Sunday, July 1, 2012

Moving Beyond Relationship Duress

A colleague of mine recommended a powerful new book that shed great light on why we are struggling so greatly in relationships today. The book, Sex 3.0 by JJ Roberts, traces the evolution of human relationships from our pre-industrial days when nature guided human behavior, to our modern world, where a long list of societal rules and expectations demand what is "normal"and "acceptable" in relationship behavior. Roberts points out that what is "natural" and what is "normal" are not necessarily the same thing. Those things defined by nature are "natural." Those things that are defined by society are "normal" and often they are NOT "natural." In some cases, they are truly not healthy. When we are "forced" into following social norms, so that we are perceived as "normal" and "acceptable," we find ourselves experiencing "relationship duress." Relationship duress is when people in a relationship feel unspoken or spoken pressure to build a "fence" around a relationship because they are SUPPOSED to do so. For example, if a couple has been dating for a couple of years, they may feel internal and external pressure to get married. While marriage is a perfectly good thing, when two people define what marriage means to them personally and make a decision to get married because it has personal meaning to them, that is a completely different situation than the many couples I have worked with who got married because they and/or their families thought they "should." The phrase "make me an honest woman" or "make me an honest man" in reference to getting married versus continuing to have a loving, sexual relationship but not be married, illustrates the societal pressures to sculpt a relationship into a form to be "normal" and "acceptable," rather than because it has inherent meaning to the two people in the relationship. Marriage is just one example of a societally expected "fence" that we "should" put around a relationship. Some people feel "obligated" to have children, whether or not they truly wish or have the skills to parent young human beings from birth to adulthood. Getting a corporate job may be the result of societal pressure, rather than a personal journey to define right livelihood. We "fence" ourselves in many ways without deep thought, and often, without the consciousness that there is another way to take life's journey. All forms of relationship evolved at a time in our history where they made sense. Once upon a time what we call "traditional gender roles," were necessary for our survival. Men needed to hunt and farm. Women needed to tend to the home and hearth and raise the children. As our world evolved to the 1950's model of relationship, the man was the "breadwinner" and the woman was the "homemaker." This distribution of labor helped a family unit have its practical and domestic needs met. In 2012, the models that evolved out of previous eras may need to be updated so that we do not feel trapped under the weight of relationship duress. Men and women both work. Men and women both earn money. Men and women both have parenting gifts to provide to their children. Couples need not be just men and women, but men and men and women and women. And for some people, gender does not fit neatly in a "male" or "female" box. Trying to fit ourselves into societally defined boxes creates relationship duress, including with our relationship with self! Roberts feels that a healthy basis of relationship is "mutual reward," regardless of its force. If two people feel a connection and can contribute to one another's lives in mutually rewarding ways, then there is a healthy basis for the relationship. Roberts notes, "In life, the most valid choices are the ones you truly choose." So, if we remove the pressure to box or fence or overly define our emotional and spiritual connections with loved ones, and instead focus on what resonates, what makes us happy, what brings us joy and what feeds our souls, we are likely to invest in relationships because they are healthy, rather than because we feel societal pressure to do so. I believe people will naturally take responsibility for their connections, make commitments that assure safety and respect for themselves and those that they love if they are given the space to build relationship on a foundation of love, connection and authenticity. If you enjoy someone's company, why would you not want to spend more time with them? If you and a loved one develop skills to work through differences and ride the rapids of life, why would you leave someone who you have been building a history with? Giving ourselves and our relationships the space to be build on love, connection and true choice, following their own trajectory with their own unique timing, can move us beyond relational duress and into a space of helping one another be the best and happiest people we can be. Copyright 2012 Linda Marks

No comments:

Post a Comment