Section Two: Blind Alleys (CLICK HERE to print entire Map.)
© Al Turtle 2006
So here is the background of the Map of Relationships.
I first took courses in marriage counseling in 1972, during my University graduate years. In those days, the divorce rate was soaring. Well past 35% of first marriages ended in divorce, and it looked like that rate would continue upward. Marriage Counselors were using what they called “Conflict Resolution”. It didn’t seem to be helping, and they were frantically trying to find out what would help – what would stop the rising divorce rate.
I remember the biggest clue they had was the oft repeated statement by divorcing people, “I married the wrong person! I thought they were Mr. or Miss Right, but they turned out to be Mr. or Mrs. Wrong! I was misled!”
Now as I recall it, Marriage Counselors and academicians tried three major solutions. First, they worked with legislators to make divorce easier – to make it simpler to get away from Mr. or Mrs. Wrong. We now have “No Fault Divorce” or “Divorce due to Irreconcilable Differences.” Looking back, I think making divorce easy proved to be a serious mistake, but it seemed the right thing at the time.)
Second, professionals created many tests, questionnaires, and lists to help people pick the “right” person – the compatible person. These appeared in the popular magazines and gave rise to thousands of dating and match-making services. People happily take your money to help you “Find your perfect match!”
And Third, to save existing marriages, the psychologists offered counseling to the partner who was distressed, to help them feel more relaxed, and give them support in making good decisions.
It only took 6 years to discover that these were three dead ends. By 1978 we had the following answers.
- First, we found that when people divorce easily, they tend to remarry quickly. And they will remarry someone more or less as difficult as their first partner. A woman, who marries an abusive husband, will marry another the second time around. A man, who marries a cold, shrewish wife, will marry another one. This tendency to repeatedly marry Mr. or Ms. Wrong is highly predictable and has been seen over and over. Domestic Violence shelters who help a victimized partner to get away, only to wring their hands when their clients proceed to marry another abusive person. The sad conclusion was that people tend to fall in love with the “wrong person” over and over.
- Secondly, we found that when people are put together with “their perfect match,” they are, almost always, not interested. Very few “perfect matches” will produce that spark that people are seeking. Generally, you won’t fall in love with the person a dating service selects for you. The conclusion was that whatever makes for a perfect match, it is not compatibility.
- Thirdly, we found that the divorce rate goes up, if counseling is applied to married individuals. I recall one study, in Michigan I think, where they found that the divorce rate doubled for those receiving individual therapy. The conclusion that individual counseling increases the likelihood of divorce, frightened professionals.
In 1978, Marriage Therapists, themselves, found a big surprise. They, Marriage Therapists, got divorced at a much higher rate than the general public. I recall a conference of 200 or so, therapists. The leader asked for a show of hands of how many were currently divorced. Then he stopped and asked, “How many are married?” I think about 20 hands rose. The conclusion was that “marriage therapists didn’t know any better what do to about making a happy marriage.”
And now, for my biggest surprise! In that same year, my wife of 17 years, mother of our three teenagers, announced that she was divorcing me.
Divorce hurts. Separating hurts. I had never felt so much pain before or since. I visualize this pain as a large shark bite in the stomach, except only you can see the blood. You’ll survive, but it takes a long time to get back on your feet. Divorced people know this and are sympathetic. The “un-divorced” may not be very helpful at times like these.
In my pain, I went to find a book – an “instruction manual” on divorce and I found a pretty good one. Here’s what I learned. Pain is normal – splitting up hurts. The pain may last for several years. Both partners feel the pain, though when you are in pain you may not be able to see the other’s pain. The active one, the divorcer, may feel a bit less pain – perhaps 5% less. Breaking up hurts whether you’re officially married or not. Living together intimately, sets up the pain. The longer you live together, the more the pain, but it only takes about six months of living together to reach its maximum.
Could you avoid the pain? The book said that only those who remarried at once, avoided the pain altogether. But there was a catch. If you reconnect right away, the chance that you will have the same kind of trouble with the second person is almost 100%. Now this interested me. (I was certainly very aware, as my divorce moved along, of the troubles I had been in.) The book spoke of patterns of troubles. Ah hah! “Selecting the wrong person,” I thought. Not just the wrong person, but a unique type of wrong person. “Remarry quickly, and marry the wrong person again, right away.” Was there a line of wrong persons out there waiting for me?
So I read on. The book said that the longer you wait before forming a new relationship, the better chance of avoiding the same troubles. Statistically women should wait for 3 years or more to avoid the same trouble. Men, the book said, were slower, and needed to wait at least 5 years to avoid that wrong person.
I set my watch for 5 years.
And so, for a long time I waited, studied, and read self-help books. I went to marriage seminars. Since they all said relationships involve skills, I practiced. I dated often. I was terribly lonely. As a single father with three teenagers at home I was a wreck, but I survived. My kids survived too, but not with much help from me, I fear. This was a tough, sad time.
At last my watch went off – 5 years were up. Now I understood what I had done in my first marriage that had contributed to the trouble. I believed I had changed my ways. I was ready! I told a friend that I was looking for a mate. She arranged a blind date with — Sandra. We met and talked forever. We married a year later. One month after our wedding, a friend of mine came to visit, and to meet my new wife. Now, he’d known my first wife well. After meeting Sandra, he took me aside. Says he, “She’s the same woman again, Al!” My heart sank. And let me share with you, that in about five years, Sandra and I were fighting in exactly the same pattern that I had fought in my first marriage.
Five years of waiting, of studying, of learning, and here I was back at the same place again. Was I facing divorce again? Was I facing that pain again? This then was my personal experience of the Blind Alley of divorce.
But rather than divorce this time, I began a stubborn effort to find out what was going on, and what I needed to do about it. I wanted a great relationship, and I was going to get it – but how? It was during this time, around 1990, that I first read Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. That one book provided me the clues that directed me out of the Blind Alley of divorce and helped me begin the next part of my journey. I’d like to thank Harville and the Imago trainers throughout the world, who helped me over the next several years. Some of them are my colleagues and friends. This was an amazing period of learning.
Over the next decade, with great effort and with great support, I think Sandra and I made it – to the relationship of our dreams. And now that I can look back, and see the paths we followed, I am able to share them with you.
So, let’s begin now to start looking at the actual landscape of the Map of Relationships.
I have said many times that I believe that Sandra and I have made it. But…you may ask…. where did we make it to? What is meant by the “Relationship of your Dreams?” The first answer to this question came from a wonderful Outcome Study done during the early 1980s. In this kind of study, researchers first find the goal they want, and then find out how people got it. Since this was a study about relationships and marriage, the researchers first had to define the “marriage that everyone wanted” – the goal.
And so they asked a large number of college age people what they wanted in a marriage relationship. The thousands of answers were collected, analyzed, and using a process called Factor Analysis, a simple word picture of The Relationship of Everyone’s Dream was created. I have shared this word picture with several thousand couples in my office. It works. I’ll share it with you, now.
This ideal marriage relationship had four traits. Three, form a triangle showing that each trait is equally important, and that each is valuable only if the other two are present. One trait is important – above all. The three equal value traits are Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment. The stand alone trait is Safety. I’ve heard many thousand people share their definitions of these terms. Here are mine.
Intimacy means being buddies and not being strangers. People want to feel understood and close. I think the phrase In-to-me-see catches this term. I think the song for the TV show Cheers “A place where everybody knows my name” also does the term justice. People want freedom from loneliness. People want a connection.
Passion seems to mean excitement and energy. People want to be close, but not bored. They want to feel fully alive.
Commitment means stick-to-it-iveness. People want to keep going when things get tough. Not easy quitters. Stubborn is a good word – stubborn for the intimacy and passion. I think reliable is another good word for commitment.
Now, those three terms go together. But Safety stands alone.
My favorite definition of Safety is that your blood pressure lowers when you see your partner, or your muscles start to relax. Safety means that wonderful word “at Peace” – a place were you can scratch where it itches, where you can say anything and be ok.
Try this four-trait goal on for size: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, but above all Safety. I’ve found it fits pretty well for almost everyone.
Now, let’s get back to that Outcome Study. Having the Goal in hand, the researchers next interviewed a large number of couples where one was aged 60-65. They asked them about their relationship and compared their answers with the four-trait goal.
There was good news, and there was bad news.
The good news was that some couples had it all: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment, and above all Safety. Some had managed to achieve what all the young people wanted.
The bad news was that it was only 4%. Only one in twenty got it. 19 out of twenty had become lost along the way. This was staggering, and didn’t say much for the quality of marriages in our country.
I remember when I heard of the study, that I determined to get myself into that 4% come hell or high water.
Next, in that Outcome Study, the researchers interviewed the “successful 4%” to find out what they had done in order to “make it.” Two results came out immediately. Every couple in “The 4%” had started their relationship by “falling in love”. And after some time, every couple had begun to fight.
The first result may not surprise you, but perhaps it should. In the world, falling in love is not the normal way to start a marriage. Most marriages around the world are arranged marriages and before you scoff, the divorce rate in such arranged marriages is about 7% or less. In cultures where “falling in love” has become the selection criteria, the divorce rate is as much as 50%. And one of the major exports of our country is Hollywood, which promotes “romance” and preaches “falling in love.” Even so, in the Outcome Study, every couple who reached that successful 4% had started their relationship by some level of falling-in-love. I think this important.
The second result, that all successful couples had begun to struggle, surprised everyone. Until then, fighting was considered a sign of a troubled marriage. I recall the articles that were now published in magazines about how “fighting is normal.”
And so… now.. with these principles in place we can begin to explore the Map of Relationships.
Oh, just one last thing. I am limiting the amount of detail on the Map so that you can grasp the whole. I think all good maps are simplifications of the territory they represent. I have created many charts or maps over the years to help couples and clients understand themselves and what is going on. My charts are designed to be seen first as a picture representing the whole, then as a chart with just enough words to remind you of the details. I will give you many more of those details as I take you through the map.
The Map of Relationship is a picture, (the best I can make) of how relationships really work,
of what is really going on in them, and which you can use to plan efficiently and accurately what you want to do. You can also use it to understand what is going on for those around you, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, your children.