The Conscious Heart: Seven Soul-Choices That Create Your Relationship Destiny
By Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D.
Committing To Full Expression and Truth-Telling
In our families of origin, people did not tell the truth about their feelings. Instead of speaking about their fears, sadnesses, dreams, and desires, they often hid them inside. Like most people, they had had no education or modeling about telling the truth about feelings, and they probably didn't know how. Many family members turned to addictions such as smoking to mask these hidden feelings, and many died from these addictions.
A participant in one of our workshops described the power of her commitment to authenticity and how it changed her relationships. "I was abused as a child, both sexually and physically," Rosemary told us, "a pattern that repeated in my marriage. After two years and my first black eye, we went for short-term counseling. But I went into complete denial in spite of nonstop verbal battering, continued beatings, and my husband's threats to kill me.
"I had numerous affairs during my fourteen-year marriage. The affairs stopped prior to my becoming pregnant with my daughter. Then seven years later I met someone and wanted to have another affair. I began to question why I was having affairs. The answer was: I was looking for an escape from the battering without having to change myself. I wanted the situation to change and for me to stay the same. I wanted my house, my routine, my perceived sense of security, and my projection of a successful marriage to all remain the same. Most of all, I'd always viewed myself as a happy person, and I wanted that to remain the same. I was very afraid that if I started to cry, I wouldn't be able to stop. I was afraid of the cost of getting out, and the benefits did not seem worth it.
"Several years ago some girlfriends encouraged me to start a women's group with them. The purpose of the group was for us to look at ourselves as women completely honestly. I joined the group for camaraderie, not realizing I had any issues.
"I told the group I was interested in having an affair with someone I had met. I expressed concern about that wish. I had thought that kind of behavior was behind me. The group encouraged me to look at my reasons for wanting an affair.
"My disclosure was followed by another member coming out about her bulimia. I was impressed by her bravery and honesty. It made it very safe for me. I felt that her truth allowed me to come out, both to myself and to the group, about my battering.
"I did it on a Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning I called a domestic violence program and got myself into it. Getting out of the battering did involve giving up my house and my luxurious lifestyle. I also spent two years crying and feeling a lack of joy in my heart. Reading Conscious Loving as part of my healing, I began taking responsibility and telling the truth to myself and to everyone else I came into contact with. I am still amazed at the benefits. The joy is back. I believe I am capable of achieving anything. I no longer walk on eggshells, constantly fearful of what is going to cause the next blowup. More than once I thought I might not survive a choking. That is no longer a concern."
Rosemary's situation was extreme, and her response courageous. Many of us are concerned that telling the truth will get us into trouble, not realizing that the lack of truth has already stirred up a storm of debris. When Rosemary told the truth, to herself and to others with whom she felt safe, she began to unwind the barbed wire of her pattern. We do not promise you that you will have no fallout from telling the truth. But we do promise, as Rosemary experienced, the fresh breath of joy, the power of making a free choice.
Committing to Listening
In our original families nonjudgmental listening was virtually unheard of. Gay recalls an insight in his first counseling class in 1968, when he was twenty-three: "We did an exercise where we simply listened and paraphrased what the other person was saying for five minutes of conversation. Sometimes called active listening, the intent is to summarize what the other person is saying without putting your own opinions or spin on it. It was one of the most illuminating and difficult five minutes of my life. When it was my turn to listen, I had a very hard time summarizing what the other guy was saying without giving my opinion. I realized that my listening was so contaminated with judgments and criticisms that I had little free space to hear what the other person was saying. When it was my turn to speak, though, I felt a surge of exhilaration in my body after a couple of minutes. In fact, I felt slightly dizzy. I think it was the first time in my life I'd ever been listened to consciously for five minutes. In my childhood we didn't ever 'just listen.' We listened in order to criticize, to give opinions, to poke holes in the logic But we didn't ever just listen. I found it incredibly liberating."
Learning to listen became very important to our relationship. It probably took us the better part of five years to master listening, to the extent that we could do it even in the heat of differing opinions. We consider it so important to the conscious heart of relationship that it is the first skill we teach in Part Four.
Committing to Happiness
Choosing happiness and harmony in our relationship was the most radical thing either of us could have done. It was truly setting forth into the unknown: To our knowledge, it had never been done before in either of our genetic histories. Once we regarded it as a thrilling adventure-a spiritual path of the most sacred kind-we began to savor even its challenges and adversities. As Barry Targan once said, "Adventure is hardship aesthetically considered." The founders of the United States created this country as a place for the "pursuit of happiness." When we first heard this idea in school, we did not understand it fully because we thought of "pursuit" as chasing after something. It brought to mind the image of millions of people running after happiness, which was trying to elude them like a scared rabbit. But in the days of the founders, the word pursuit meant a job or profession; it was common to say you were taking up the "pursuit" of law or medicine. So in America happiness is our profession, and we all have to ask ourselves if we are doing our job.
When we look into our granddaughter Elsie's eyes, it's absolutely clear that the essence of human beings is happiness. We are meant to express our deepest selves, and our children remind us that the pure expression of joy is at our very center. We pursue happiness on a daily basis. When a wave of happiness crests, we like to say so out loud to each other: "I'm happy!" (When one or the other of us is traveling, we sometimes forget that our usual audience is missing. Recently Gay was down in the locker room after working out at the gym. As he and a bunch of guys were changing clothes, he exclaimed, "I'm happy!" without editing himself. Several people gave him slightly strained smiles and more space, but several others said, "Yeah, me too!")