Every relationship has its ups and downs. Some relationships last until death do us part, some end in divorce – and then there’s so many in between. Even in fairytales, the families don’t always get along! We posed the question to Queensland Relaxation Centre President Lionel Fifield – is peace possible in relationships?
When I was asked to write this article about peace in relationships and in the home I said yes, because I’ve seen over the past 35 years at the Relaxation Centre sometimes one little idea or insight can have a profound effect.
I always remember a man coming in to the centre and reminding me of a story I had told at a Melbourne seminar about a pig. He said this had changed his life. The story was of a man driving along a country road and as he came near a corner another car approached from the other direction. The woman driver yelled out at him “Pig!” He immediately reacted and yelled back at her “You stupid cow!” However, when he went around the corner, he hit a pig in the road. My visitor told me that this story had woken him up to see himself and his own quick reactions to his wife and his kids.
So on the way home he said to his wife “I’m like the man in that pig story, aren’t I?” This gave the wife permission to be honest with him about his reactions for the first time. She confirmed also that the kids had told her that they found it impossible to discuss anything with him because he always reacted to what they said. This man said that as soon as he got home he went straight up to his bedroom and wrote a big sign for his mirror, which said, “Remember the pig story”. He then commenced each day with that reminder.
Developing a preferred action instead of a reaction takes time and is no different to learning a musical instrument or a foreign language – we have to keep practising.
Ten years later when he and his wife met me again his wife told me that they could now discuss absolutely anything – their relationship was so mutually supportive and close and the kids said he was their best friend and they could always talk about and ask anything.
I’ve included the above story for several reasons: (a) I’ve never seen anybody change unless they’ve had some insight into themselves, as he did, and (b) he didn’t just see his patterns and immediately change – he worked on it day after day. Developing a preferred action instead of a reaction takes time and is no different to learning a musical instrument or a foreign language – we have to keep practising.
I’ve come to realise that in relationships we’re all addicted to certain behaviours but rarely can we see them. Any addictions are not easy to take charge of, it’s as if we’re controlled by them. The first breakthrough is to be able to put up our hands and say, “Yes I’m addicted to that.” All too often we may go as far as uttering the words but do not take any action or responsibility – this may apply to addictions such as having to be right or win – trying to be perfect – being the best – never being able to admit a mistake – to having to be special – to be the most intelligent – to having to have control – being looked after in a certain way, to security or playing the victim all the time, etc. It seems that these are all part of being human but can be terrible impediments if we are trying to find personal peace with ourselves and others.
Unfortunately two people each having to be right is not a good recipe, nor is a person who feels insecure living with a person addicted to changing them. This is, of course, not only with adults but with our children as well. What examples do we give our children? Do they witness mature communication, compassion, acknowledgement and acceptance of others and listening without reaction? Do they see us attempting to build partnership? How able are we to have really open communication with others without constantly defending or trying to justify ourselves?
I have no idea if anything I have written has been helpful because I am so aware of how many evasive, manipulative, controlling, abusive, destructive, divisive, imprisoning, aggressive, greedy and cruel tendencies exist in relationships to a lesser or a greater degree, not only with others but with ourselves as well.
At the same time there are so many beautiful and inspiring qualities. However, I believe each relationship has at its base an intrinsic purpose that can sometimes be very difficult to see and can be very stretching in its effects. Thus in hindsight we may recognise that we have developed strengths, greater trust in ourselves, the ability to speak up, increased honesty, resilience, commitment, be less of a perfectionist and not so rigid, and can therefore be more human, more humane and more aware of ourselves.
Finally I believe the greatest quality of all is a good sense of humour – we need to keep nurturing this as it can help us through so many of those tough moments and keep alive our curiosity and the ability to keep asking questions and finding answers.