Learning By Letting Go
Note: The writer of this question made contact a few years ago, and we've exchanged e-mails through the difficulties of her marriage, establishing herself in a new country and finding the courage and wisdom to leave her marriage and strike out on her own. She now asks:
"So could I please ask you to talk about divorce, talk about healing and recovery from a broken dream, how it could be a chance of growth and development... "
I happened to be perusing my bookcase and came upon one of a series of books on Morita Therapy - a style developed in Japan. The style embraces both Western approaches and Zen Buddhism. The book I picked up is one of several by David K. Reynolds, titled, Playing Ball on Running Water.
Clients are thought of as students, and as students, in need of more functional understandings. This is so because the person is in therapy for precisely that reason - to gain a better understanding and a different approach.
Anyway, I was browsing back through the book, reading sections I had highlighted, and came upon a relevant section. A woman was angry over her husband's drinking and smoking but had learned through Morita therapy that we cannot control other people.
…So when she began to refuse to buy beer for her husband on her shopping trips, he said nothing, but she felt guilty about her efforts to influence his drinking.
Her misunderstanding was in confusing effort with results. There is nothing wrong with trying to influence others. We do it all the time. This book is my attempt to influence the way you think about certain things, and to influence what you do. Almost everything we say is an effort to influence others, at the very least to influence them to listen to us. Trying to affect other people is a natural, everyday aspect of human life. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, however concealing these efforts, using physical force, or using our influence to obtain certain goals may be wrong in many circumstances. On the other hand, to be attached to or to be obsessed with the effects of our actions to influence others is a mistake. Like any behavior, actions to change another person should be undertaken with full attention and wholeheartedly. But then we must leave it up to the person to decide whether to change or not.
I am indifferent to whether you understand and accept the life principles in this book. Some of you will find them intriguing and immediately beneficial. Others will reject them out of hand. That is your business. My success or failure lies not in whether I have convinced you of the wisdom of Morita's method, but in the quality of my presentation. If I have written with full attention, as well as I can, then the outcome is of interest to me but not crucially important.
It is the same thing for the young housewife. She is quite appropriately concerned with her husband's problem. Smoking and excessive drinking are very likely to shorten his life. She has every right to attempt to influence his habits. She has been quite clear with him about her purposes. But there her attachment must stop. Whether he stops drinking and smoking is his concern. She is personally interested in the outcome of her efforts, but she must not judge them in terms of the outcome. She does need to know if he stops in order to know whether she needs to continue trying to influence him to quit. But she must leave up to her husband, and him alone, the decision about how to respond to her behavior.
She cannot control him; she must not commit herself to controlling him. But, for her part, she is responsible for doing what she can to achieve her purpose. Again, her purpose is not to control him; her purpose is influencing, not the resultant effect.
David K. Reynolds, Playing Ball on Running Water, Pgs. 30-32
I think we can begin to see the interesting walk we have set in motion for ourselves. Because of, as we said last week and elsewhere, the programming we all received as kids, we take it that we should spend our lives "making" people understand, change, behave, love us, whatever. I can't stress this enough: parents are obligated to make their kids behave. I'll grab a small child and drag her or him out of harm's way. I'll insist a child follow household rules and curfews. Here's the important part:
You must not treat adults (and I kind of suggest 14-16 as a good age to shift with kids) like kids.
Marriages fail because the participants cannot solve the power struggle. ALL relationships go through one, and if we follow Wong and McKeen on this one (and I do) moving from romance to conflict is all the changing most (maybe as high as 95%) of all couples do.
Once we're in "conflict," we begin to see what Reynolds is describing, above: the confusion of effort with results. Let's look at marital conflict.
And, let's agree on one other thing: no one on this planet, repeat, no one, was brought up like you. Not your siblings, not your neighbours, and definitely not your partner. In chorus, please: "I am unique! There never was and there never will be another person like me!" Thank you. Sit down and pass the offering plate…
So, I know you desperately want to believe that everyone is just like you. That why, when you were younger, you'd say, "Why can't I wear my skirt 3 inches below my navel and up to my crotch? All my friends are doing it!" And your father would say, "Not in my house, son…"
You must believe that everyone is the same, because that's what you keep saying, in your relationship fights: "Everybody knows…" "No one else has to put up with…" "All the other wives (husbands)…" And all of this is based upon one thing: comfort levels.
In your uniqueness, you were brought up by your parents and "tribes" with a ton of generalizations. Now here's the important part: even if a sibling was standing right next to you when you received "truth" A, it is a certainty that she heard it one way (her way) and you heard it your way. That's why, by the bye, when discussing past events with sibs or friends, you never remember the situation the same way. And if you don't believe that, go ask a cop about witnesses.
While I seem to be hammering the same nail, what I'm trying to get across is this: there is no "one way" to see anything. I have my way of seeing and being, and you have yours. We can talk, and you can hear what I say and meditate upon it, and maybe even you'll agree with me. Even if you do, however, how you understand and apply what I say will be absolutely unique to you.
Now, if I go into a relationship not understanding any of this, what I'm going to do is to assume that my way of understanding how to "couple" is not only the "right" way, but the "only" way and the universal way. Thus the endless statements of, "Everybody knows…" Funny thing, though. My partner believes the same thing about his or her world view. "Everybody knows…" The conflict stage in relationship is two people, each of them thinking they are "right," desperately trying to get their partner (the only person on the whole planet that's out of step) to change.
Anger in relationships is directly attributable, every time, to both parties demanding change from their partner, and not getting it. When this happens for a long time (again following Ben & Jock), there are three options that typically are used: staying and fighting, leaving and divorcing and apathy.
The 4th option, chosen by maybe 5% of couples, is to stop trying to be right and to simply accept your partner as he or she is. And then, with mutual agreement and humour, to, as Reynolds says, above, exert influence without attachment to the result.
I actually think, for some of us, it may take going through this process once or twice to actually "get" this idea. Those of you that have read my free booklets will know that I have been married 3 times, briefly in University in the 60s -ah, the life of a hippie - and for 9 years in the 70s to early 80s. Dar and I have known each other since Sept. of 1982. Dar, on the other hand, is still in her first marriage. Hmm. Maybe she should be writing this.
I have a dear friend who is likely in Hong Kong who once said to me, "Wayne, you are an old soul." Before I could get too excited and full of myself, she said, "There's an old saying in China: "Old soul, slow learner."" Yup. That would be me.
I remember spending a school year (82-83) with my buddy Gloria Taylor as my counselling training supervisor. She firmly challenged each and every one of my beliefs. I'd let her know how the world "should" be, and she'd prick my balloon. I'd gripe about not getting something, and she'd say, "Did you ask?" and I'd say, "I shouldn't have to ask. People should just know that I need…" (see above.) Gloria would say, "They're not you. Go ask." I learned to ask. And on and on.
As I wrote in one of the Relationship booklets, I was 31 (yup, right when I met Dar) when I learned to stop trying to make my partner over into what I wanted her to be. That was what I learned from my 2nd marriage, which was spent mostly trying to get my partner to change. Everything came home to roost while I was training to be a therapist. I began to see and understand and apply the stuff I write about in Into the Centre and teach to clients. I "got" the relationship piece that I'm describing above, ended a relationship that had run its course and began one that has been radically different, deep and quite incredible.
So, in answer to the question above: divorce, in and of itself, teaches us nothing other than that we can exit a bad relationship. The learning comes afterwards, or perhaps also in the process of leaving. The lesson I learned was that attempting to change another person into the person I wanted to be with is the height of arrogance. To choose a partner who already is who I want to be in relationship with (who, as I see it, is walking a similar path) is wisdom. And as I wrote above, the key to escaping conflict is to work through the power struggles and conflict together, noticing when either of us is trying to force the other to change. We notice, we talk about it, and we accept, ever again, responsibility for ourselves and ourselves alone.
I learned that I could find a partner who would accept me as I am, for what I am, and in that place I found the courage and the strength to simply be that person. In a sense, Gloria also provided exactly that same sense of acceptance and encouragement, as have my friends Ben & Jock. When I jam myself up (and, of course, I still do, occasionally ) my partner and my friends just laugh and wait until I get over myself. (Gloria sighs and says, "Cute, but stupid.") And I provide the same non-judgmental support for them.
I can influence, so long as I have no attachment to the result. I have learned patience and I have faith in grace.
And you know what? I wake up each morning and go to bed each night thanking god, both for the chance, day by day, to meet myself, coming and going, and especially, each day I thank god for Dar. For me, she embodies the depth of the grace of the universe. That which is fervently sought is often found. That which is required appears when one is ready. We walk our solitary paths together. For me, that's enough.