Laws of Relationship
"We have disconnected from life...many of us have disconnected
from each other as well. Such qualities as self reliance,
self-determination, and self-sufficiency are so deeply admired
among us that needing someone is often seen as a personal
failing. A hundred years after the frontier, we still inhabit
its culture... needing others has come to require an act of
courage... Perhaps it is this striving for excessive independence
that is a weakness, that makes many of us so vulnerable to
isolation, cynicism, and depression. It is doubtful that independence
and individualism will enable us to live in the deepest and
most fulfilling way. In order to live well, we may need to
know and trust each other again. To touch and be touched by
those around us."
( Rachel Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings )
To live well, we need to love beyond the bounds of family.
Connection to friends provides the ground in which many aspects
of our person can grow and flourish. I have friends that connect
me with my political self, some offer fun and excitement.
Friends support me through hard times in my marriage, my work,
and my health. Other relationships are the still pools in
which my spiritual longings can survive and deepen. Others
support my golf game, and my deep commitment to someday shoot
my age- currently 70. As I write this, I am buoyed up by the
interest and support of so many of my friends.
Each friendship is a jewel to be treasured. And also a seed
to be nourished and protected. Friendships are not easy. They,
like family, demand attention and priority. Above all, they
When I was about thirty six, we had settled into our community.
I realized that although my wife had a best friend and a woman's
group. I had no close friends. So I set out to make some.
Evenings and weekends were family time, so I arranged my schedule
to have some time off for lunch. I would invite someone to
lunch, and if it went okay, I'd ask again. And again, and
finally we could get to be regulars and then, friends.
I was part of the group that founded our town's community
counseling center, and liked many of my colleagues in this
effort. Ward, a minister at a local church, was someone I
admired and wanted to know. We became Monday lunchers. Ward
taught me about meditation, a practice I've followed ever
since. We could do good soul talk. We talked about his ministry,
and my therapy practice, and the shape of our souls. Soon,
our families became friends. He helped us build our shelter
in Vermont. He and Joanne and Linda and I dreamed about retiring
some day to form a retreat center where we would garden together,
build a rock chapel, and take in people who needed to rest
and talk and grow. We stayed with our lunches until he retired
to Maine. We still meet as couples every few months, forever
I remember chasing after Ron, the head of our community
counseling center. We finally had lunch every week, and during
golf season, played on Monday afternoons. In an excess of
enthusiasm we cut our wrists and mixed the blood and became
blood brothers. Ron was gloomy, I was chirpy. We liked to
talk about our families, and about dying, and our lives as
therapists. Ron got divorced and we went on meeting. We once
had an unceremonious fight in the shower room of a tennis
club. When he broke up with her 1 year later, we went back
to lunches again. He was mad at me because I was too rigid
and didn't have enough time to see him when he needed me.
And so it went with up and down and so it has continued all
these years. He now lives in another state, so we only get
together a few times each year, usually for a few days of
golf. Now we are golf buddies.
These lunch hours have been precious. So many dear friends
have filled these times. Of the twelve I think of now, about
half have left this area and are only occasional pen pals.
The rest go on and on and deepen.
I am delighted to say that I count both my grown daughters
among my very best friends. Both live nearby, and we get together
every week or two. When there are problems in our lives, we
set aside time to discuss them and devote time to supporting
each other. Our three families built Laura's shed together,
got me through recovery from surgery for a cerebral aneurysm,
got Danny through his first years of juvenile diabetes.
Another early experience was founding a men's group in the
1970's. My wife had her group of women, why not get together
with men. I invited ten men. One dropped out when it became
clear we didn't want to discuss the stock market. Another
couldn't spare the time, one evening every other week. Then
there were eight of us, and we all liked it so much. But by
the end of the first year, several people were rarely showing
up. By year two, although all of us professed to highly value
this time, meetings were smaller, maybe three to five people.
In the third year, when I was the only one who showed for
a meeting at my house, our group was over.
Then a friend and I started a second group, with a basic
rule: Men's Group had to be the highest priority. Again, every
two weeks at each other's houses. Eight o'clock. In our eighteen
years together, we had a few people drop out and a few join,
but we were surprisingly stable. We talked about our careers,
our wives, our children, and ourselves. We accepted feedback
about how we were impossible to bear, as well as support and
affirmation. We were very honest. We planned to bury each
other, one by one. In fact, we ended while we were all alive,
in our fifties or sixties.
I am coming to see that one of the very first laws is commitment.
Without it, relationships cannot flourish. There are so many
demands on us that pull us away from the shared space that
relationships require. Some of my dearest friends I see only
once a month, but we don't cancel. This structure allows trust
in the safety of each other's presence.
Honesty is a second relational necessity. Honesty about
ourselves, but also about each other. A friend should be a
source of honest feedback, be it about annoyance in the relationship,
or the mess he's making in bullying his daughter, or even
about body odor. Without this, what is the point? My friends
all know what makes me mad and sad, and excited. I know the
same about them. And about each other's dreams, and where
we are in attaining them. By now, I've been through so many
friends' ended relationships and new beginnings, they have
been through my anguish with teenage daughters and my battles
with my wife. Relationships help us all to tolerate life,
to understand its flow. They provide a holding space for our
hurt feelings and a space to nurture new awareness and new
Listening and curiosity are so vital to this process; suspending
self long enough to really hear the other. And having that
space to really hear ourselves talk and know that we are understood.
Curiosity means knowing that each story is a fascinating one,
it means wanting to know more. This allows us to see the beauty
in each other, to enjoy and be enjoyed. In this soil, self
and soul can flourish.
I have come to value openness and transparency so highly.
If we are open and honest, we do not need to waste energy
hiding from others. Our true selves come forward, with all
our beauty and blemishes. We can unwind and loosen up, be
at peace with ourselves because it's all out there, without
apologies. And all the energy we spend on posing and pretense,
we can now devote to living more fully. It seems to me that
the more honest and revealing of self we are, the more lovable
we become. Nelson Mandela made famous these lines from Marianne
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other
people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from
our own fears, Our presence automatically liberates others.
Unfortunately, for many of us, marriage is a victory that,
once achieved, we put on a shelf like a trophy so we can get
back to the busyness of life. How many of us go right back
to the struggle for advancement, or to the bar with the guys,
or the telephone with Mom, or the television with six pack?
And we forget that our spouse is the single most important
relationship we have. A strong marriage is the center of family,
and an untended marriage is an invitation to infidelity and
the disaster of divorce.
Marriages require time together, time away from children
and cell phones. My wife and I always had a date every week.
Now we baby sit for our daughter one night so that she and
her husband can have that same freedom. It is a chance to
have fun together, to talk, to recall what we saw in each
other in the first place. It's a time away from the deadening
demands of bills and childcare and e-mail and phone calls.
With this commitment of time, love can deepen, ripen through
the years. Without it, we can drift apart. The marriage can
become a form without heart, and we can become strangers to
Good marriages require that we be at our best with each
other. This is not just the place to relax and let our bellies
hang out. We need to treat our spouses to our very best. We
need to remain affirmative, appreciative, alive. If he/she
is the most important person in our lives, our life partner,
we need to treat him/her better than we treat a stranger,
or a boss, or that cute coworker. We need to repeat those
"I love you's", bring home a flower, or cook a special
meal. Above all we need to make space to listen, support and
We must not take our marriages for granted.