Linda: Most couples wait too long to get help. Unnecessary suffering occurs in secrecy and isolation when you are too embarrassed to ask for assistance. The time to get help for your marriage is when one (not both) of you feels the need for it. Putting this agreement in place before things deteriorate will support early intervention and prevent painful, time-consuming arguments later on.
I once heard Malidoma Somé, a healer and ritualist, tell a story about his homeland in Africa. He is of the Dagara tribe in Burkino Faso, West Africa. In this community everyone understands that the well-being of the entire tribe depends on the success of each married couple. The whole tribe supports the couple. If a woman attempts to communicate something important to her husband and he is unresponsive, she goes to her women friends. At first, they advise her, and if her husband doesn’t respond, they speak to him directly.
By then her husband is usually motivated to take action because if things don’t work out after he speaks with the women, his wife’s next recourse is to approach the other men in the tribe. Generally, the husband recoils at the prospect of being confronted by his male peers! Of course, it works both ways. The husband has the same system of support available if his wife is closed to something that is important to him. At first, he will approach the men for advice, then his men friends may meet face to face with his wife. As a last resort, he will turn to the tribal women.
For many in our culture, this tradition seems a terrible invasion of privacy. But I see great wisdom in this high level of community support. I can remember numerous times when I wanted desperately to reach Charlie and was frustrated in not being able to do so. I’m sure we wouldn’t have gotten so stuck if we had had a system in place that allowed for the influence of family and friends. While their advice may not always be helpful, we all need the love and companionship of our friends, even when things are moving along well.
We especially need their support when the inevitable stresses and challenges of life occur. Somé says that in our American culture, the couple begins at the top of the mountain and falls off. In his tribe, the couple starts at the bottom of the mountain, and the whole community pushes the couple to the top. It is the wise couple who solicits assistance from family, friends, and professionals. All of us have blind spots and, at times, can benefit from objective input and feedback. When life knocks us down, our loved ones can help us to climb back up.