Sonya Thomas lcsw

Relational Heroism – Part 6

We are wrapping up our series on Relational Heroism.  I hope you have found it compelling.  Where do you show up heroically in your relationship?  Where are the growth edges for you?

12) Recognize that the majority (69%, according to John Gottman) of marital conflicts are perpetual and not resolvable. Gottman writes that “Despite their difference, (happy) couples remain very satisfied with their marriages because they have hit upon a way to deal with their unbudgeable problem so it doesn’t overwhelm them. They’ve learned to keep it in its place and to have a sense of humor about it.”

“In other words, they are constantly working it out, for the most part good-naturedly. At times it gets better, other times it gets worse. But because they keep acknowledging the problem and talking about it, their love for each other isn’t overwhelmed by their difference. These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of the relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older.”

“Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book After the Honeymoon: ‘When choosing a long-term partner…you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years.’” Gottman adds, “Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems you choose are ones you can cope with…”

Gottman concludes: “In unstable marriages, perpetual problems…eventually kill the relationship. Instead of coping with the problem effectively, the couple gets gridlocked over it. They have the same conversation about it over and over again. They just spin their wheels, resolving nothing. Because they make no headway, they feel increasingly hurt, frustrated, and rejected by each other…They are on the course toward parallel lives and inevitable loneliness—the death knell of any marriage.” (pp. 130-132)

I began this series by introducing the concept of “relational heroism,” and the sentence, “Any occasion when a more mature part of oneself cuts into an habitual, dysfunctional reaction is an instance of recovery.” The relational work involved in building a successful marriage involves developing new neural pathways in our brains, in which we are able to resist the powerful urge to repeat dysfunctional and destructive communication patterns.

This relational work is not completed in a day or a week or a month. As Terry Real states in describing the construction of an “internal boundary,” “…it takes months, even years, of slow, steady effort before an internal boundary becomes consistent.” Ultimately, as Pema Chodron writes in her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, “Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart is the work of a lifetime.” (p. 153)

I want to thank Phil Chanin for his gracious permission in allowing me to share this beautifully constructed compendium, and I hope you find the concepts in this series relevant and useful.

Until next time, peace.