Recently my wife and I were talking about some marriage stuff. 🙂
We have different styles of communicating, and we sometimes miss out on seeing each other’s good intentions as we work through the usual dynamics of a relationship. We can easily, on a bad day, do more reacting and defending to the words used, rather than accepting the opportunity to develop and grow towards each other. So we were just touching base about how we could do that better.
It was an interesting chat because the nature of the chat itself required us to practice the very things we were talking about not always having, if you get what I mean.
One of the key standout points for me was when we talked about what we were doing to become better as partners. It is probably safe to say that no-one comes into a relationship with all the skills that will be needed to make it work into the future. We arrive in a relationship on a wave of emotions and early impressions, and we settle into this rhythm that is great for a while.
But things change. Workplace stresses change. Kids arrive. We gain weight, and maybe start to feel insecure. We mess up stuff, and lose confidence. Financial struggles arrive and take longer than expected to resolve. This is life, and we simply have to live it! But as these challenges come and go, the idea we were talking about is the need to increase our own skills and develop our competencies as partners and as parents.
We noted that in some areas, we had grown quite a bit. And in others, not so much. And in some areas, one of us had grown, and the other, well, not so much.
And this wonderful conversation set me thinking. Physical growth is inevitable. Mental and emotional growth is optional. It is deliberate and acquired by choice. This is different to simple change. Every day things happen that result in change. But that is not the same as growth. Growth implies an increase in capacity, a strengthening, an awakening of understanding and maturity. Change is, well, just change. Something is different; but not necessarily better.
If you embrace the theory of evolution, you might say well, change is good, and random change is therefore also good. It will result in something better, eventually. Darwin at his best, and all that stuff. But change is not always good. And “eventually” is a luxury a marriage and a family just don’t have!
Change can be very, very bad. Just ask a wife or kid where the dad has started drinking. Or Gambling. Or becoming violent. Or one of the parents has started having an affair. Or a promotion is taking a parent away from family too often… Things are changing, for sure, but not necessarily for the better. And change can be complicated – a good financial change might have a very bad outcome for quality time.
If you are a scientific thinker, you may wonder about entropy, which says that a system, if left alone, will tend towards disorder and chaos, not towards organisation and structure. And this is what happens with directionless change. There will always be change. But whether it is good or bad; whether it is coordinated and planned , or an accident of every day’s random events, that is up to us.
My point is that we choose whether our marriage system is closed or open.
A closed marriage system has little or nothing in the way of external input. It relies on the goings on within the marriage itself, for its opportunities to develop new skills and capacities. It relies on the external world to be benign and generous in the influence it has on the marriage and the relationship. And it assumes that what we had, going in, will be enough to successfully make it through and come out the other side…
Occasionally an external input might occur, and that might be great. Or it might not. These marriages, in the reading I have done, and in the irregular real life views I have actually had of them, tend to be the ones most likely to be abusive, and controlling, and the least likely to last. People get frustrated, and start to focus on the problems they are having and not so much on the solutions to those problems. People think in the same ways they always have, and try to fix their problems with the same thinking that created those problems in the first place.
An open marriage system, on the other hand, has external inputs that are allowed and encouraged to regularly influence the relationship. These can be negative, of course they can; but usually the very fact of it being an open system is a positive thing. By openness I mean open to new influences. This is where there can be incredible potential for learning and re-inventing ourselves. And the opportunity is there to seek out positive influences and opportunities for learning. Because the system is open, there are choices!
Right there, next to us, is someone who knows us best of all. They see us at our best and at our worst. Stressed and relaxed. Happy and sad. Courageous and timid. Strong and weak. They see it all. What a privilege to be with someone who can know us that well. I remember once we spent $2000 per person at the office to get some personality profiling done, and one smart-alec manager said “That was a waste of time. My wife could have told you all of this for free” We laughed, but he was right!
The problem is, we also can resent that person’s insights because most of our issues are exposed by most of their issues, and we tend to think “if they just fixed THEIR issues, my issues would disappear too!” Receiving input from our partners can be really hard sometimes. We lash out and say “Stop worrying about the speck in my eye and sort out the log in your own!” We know it’s a silly thing to say. We know our issue is real and we need to work on it, but we hate that they were right. And the best form of defence is… you got it. Attack.
So we lose out on a wonderful opportunity because the feedback loop just feels too close, too personal.
The beauty of a marriage that is an open system is that we are inviting opportunities to grow, into our relationship. It might be people, who are not quite as close as our partner. Not also the cause of our frustrations. A friend, a pastor, a mentor. Whoever. Or it might be a book, a video, a conversation that we can share and learn from, together. It might be a course on parenting, or marriage, or conflict resolution. It might even be a discussion we have about a TV programme that raised interesting issues. The point is, we are opening ourselves up. Opening our relationship up, and making sure that we take advantage of opportunities to grow with our partner into each new season of the relationship.
That dynamic has a real buzz to it.