|Threads of Permanence|
When my primary relationships were at their lowest ebb, I turned to Carl Rogers for insight. In exploring marriage and its alternatives in Becoming Partners, he summarized qualities he found in partnerships that were meaningful to both parties and seemed likely to continue. He offered hope that relationships need not be like the experiences I was having. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 102)
I. Dedication? Commitment?
The first thread I discern has something to do with the two terms in the headings, though the question marks indicate that I am satisfied with neither. . . .
So little by little, and largely through a process of elimination, I have arrived at a statement which satisfies me - for the present. It is an attempt to put into words - too many words, I fear - the real meaning of a term like "dedication" as it applies to a partnership. . . . Here it is. Every word in it has been carefully considered and has weight for me:
"We each commit ourselves to working together on the changing process of our present relationship, because that relationship is currently enriching our love and our life and we wish it to grow." . . .
What a morass of diverse and contradictory elements are contained in this word. It covers everything imaginable. "Pass the butter." That is communication, and is about as far as the term goes in many marriages. "My mother always said you were a louse, and you are!" This too qualifies as communication, . . .
Here is my attempt to put as concisely as I can the various aspects of this second elusive thread of a developing partnership. Again, this is more than a casual statement.
"I will risk myself by endeavoring to communicate any persisting feeling, positive or negative, to my partner - to the full depth that I understand it in myself - as a living, present part of me. Then I will risk further by trying to understand, with all the empathy I can bring to bear, his or her response, whether it is accusatory and critical or sharing and self-revealing." . . .
III. The Dissolution of Roles
One element which we have seen playing both a positive and a negative part, depending on the stance taken toward it, is that of expectations arising from the culture or subculture. To live by role expectations seems consistently in opposition to a marriage which is going somewhere, which is in process. . . .
So, for me, here is another thread which unites those partnerships which are becoming. They do not permit themselves to be molded by expectations, no matter how compelling these may seem to be.
"We will live by our own choices, the deepest organismic sensings of which we are capable, but we will not be shaped by the wishes, the rules, the roles which others are all too eager to thrust upon us." . . .
IV. Becoming a Separate Self
In a process partnership one of the most important factors making for a truly growing relationship may seem a rather paradoxical one. It is simply that when each partner is making progress toward becoming increasingly his or her own self, the partnership becomes more enriching. . . .
I should like to try to put this final intricate strengthening thread into personal terms, as I have the others. Again the words are not lightly chosen.
"Perhaps I can discover and come closer to more of what I really am deep inside . . . without hiding these feelings from myself. Perhaps I can come to prize myself as the richly varied person I am. . . . Then I can let myself be all this complexity of feelings and meanings and values with my partner. . . . Possibly then I can be a real member of a partnership, because I am on the road to being a real person. And I am hopeful that I can encourage my partner to follow his or her own road to a unique personhood, which I would love to share."
I honestly supposed that I could discover many of these "threads" which bind partnerships together in an enriching, not a confining way. But the four I have described are all I have come up with. . . . the more basic, the more causal, the more processmaking elements - commitment to the relationship process, risking the communication of one's own feelings, ceasing to live by roles, and discovering and sharing more of one's separate real self.
But I have no illusions that my analysis is correct or that it is the only correct one. I hope you will build your own.