Artwork by Carpusor Ovidiu
How we deal with relationships makes the difference.
By Cloe Madanes
We all want the perfect relationship; alas, there is no such thing. Relationships are messy. It’s how we deal with the messiness that makes the difference between a relationship filled with passion, growth, depth, and joy, and one that is mired in negative patterns of anger, blame, and boredom. A good relationship – whether with a partner, child, friend, or family member – is one of life’s greatest gifts, and there’s no reason to settle for anything less. When problems and conflicts arise, I counsel against exchanging one relationship for another, like a Christmas gift we take back for a store credit in hope of finding that thing we desire most. I believe most troubled relationships can be transformed into satisfying, rewarding ones. Simply falling into a great long-lasting relationship is about as rare as finding a gold coin on the street. Good relationships take work, but we all have the capacity to create joyful, lasting, deeply satisfying connections in our lives.
The first step to change a dysfunctional or unsatisfying relationship is to change our focus – to look underneath the obvious problem and focus on the underlying needs that are not being met.
Bob and Sally came to therapy with a serious problem. Sally was diabetic and was drinking herself to death. She drank a half bottle of vodka a night and was not paying attention to her diet or her medications. She said she had to drink because of the pain of her bad relationship with her husband. Both she and Bob were tall and overweight. Bob was ill tempered; he had never laid a hand on Sally, but he was known to smash a plate of spaghetti against the wall when he got in a rage. Sally sometimes came to the sessions wearing shorts and curlers in her hair, which was something that I had not seen in many years. Bob and Sally quarreled endlessly about messes: the attic, the garage, cleaning up after the dog, taking out the garbage.
Their therapist was a nice young man, always dressed in a suit and a tie, and I was his supervisor, observing behind a one-way mirror. I could see that as Steve struggled to help this couple – and the couple was not getting any better – Steve was getting more and more depressed. They were the kind of couple that makes the most dedicated therapist think, “For this I struggled through a Ph.D. program?”
One day I said to Steve: “Today I would like you to ask Sally whether she has seen the movie or read the book Gone with the Wind. When she wants to know why you are asking, I want you to tell her that she and her husband remind you so much of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. They have the same kind of passionate relationship – always fighting. Like Rhett, Bob is always on the verge of violence. Scarlett was always trying to change Rhett; tell them that it’s curious to you that Sally continues to try to change Bob, instead of enjoying his passionate nature, when even Scarlett couldn’t change Rhett.”
Steve liked this idea. As he began to talk to Sally, Bob, whose only resemblance to Clark Gable was that he wore a moustache, began to stroke it.
Sally was delighted at being compared to Vivien Leigh. By fortuitous coincidence, Sally was an expert on Gone with the Wind. She had seen the movie six times and read the book twice. She immediately said, “Scarlett did change Rhett!” Steve responded, “I bet you 10 dollars that you don’t find one line in the book that says that Rhett changed one bit from the beginning to the end of the novel.”
Sally took the challenge and eventually conceded that Steve was right; Rhett had not changed at all.
Source: Psychology Today