and to her that he would never pressure her like that again. At the same time, the woman saw the remorse in the man's eyes and heard the sincerity in his voice, and the shared instant of simultaneous vulnerability swept over them graciously like a wave of healing light.
The next morning as he was swimming in the surf below the lanai of their hotel room, he waved to her as she read the morning newspaper and sipped her coffee, taking in the gentle breeze, and she smiled and waved back. And then from nowhere and everywhere inside of him hundreds of disconnected pieces suddenly gathered and formed an image of completion. He realized that when he was a child, all of that time spent in the boiling surf, or in the cool, dark, mystical water underneath the waves, was his way of soothing the fear and hurt that he frequently felt in his family, and that the secrets he shared with his brother and sister were not just about the ocean and its magical healing properties. As his mind eased back into the here and now, all of those disconnected fragments of pain and confusion were transformed into a single, deep, focused feeling of peace, for he realized that the pain of his childhood was behind him, and the beautiful mystery of his relationship with this woman did not demand retreat into a watery sanctuary. He no longer needed someone in the ocean with him to ease his pain. It was more than enough to swim by himself and to simply love her.
At that same moment, while she comfortably read her newspaper and sipped her coffee on their lanai overlooking the beach, the woman realized that while this man was in certain ways like her father, he was very different in many ways, especially in that he was willing and able to see the fear in her eyes, to acknowledge it, to acknowledge his mistake, and to put her safety and comfort above his own need to have her swim with him. In that instant, an old wound inside of her healed and her spirit felt light. It felt like magic to both of them. And indeed, it was.
The Magic and Science of Relationships
Poets argue that when we try to unravel the mysteries of a rainbow, we destroy its essence. Scientists argue that if we don't try, we remain prisoners of the very forces that we so admire. How can we, as human beings, reconcile our innate capacity to view creation through the lenses of metaphor and poetry with our equally inherent ability to analyze, synthesize, explain, predict and control? Is it even possible to write a book that is about both the magic and the science of relationships?
Where is the magic in relationships when we study them so carefully that we can predict with startling accuracy whether or not a couple will survive the first ten years of marriage? Where is the magic in identifying, naming and painstakingly counting hundreds of facial expressions, types of body postures, intonations and inflections of voice? If we pick apart the rainbow of relatedness, what will be left? Numbers on a computer screen? Beta weights in a multivariate analysis of thousands of tiny behaviors? Lines on a graph or chart? Is this, after all is said and done, what our relationships are about?
Science and art, magic and numbers-they do go together at some level, because at some level, they are simply ways to describe the same phenomenon. And therein lies the magic. Like William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein was a magician, but he was able to apply numbers to it, and so we called it science. The universe is magic, and it is, in our puniness, our job to unravel it. The more we understand it, the more magic is revealed to our amazement and delight-which is all a good relationship is about. Psychologist John Gottman can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether a relationship will "make it" or not, based on, among other things, the ratio of positive to negative interactions between partners over the long haul. And yet this fact does not diminish the lovers' magic one iota, because for each of us, finding and maintaining such a relationship is experienced as magic, whether numbers are applied to it or not-just like Einstein's universe.
As many of us are already well aware, undisciplined talent usually results in either nothing, or in chaos. You may be born with a marvelous musical talent, but if you never learn the skills and discipline required to write music or to play an instrument, you will never make the marvelous music that is locked up in your chromosomes. If you, like all human beings, have an innate desire for healthy, deep, loving relationships, but are never taught by example how to have them, then science tells us that you will have a difficult time having them. It is therefore with much dismay that we hear so many people say, "I don't want to learn about relationships. We just have to be together, and it will work out." In the relationship world, these are unfortunate famous last words.