It looks like this couple will turn the corner. What a relief! Helen and I had wondered if this couple could rescue their relationship because we could see their enmeshing patterns from the very start. But by the second day of this Love Odyssey we found reason to be optimistic. We could tell by some of the off-hand comments that they made like “Maybe we should come back here in two years and renew our vows.” And “WE will need to practice these exercises intensely for the first several months in order to change our old patterns.” Some of these off-hand comments revealed that there were important changes already taking place and that their minds were opening up.
Helen and I have been doing these Love Odyssey marriage counseling retreats for the past 3 years, rescuing desperate couples from the specter of divorce. This was our second day of an odyssey to help a couple who were very pessimistic about the eventual fate of their marriage. All of the previous counseling hadn’t worked. We had docked at Ocracoke Island the night before where a Dutch captain named Art had helped us tie up. His sturdy trawler Meermin was docked up close behind us in Silver Lake harbor. Art seemed to be a somewhat philosophical man who had shared his views about how happiness in one’s marriage is far more important than possessing an impressive boat. Even so, his boat WAS impressive with its 16 boot beam and 50 ton displacement. I listened in fascination when he talked of his voyages south of the Bahamas.
The day with our couple had gone better than I had expected. We had been able to confront both the husband and wife with the fact that each has been trying to prescribe rules for the other. Each one had positioned his or her self as the righteously entitled victim of the other and had been trying to enlist Helen and I as allies to change the other. Instead of that happening, Helen and I had shown how each was injuring the other by adopting the superior parent position and treating the other like a child. At one point in the day, the husband was able to point out that the wife condescended to him three times in succession and couldn’t even break out of the pattern when it was pointed out to her. When everyone laughed we could see a real break in the clouds.
I sometimes wonder why it is that some partners “turn the corner” and some partners don’t. Perhaps it might have to do with something called “level of consciousness” Some partners value truth above pride and are willing to take an honest look at his or her self. Other partners value pride and appearance above truth. They’re closed systems where new information can’t enter. There’s a neat little diagram that I like to show our Love Odyssey couples. It goes like this:
Truth , Responsibility for Balanced Welfare
Pride, Appearance, Comfort, Pleasure
I tell each couple that the values below the line are self-serving indulgences that occur with a focus on self-gratification. The values above the line transcend mere self-gratification and they also open up the ability to sense future consequences. In other words, this is a good depiction of the battle between sin and virtue. Not that pride, appearance, comfort and pleasure are wrong. But when they come into conflict with truth or the welfare of your relationship you don’t want to have them dominate.
I think that some partners just don’t have the resources to reach escape velocity to transcend their pride and face truth. Like a drowning man or woman, they’ll grasp at any thing that will make them feel righteously valid and superior. Truth is a casualty and so is their relationship. Fortunately, Helen and I seemed to have lucked out with our current couple. They seem to be able to look at themselves and face their truth.
After leaving Ocracoke, we motor-sailed across the Pamlico Sound and headed up the Neuse River to New Bern. Many shrimp boats were anchored just south of New Bern due to the bounty of local shrimp this season. Along the way, the husband of our couple announced that he could see that he was habitually bending the truth when talking with his wife. He admitted how he so feared her disapproval that he would tell her little fibs that were more politically correct so as to not trigger her wrath. But his confession also seemed blended with a new awareness that he now knew that he was making himself and the relationship weaker with each small lie that he told. Truth was starting to prevail over pride and appearance. New information was flowing in. This husband and his wife were both turning the corner and would probably be one of the successful couples to be pulled back from the brink.