More ‘Valuable’ Relationships
Most of us are very slow to change much about ourselves. Our ingrained habits are very difficult to overcome. We usually prefer to choose the easier, softer way, which means continuing the status quo. I want to share a process that has helped me to change some behaviors sooner and easier than I could before..
The process I’ll describe is actually applicable for all our adult relationships: friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and colleagues in the workplace, as well as all grown members of our extended families. I’ll illustrate this transformational tip with my primary relationship with my wife, Christina.
The governing, inspirational ideal for all our relationships is Jesus’ call to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” Sounds simple enough, but as the writer, Eric Hoffer said, “It is easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.” I know that I’ve been both at my best and my worst in the safe bosom of my family. Too often, I’d been over-stressed, irritable, and short-tempered both outside and within my marriage; and changing those unloving behaviors had been painfully slow and inconsistent. The question I had to answer was: “How to better love my partner as myself?”
Instead of continuing to minimize my negative emotions and actions that I so despised in myself, I began a radically different approach. I sought to clarify a constellation of spiritual values to which I was very attracted. They were aligned with my understanding of Jesus’ overarching ideal of love. I chose them because they defined what I wanted my role in my marriage to become.
For these spiritual values and principles to be relevant, useful, and inspiriting to me, they needed to be:
· Personal. These were proposed solutions born of my very specific circumstances and problems. Some of my values therefore are bound to change and some will be different from yours.
· Contemporary. I needed to access my own culture’s language, meanings, and current available knowledge. (The field of psychology, for example, is less than a century old, but is a rich source of my own spiritual values.)
· Eclectic. I sought spiritual values to express Jesus’ ideal of love from sources that were Christian, Buddhist, philosophical, historical, psychological, classical, mythical, and poetic. Magnanimity, for example, is an Aristotelian idea. So, I did a great deal of reading and listening to friends, and attending workshops and lectures.
These spiritual values can be variously described as principles and/or virtues. They are re-decisions, choices, intentions, and commitments. They are either behaviors or attitudes. And they can be thought of as action plans, solutions, goals, or even operating systems.
SOME VALUES FOR IMPERFECT RELATIONSHIPS
From Negotiation to Magnanimity (generosity or large-heartedness). The two of us are lousy negotiators. In Spirituality of Imperfection, the author writes, “To be related to any other human being is to be both healed and hurt, both wounded and made whole. Our choice is to which of those always present realities we shall attend.”
The conscious choice of healing and wholeness is not a negotiation. It is a unilateral decision to begin to heal a relationship by ourselves; and not necessarily even to talk (less than negotiate) about it.
From Withdrawal to Constancy. Withdrawal for me was pouting in the short run and imagining a contingent exit strategy in the long run, if “we just couldn’t make this thing work.” Constancy is the commitment to hang around long enough to be sure to work this thing out.
From Arguments to Conciliation. We never argued well or productively and always ended with a lose/lose result. We replaced the tedium, pettiness, and unpleasantness of conflict with much briefer and more infrequent disagreements.
From Criticism to Empathy. The trick is to remind myself to try to appreciate the possible reasons for my friend’s action, in order to better understand her point of view, her fears, or her anger.
From Withholding to Renewal. Renewal is the willingness to restore normalcy after a painful breach and offer to begin to heal the relationship. Sooner is much easier than later.
From Taking our Relationship for Granted to Gratitude. I Reminded myself more often of her qualities I have always valued and her new ones as well.
From Disappointment to Acceptance. I lowered my expectations and accepted the likelihood that our marriage will never be perfect and that neither of us will be; oh yes, and that out partner never signed up to meet all our needs.
From Resentment to Forgiveness. Jesus’ call was for “seventy times seven.” Four hundred and ninety needs for forgiveness divided by 33 years of marriage is about one every three weeks. Sounds about right.
From Annoyance to Patience. I’m still working on this one.
A few notes about my experience with these spiritual values.
These transformations in my primary relationship have not been quick or complete, but they were not very difficult and were years ahead of my old rate of growth. I used the new values at first to intercept the old negative behaviors as they arose. Later, as they became more habitual, they morphed into more of a guidance system.The result has been a pretty steady improvement in our relationship. And as I slowly relinquished a lot of the old patterns, so did Christina, all pretty much without either of us talking much about it.
I think personal and contemporary spiritual values ultimately work well because:: The old behaviors created a great deal of unhappiness. On the other hand, to love another well is tremendously satisfying.
I’ve grown to love these values, because we “love the good.” They inspire me.
I’m very invested in the continued expression of values I chose as my own.
Unfortunately, these values simply do not exist until and unless we clarify them,
define what they mean to us, and why and how we’ll use them in our daily lives. I’ve
adopted over fifty different spiritual values to help govern my own spiritual growth in
four other areas of my life that are most important to me: my parenting, the pursuit of
wisdom, the search for inner peace, and more compassionate service to strangers. All of
these can be viewed at www.spiritualvalues.net.