During the seventies and eighties, as crisis intervention counselors and as ministers, we married couples, ran groups for couples, counseled couples individually, and gave workshops on relationships throughout the country. Our children always traveled with us, but they eventually reached an age when they had lives of their own and wanted to stay at home. Traveling without them was difficult and dangerous, and so we suspended most of these activities, and we didn't resume them until a few years ago.
Immediately we were struck by the changes in attitudes that had occurred while we had been away. Not only were the types of fears people expressed different, but the degree of fear had dramatically increased. Although we were working with a good cross-section of couples, we decided to talk to other therapists to see if they were experiencing the same phenomenon. We questioned counselors, clergy, psychologists, and psychiatrists and discovered that their experience was surprisingly similar to our own. We decided to restructure our groups to accommodate this new mindset and began taking notes for this book.
If a real relationship is to be formed, it's necessary to move past fear-fear of psychoanalytical, therapeutic, or recovery-based classifications, fear of failure, fear of influences from the past, fear of loss of power, fear of having chosen the wrong mate, fear of falling back into old patterns, fear of losing your identity, fear of devotion and sacrifice-into the deep and empowering experience of union with another. A real relationship is an absolutely reliable source of happiness and comfort, but few couples have one. It can be attained by virtually any two who are willing to make a sustained effort, such as they might in getting back in shape, or completing an advanced degree, or regaining their health after an operation, or learning the fundamentals of a new profession. If the average golfer would spend the time, study, and concentration on his marriage that he does on perfecting his golf swing, success would be unavoidable.
Why aren't we willing to give a comparable effort to marriage? It's not that we lack courage. Nor do we lack endurance. We are capable of making enormous sacrifices for ourselves alone. Since the surgeon general's first warning in 1964, more than 30 million Americans have given up smoking, most after repeated failures. Nicotine is an addiction that many experts consider harder to break than heroin addiction. We undergo various extremely painful, expensive, and dangerous plastic surgeries. We spend years forcing ourselves into a new way of eating. We will endure fatigue and pain daily in weight rooms trying to change the shape of our bodies. We will deprive ourselves of almost anything-provided it's for our exclusive benefit. Yet to make even a small sacrifice for our partner can grate on us for years as a gross unfairness.
Many people speaking and writing on relationships today strongly encourage this whining and giving up, whining and giving up, over and over, until finally we have before us an entire generation of people who will go to their deaths loveless and alone, never having known what real commitment was and taking no comforting presence with them.
Don't allow fear to blur your purpose or dilute your efforts. Acknowledge the fear-whatever it may be-but continue to build the love between you, even if you are doing all the work yourself-which every spouse in every marriage will be called upon to do from time to time. It doesn't matter so much what you try as that you keep trying. If something doesn't work, wait and then try another approach. Your objective is not to receive good marks from those who think they know what is therapeutically correct. When Gayle stood by Hugh while he had one affair after another, many of her friends thought that she was weak and despicable. Hugh even looked down on her for loving him. But she was clear within herself that she did love him, that she had seen his potential, and that while she waited for him to come to his senses, she could use the time very effectively to work on her own strength and peace.
Happiness is not actually dependent on how other people behave.
Marriages go through stages; people shift gears and change; mistakes are a part of growth Gayle understood all of this-at least well enough not to focus on Hugh's antics. Friends stand by friends. Friends stand by friends even when they are making mistakes. This is the key to both love and healing.
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