Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Being Together and Loving It

"The average person's problem is they pursue happiness, but happiness is a moment -- joy is a process. One of the biggest things my work has taught me is that people think if your relationship is good, it should be good all the time. But that isn't true. Your relationship is not doomed because you have problems. People give up on relationships too soon."
Ellis Nicolson, 38, marriage counsellor, Toronto

"I don't want to be judged and I don't want to be seen as weak, but I had to tell him: I'm really not doing well. After our talk, nothing changed that much, but I felt better because I allowed myself to be vulnerable. Sometimes conflict can't be resolved because people don't feel safe enough to say what's really happening, and know that their partner won't leave.
"It hurts to hear the real stuff about your relationship, but you can't heal and fix those things if it doesn't get said and the hurt becomes bigger. Ellis being a marriage counsellor has probably been helpful for our relationship -- it's not used against me. It's there for him to be a better husband and me to become a better wife."
Tiffany Nicolson, Mississauga
Ellis and TiffanyEllis and Tiffany Nicolson, Photo by Peter J. Thompson, National Post

Ellis Nicolson and his wife, Tiffany. (Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post)
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Ellis Nicolson and his wife, Tiffany. (Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post)
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"Marriage-like structures have existed since time immemorial and the first marriage-like unions were by wealthy polygamist men who could afford multiple wives. Western marriage would begin in the 17th century, where marriage blossomed through arranged marriage between families and tribes."
"In the early 19th century, suddenly a woman's reason for marrying was different than her grandmother's. Once divorce became not socially reprehensible, people did it, and they did it in droves."
Elizabeth Abbott, author: The History of Marriage and The History of Mistresses, Toronto

"I help couples understand how they scare their partner, how they alienate their partner and show them the dance -- one person pursues and ends up being critical, the other protects and withdraws. Once they understand the emotional impact, the conversation is able to shift. But the first thing is getting couples to talk."
"We'll be in a fight [she and her husband, married 26 years] and I'll hear that little voice saying, 'Watch out! The way you said that he's going to feel criticized', or that I just made a critical comment rather than saying: 'I'm feeling lonely. Relationships are about being emotional responsive, that's the whole ball game."
Sue Johnson, developer, Emotionally Focused Therapy

Experts all, in the emotionally fraught theatre of love and marriage longevity. Human nature impels us in our individuality, to express ourselves in various ways. Some of us are capable of expressing our emotion while maintaining a calm exterior while others of us become hysterical and manic; the former is capable of holding a reasoned discussion, the latter is far more likely to maintain a distance, refusing to discuss anything, wallowing in hurt and misery.

For the Nicolson couple, where one of them actually is a professional negotiator in partnership management as a marriage counsellor, an outsider might have the impression that since the marriage is grounded with someone who has that kind of professional knowledge, maintaining a discourse of reason and emotional balance is assured. But it's not necessarily so, since when we're upset and aggravated we tend to lean on our unreasoned emotions and balance flies out the window.

They argue, just like any other married couple, about things that irritate them about one another, or about incidents that have disturbed them and created a distance between them, however briefly. When couples are pressed with problems that need solving, like a young child with a troubling medical condition, like a parent who is depressed and feeling oppressed in the workplace, like a partner who feels neglected, it's natural to lash out, and usually at the figure most conveniently located, at home.

In the case of the Nicolsons, sometimes they get in bed for the night angry with one another. Sometimes one of them is silent, and the other becomes very verbal, and then alienation sets in. If they can assign blame nowhere, and sit down together with a degree of calm, each taking the time to express their hurt or impression so that clarity is established and they're able to understand one another's emotional state, and take steps to soothe it, the argument can be settled.

Sometimes it's the disillusion that people suffer, when their marriage fails to reflect what they had idealized a marriage would be like. Ellis Nicolson approached marriage counselling out of a sense of responding to a calling that would make an impression on society in the most positive of ways. "Kids get a sense of who they are from the nature of the relationship between their parents. I wanted my life to be meaningful -- relationships were where I wanted to make my mark", he explained in an interview.

For this couple, religion and their own spiritual belief and comfort in the church motivate them in all they approach, from their own marriage to Ellis's wish to be useful within society. One of the largest items facing couples whose marriage appears to be faltering, is the issue of sex, one or the other concerned whether they're still found attractive, still appealing and whether or how long the freshness of that appeal will ensure the longevity of the marriage.

Of course there's all kinds of other compatibilities or lack of them; whether there exists the fundamentals of shared values, backgrounds and concerns. Whether one of the pair is "negative", angry and inclined to shut down discussions in favour of simply raging about their discontent with the other. When anger erases the focus of empathy that one has for the other, replacing it with indifference, the battle is lost.

The simple fact is that people are individuals. Two individuals living together sharing intimate space and even more intimate acts, sharing daily concerns and long-time aspirations must have a degree of emotional flexibility. If minor irritants exist that are really of little importance to the quality of the relationship, it's important to mention them and hope for some consideration, but at the same time respect the other person's feelings.

Having a sense of perspective of what's important and what is not helps immeasurably, all the more so if such irritations can be set aside for the larger appreciation of what works well. Above all, open lines of communication can never be adequately stressed. Needless to say, if love brought people together and mutual respect helps in ensuring that the high regard one feels for the other is intact because of shared values and experiences, differences of opinion are of minimal impact.

I'm no expert, not a professional marriage counsellor, but with 60 years of marriage shared with my husband, we marvel at how fortunate we have been and remain with one another. Our mutual concern for one another, and our pleasure in being together consolidate our shared love. For my part, my admiration for my husband is boundless, but that is because I consider him an admirable human being in every measure, from his curiosity about everything, and his willingness to attempt anything. Not to mention his astounding success in everything he ventures.

Above all, I love the compassion he brings to the business of life being lived. Empathy and concern for those he knows and cares about, and extending it in some measure to others outside his intimate circle, as a decent human being. But his concerns go beyond human beings and extend to other creatures around us, from the small animals that share our environment to the birds that give us so much pleasure, and yes, the insects that he will bend down to place out of harm's way on a nature trail.

And then there's our marriage. If one of us can be faulted, it is me, capricious by nature in some measure, to his solid steadfastness. He finds enough positives in me to overlook my faults. Something for which I am eternally grateful; not only to him so much as to kind fate which introduced us when we were both fourteen and not only looking for a friend, but also deeply impressionable. Impressed enough so that we gravitated toward an unbreakable emotional bond.

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