Learning from the differences.
Charlie: In this process we came to see that it was our wounds themselves that were to become the source of much of the growth and healing that Linda and I would experience together. These wounds included emotional injuries from our early original families as well as the many painful wounds that we inflicted upon each other during the years that we were groping blindly towards some means of trying to keep our relationship intact.
We were each steeped in the dysfunctional gender expectations of the fifties and early sixties that we all called “normal” back then. Brought up on The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best, both Linda and I “knew” what it was to be a strong, all-knowing, successful, take charge man, and a good, supportive, all-loving, self-sacrificing, emotional sweet woman.
The consequences of the lies that we each lived trying to keep the world from seeing that we were anything but our culture’s ideal was the source of our greatest pain.
Linda: It seemed that most of our wounds were in the places that had gotten axed by the culture’s dictates of what was appropriate male and female behavior. Over time we began to understand that when we fell out of love and into disillusionment, it was the result of playing out in our most intimate relationship, our own inner struggle. That which we resist in the other is the part of ourselves that we have denied, seeking to assert itself. This is what is referred to as doing “shadow work”.
Charlie: Turbulence in relationship tends to be wildest when the deepest material can no longer be contained and begins to emerge from within the dark recesses of ourselves. This happens when we just can’t keep the lie up any longer. The disowned parts of the self are bubbling up from the depths, and we ourselves in our fearfulness, resist seeing what’s there. Our partner may in turn be frightened and resistant as well. There is a tremendous push-pull as our repressed material is seeking to emerge. The struggle between the part of us that wants to emerge and the part of ourselves that wants to remain hidden and repressed, begins to find expression as an outer struggle with our partner.
Linda: In my relationship with Charlie over the years, I have tended to resist learning my greatest life lessons. Having been brought up in the South I had an unusually heavy gender conditioning around “appropriate” feminine ways of being. When I stopped using my various methods of manipulation and control, to have him become more like I wanted him to be, and began to learn to come to the relationship without so many conditional expectations, it became more evident to me what I was there to learn.
I began to value privacy, to assert my needs, own my warrior spirit to express anger, be a worthy opponent in an argument, draw boundaries, and become more independent. I began to find my voice to speak my truth. Often, women need to learn more about these areas. This usually involves having contact with others (men & women) who are more experienced in the expression of these qualities.
Charlie: I on the other hand, learned from Linda how to be vulnerable, and own my sensitive, feeling, nurturing side. I learned to be more comfortable with the expression of my needs and fears. In learning to relinquish increasing amounts of control, I found that I could begin to allow my boundaries to blur and become permeable to allow greater intimacy between me and Linda. Over time I learned to stop judging my emotional needs as weaknesses, and found that it was possible to be both vulnerable AND strong.
Linda: If we can hold our relationships as a sacred teaching ground, where everything can be utilized as an opportunity to learn and grow, our lives take on a more vital, creative, alive dimension. Our personal and cultural conditioning is more deeply imbedded than any of us would like to admit. It takes time and effort laced with generous doses of patience and forgiveness.
Our challenge has to do with the cultivation of these last two qualities, since we can only acquire them incrementally, over time. By holding our partner as our teacher, rather than seeing him or her as the source of our happiness or frustration, we can learn to develop a more integrated sense of ourselves. We can learn to be strong in both our inner male and inner female, and more at peace with who we truly are.
As we more fully come to accept that which has been hidden, our lives richer, fuller, and more joyous. Our relationships take on the experience of shared power and intimacy. It is at these points of our deepest openness that we become more whole and the loving beings that we truly are.
Charlie: The notion of learning to learn from and with each other has been a dominant theme of our relationship for a while. The perceptual shift from seeing your partner as a competitor for scarce resources ( time, attention or love) to an ally in the process of self-development, transforms us from angry manipulators into committed partners who are simultaneously loving teachers and motivated students. Now we find that there is literally nothing that can be generated between us that cannot be used to further our personal development and deepen our emotional connection.
There’s nothing magical about getting to this place in a committed relationship. And there are no short cuts. To the degree that we can practice what most of us already know is true, that is, that we are all always doing the best that we can do given the level of awareness and intelligence that we have at this time, we can find compassion, rather than blame for ourselves as well as each other.
Linda: To the degree that we can practice this in our closest relationships, (they’re always the hardest) we can be helpful in assisting others to live together more lovingly. For most of us, this isn’t particularly easy and it usually takes longer than we think it should. But the good news is that with support patience and effort, its possible to bring a higher level of joy into our relationships than many of us can even imagine. Whatever it takes, it’s worth it.