Working, Long-term, on your Partnership
© Al Turtle 2007
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a couple, "What is the work ahead of us?" They had already learned the skills of a great relationship, at least a bit, and were perfecting those skills by practice. Now they were into the journey toward reliable intimacy. They were stumbling, as we all do as we are trying out new skills. I think of them as being in the sophomore course in the University of Life – learning to have a great marriage. They'd finished all the freshman requirements. (See my Map of Relationships for this context, particularly Part 5 and Part 6.)
In answer, I drew on my whiteboard a picture and filled in the details.
As I see it, there are three sets of tasks for each of them, and each has a supporting role in their partner’s task work. (By the way, the terms are typically sexist, but all this works for same–gender couples.)
Actually all tasks are completed at once, which makes for a bit of confusion. However, if you use the “pealing the onion” method, i.e. you work on what seems to be currently on the surface for each of you, all seems to go well. There are two lists to be worked through (Healing) and one general task. Let me take them one at a time.
Task One: Frustrations (The list 1 in above picture)
You will find in your mind a whole list of items that your partner has done or even still is doing, frequently or just occasionally, that bug you, frustrated you or upset you. When these are things from the past, I usually call them Resentments. When they are more current, I usually call them Frustrations. You may have quite a few. In my experience, however many I thought there were, later I would find more. It seems almost as if a mind can only think of a few at a time. Once you work on one and get rid of it, more will surface in your mind. It takes time.
Now, before you get too worried, let me give you the good news. The list is finite. There seem to be just so many, and That’s It! Whee. Let me give you some more good news. When you resolve one frustration, many items from your list seem to go away. I think this is because of the way you solve frustrations. This is where the Imago issues are solved. Lying beneath each frustration is one or more core issues, frequently originating in the first seven years of your life. The tool you use helps focus on a core issue, and that core issue is usually the source of energy behind many, many frustrations. Thus when you solve one core issue, many frustrations or resentments seem to lose their charge, their potency. And a person seems to have only so many core issues.
The tool for solving the items in this list is the Restructuring Frustrations process and it defines, I hope clearly, the roles for both people – the doer and the helper. So, get to work.
Task Two: Guilts (The list 2 in above picture)
You will find that as you talk with your partner you will come across memories of things you did in the past, or things you are doing now, that you feel badly about, feel ashamed of, feel sorry about doing. I use the word Guilts or Shames to cover these items. Over time you may stumble on more and more, but the list is again finite. There are only so many. At some point, you will not have to carry those any more. And remember, since guilt is just fear with another name, doing this work will move you toward more and more relaxation with your partner.
The tool for solving those items is the Making Amends process. Learn it and go for it!
It is quite common that an item on your list of Frustrations will relate to an item of your partner’s Guilts,. or the other way around. A Guilt of yours will seem to connect to a Frustration your partner has. Don’t be fooled! They are different items. When you have finished Making Amends for your item, then your partner will very likely need to still complete a Restructuring Frustration related to your Guilt. In fact, I suggest that if you are Making Amends, that you invite your partner to work with you on their Frustration that may have that occured at about the same time.
Task Three: Growing Up / Maturing / Changing (Item 3 in the above picture)
This is the generalized task for both of you. Learning and using the skills of good relating, clearing up core issues, cleaning up guilts automatically will invite you to more maturity, higher self-esteem, more toughness, and more and more spiritual beauty.
I believe that up until about the age of 11 or 12, people have only one major drive operating in their mind/soul/body – to survive. This allows them to get through lots of tough situations during childhood. As they move toward teenage years, another drive comes online and starts to push – the drive for wholeness. Survival and wholeness can pull a person in opposite ways. A kid may be a master thief at age 10 and then start to get clumsy, get caught more and more at age 13 as part of his soul wants to quit the dishonesty. A girl may be compliant and sweet until she reaches early teenage and then start to rebel and fight against the tyranny around her.
Part of Growing Up involves finding “Your Purpose” – what you are good at, and discovering what you were put on earth to do. This is a very important task, finding your goal and aligning your life toward that goal. Indigenous societies spend much effort facilitating this (initiation ceremonies). I think most industrial societies do a very poor job of this, and thus we see so much crisis among forty and fifty year olds as they confront meaninglessness in their lives. (See my paper on Purpose)
Just remember that part of us wants to change and another part of us resists change either in ourselves and in our partner. Be kind, helpful, and take your time – both with your own growth and with your partner.
For a discussion of how to get started, check out my paper on Getting to Work.