Creative Reality of Relationships
June 24, 2014
August 16th, 2011
“Tell me about this family.”
This is often the opening line in a family therapy session. I learned it from the masters in the field.
“Tell me about this family.”
What usually follows is someone starts talking about someone else, usually the person creating what looks like trouble in the family. Or maybe someone starts talking about themselves.
When I interrupt and say, “No, tell me about this family,” there is often silence.
The family is an entity of its own. It is a creation, a creative endeavor. What does this family feel like? Look like? What are its characteristics? When does it smell sweet? Rotten? What pieces fit? What doesn’t work? If you could sculpt it, paint it, or dance it, what would it look like? Who protects this creation? What are the values and principles that guide the creative process of this family?
I ask the same question about marriages.
“Tell me about this marriage.” Again, this directive often stumps the couple in my office.
“I thought I was just going to be able to complain about him/her,” the other one thinks secretly. “Can’t you just fix him/her?”
The marriage is an entity of its own. It can be damaged, sometimes beyond recognition. One time in my office I compared the marriage of a couple to a thick marine rope. Every time one of its partners hurled insults, a little razor blade cut a few threads of the rope. If no repair was done, the rope stayed weakened like that. The next series of insults, dismissals, disrespect, secrets, or betrayals, and the rope was cut again, each successive tear compromising the strength of the marriage. Eventually, the rope just won’t hold out any more. It comes apart and is beyond repair. Now you have no rope (marriage) and you have to decide if you want to start over again. New rope.
If we could think about our families and marriages in this way, as creative works, I think we would handle them with more care. If when we walked down the street together or through a store together our marriage creation or our family creation could be seen, I believe we would be more thoughtful, creative, sacrificial, and sacramental about our relationships.
This is true, too, of all relationships. Friendships are an entity, a creation. Not just two people but the “creation” of the friendship. Communities, too, have their own energy, their own feel. If a community you belonged to was seen as a sculpture, painting, or dance, what would that image look like? Can you have an impact on the creation?
The field of marriage and family therapy has come a long way. We have research and data now that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t. We know what is most damaging and likely to kill the marriage, as well as what is most helpful and likely to bring life to the relationship. My colleagues that travel the world helping families and couples tell me that the presenting problems are the same wherever you go. Underneath the presentation, the real problem is this: people forget that the relationship is its own thing, its own entity, its own ongoing creation. It must be tended to, worked on, looked at, and revised. Sometimes it has to be ditched and started over. And always, yes always, the creation has been created by more than one person. So each of us has to look at how we are contributing to this creation. We have to do the deep and often hard work of looking at ourselves. There is no way around that truth.
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