Up until very recently, the context of intimate relationships was colored heavily by survival fears. Although this is still true for many people, there is now a vast number of people for whom survival is not the main priority when they wake up each day. A focus on survival shapes the nature of relationship: For example, it makes it important to do one's duty and steadfastly inhabit the roles prescribed by the social and religious authority structure of the time. In times past, less attention was paid to psychological or spiritual fulfillment, and techniques for problem-solving were essentially non-existent. Gay tells an illustrative story:
"When I was in graduate school, I mentioned to my grandfather that I was in therapy to 'handle some issues about my self-esteem.' He asked me what therapy was, and chuckled as I explained it to him. I asked him how they handled such issues when he was a young man. 'Issues, hell,' he said, 'We were too busy handling plows.' He had run away from home at sixteen to avoid getting trapped in the role of a farmer.
Things changed as the twentieth century gained momentum. From our parents' time up until the present, the context of relationship shifted toward "luxury-items" such as the fulfillment of potential. Movies, literature and other arts began to celebrate the transcendent possibilities of relationship--symbolized by the graceful dance of Fred and Ginger--and the Freudian revolution seemed to offer tools for handling problems when mis-steps caused us to tread on each other painfully."
The New Context
It is a huge shift in context from survival ("handling plows") to fulfillment ("handling issues.") In the survival-context, life is lived in waves of fear and hunger, with periods of relief from fear. In the fulfillment-context, life is lived in waves of fulfillment and the hunger for more. We believe, however, that the context is about to make an even larger shift, opening access to a new force-field electric with previously-hidden potential. We believe that relationships in the new millenium will shift toward a focus on appreciation and celebration. The focus will be on the flow of connection. As people become more sensitive to the flow of energy inside themselves and in their relationships, they are looking beyond traditional problem-solving and therapeutic techniques. They want life-skills they can use by-the-moment to awaken and enhance the flow of connection. The art of appreciating is the best way we've found to deepen the flow of connection. A single act of skillful committing or appreciating instantly shifts the relationship into a greater felt-sense of flow.
To imagine the kind of context-shift we're talking about, think of a magician's tablecloth trick. Picture two fabulous place-settings: Baccarat crystal glasses, Limoges china and your favorite silver. Imagine you and your beloved sitting down to dine amidst the beauty of the table-setting, when suddenly you realize the table cloth is made of...wax paper.
Quickly, though, you make a decision to enhance the quality of your life rather than despairing over it. You snap your fingers and a magician appears. With a wink and a smooth flourish, the magician whips the wax paper out from under the place settings without disturbing them. With another magical move, he slides a crisp linen tablecloth under the place-settings, without so much as rattling a teacup. Suddenly the essential beauty of what was there before is enhanced. Only one thing has changed, but everything has changed.
That's not only a context-shift, it's a conscious marriage of the power of your intention with your ability to create real magic.
That's the domain of the new paradigm.
In the survival context , relationships exist inside the question, "What must we do to survive?" Considerable time is spent shoring up defenses against hostile forces and carrying out chores in the rut of routine. There is little time or energy to search for fulfillment. You are watching and listening for threats to your survival.
In the fulfillment context, we live inside different questions, such as "What must we do to fulfill our potential?" and "How can we solve the problems which are the barriers to expressing that potential?" Considerable attention is paid to the past, where the barriers were presumed to have been been originally erected. Considerable energy is consumed in power struggles about which partner bears responsibility for the barrier. You are watching and listening for how to meet the needs of others and whether your own needs are being met.
In the new paradigm, the questions are profoundly different than survival or fulfillment. Your relationships live within questions such as,
"What commitments do I need to embrace which will allow the relationship to flourish?"
"What do I really admire and love about my partner?"
"How can I best appreciate those qualities and actions?"
"What can I do to make myself more available for appreciation?"
Although you have good problem-solving techniques at your disposal, you do not focus as much on problems. Instead, you look for what's right in the other person and in the relationship. You embark on a shared quest to find each other's essential qualities so that they may be skillfully appreciated.
You initiate your entry into the new paradigm with a conscious choice. Imagine life as a waiter or waitress, offering you a menu with three choices on it:
- Living your life in waves of fear
- Living your life in waves of fulfillment
- Living your life in waves of celebration
If you were going to pick one, what would your choice be?
In our relationship seminars, 99% of the participants choose celebration. There seems to be one or two people in every group who cannot imagine life without fear or the quest for fulfillment. Almost everyone else, though, sees that the conscious choice to organize your life around a context of appreciation opens up the greatest number of possibilities. If your life is about appreciation, you can celebrate even the days when your body is occupied by fear or your mind is pre-occupied with a potential you haven't fulfilled.
If you listen closely to the communications of most couples, you will see that some of their utterances may be colored by survival concerns, but a majority of them are surrounded by an aura of fulfillment and the lack thereof. Specifically, communications come with expectations embedded within them--or disappointment and anger that those expectations have not been fulfilled. Nowadays, when a woman says to her husband, "You forgot to get the potatoes at the store," she is not likely to be talking about a survival issue. More likely, the sub-text of the communication is "If you loved me, you would have remembered the potatoes," or "If you loved me you would listen when I tell you what I need from the store." She may be saying, "I don't feel loved and appreciated, and here's further evidence of why I have every right to feel that way."
These patterns have a way of hardening into place with time, so that many couples develop rigidly predictable styles of thinking and communicating. One of our poet-friends came by to visit us after being at a party with many long-married couples. She lamented that most of the couples looked like "matched pairs of glazed pots." That's the effect of staying too long in an old paradigm.
The new paradigm extends out from partner-interactions to the larger arena of life-as-a-whole. In its broadest application, the new paradigm is about how to live your whole life from a stance of gratitude rather than a stance of scarcity. It's about greeting each moment of life with an open heart rather than a judgmental mind. It asks you to express appreciation for no other reason than your decision to live a grateful life. Rather than waiting for life to bring experiences to you so that you can judge them worthy of appreciation, you initiate the new paradigm by taking a pro-active stance of gratitude toward your life-experience. You walk through life as a philanthropist rather than a supplicant, a producer rather than a consumer.
The difference is profound.
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© Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D.
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