An inspiring poet and lecturer in areas, among others, of psychology and business leadership, David Whyte notes in his article, 10 Questions, that certain questions, the ones that have to do with the person we are becoming, should be held dear to our heart, as much or more than good answers.
Why? Because questions guide the internal conversations we have with ourselves, and others, and thus not only shape our identity, but also our behavior patterns and habits, ultimately, who we become and the direction of our lives. They also allow us to look inside for available feedback regarding where we are at any given time, in relation to where we want or aspire to be. This “nonnegotiable core,” as Whyte calls it, consists of unstoppable yearnings to matter and to meaningfully connect to life within and around us.
Too often, a learned stream of consciousness, or self-talk, when rooted in fear and defensive ways of restoring our sense of safety and security, can cause us to stray from questions that could enrich our life and relationships, leading us instead to repeat unresolved stuck feelings and conflict intensifying patterns over and over again.
Conscious and thoughtful questions may also be just what partners in a couple relationship need, that is, to remain aware of a “core” within each that drives most every human behavior, knowingly or not. Often subconscious, the internalized questions each partner asks can mislead, and cause them to stray away from their nonnegotiable core, which seems to have a “knowing” all of its own, for example, of the wisdom of how relationships work, and the laws and principles that govern human nature.
A couple relationship can be a top-notch school for each partner to heal in relation to self and their significant other … then perhaps as a bonus, to transform both as individuals and partners in relationship.
The following seven questions have been adapted from David Whyte’s outline of 10 Questions, specifically with couples in mind.
1. Do I know how to engage, or yearn to cultivate my capacity for real conversations?
A “real’ conversation consists of two partners, consciously present to both self and the other, engaging in conscious talking and conscious listening. The key to remaining engaged and present, however, is an understanding and comfort with handling and expressing the full range of human emotions, or emotional intelligence. Findings in affective neuroscience and related fields, in the last two decades, have shown that emotional intelligence (EI), more than IQ, is critical to personal and relational success at home and career. EI can also be described as an ability to have intelligent, emotionally healing conversations with our inner self and powerful resources that, in turn, free us to be present, fully engaged.
Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is known for using questions to sharpen the intellect; he used two metaphors to describe his approach. One metaphor was the gadfly; in conversations, he regarded himself to be like a gadfly asking “stinging” questions designed to produce some discomfort, particularly to lazy or morally sluggish brains, to activate critical thinking, imagination, and other resources. He also likened his work to that of a midwife, facilitating the birth of ideas, intuition and wisdom. Conversations have a life of their own, potentially transforming and healing us, by making conscious patterns which previously remained coiled like embryos in shadows of the subconscious mind.
2) What does it mean, for our relationship, to become wholehearted in our love for self and the other?
A wholehearted love is a connection, each partner needs to bring to the relationship, a strong sense of their own priceless worth and value, as a whole person, deserving of love and unconditional regard, which allows them to fully see the priceless worth and value of the other. This unconditional love, acceptance and value for self and other that is nonnegotiable, thus remains shaken by daily stress, challenges, errors in judgment, hurts and so on, that naturally occur when two persons live and share their lives together.
Research professor, author and speaker, Brene Brown, who dedicated her career to studying unpopular concepts as shame, vulnerability, worthiness, and connection, calls this “whole-hearted living.” Conducting over 10,000 interviews on topics such as compassion, connection, love, and belonging, she also came up with a formula, or practices, for creating happiness and wholehearted living, that is to: Practice gratitude and joy. Embrace vulnerability as the birthplace of joy, creativity and love. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and really seen. Believe you are worthy and enough just as you are, even as you are ever growing and becoming. Love with your whole heart, even when there’s no guarantee, focusing on your own capacity to love self and create health and wholeness. Naturally, in a couple relationship, this only works when both partners own their part in being wholehearted. (Caution to the reader: It is not advisable to allow self to be “vulnerable” and “seek to be seen” by a partner who exhibits consistent patterns of emotional detachment, narcissistic scorn for empathic sharing, and so on; this requires another set of skills, perhaps professional assistance.)
3) Does I fully accept that no one can do the “work” of each partner’s personal and relational health, happiness and transformation — but self?
Perhaps one of the biggest traps partners fall into is focusing mostly, if not entirely, on “fixing” or “healing the other. In the same way no one can eat, sleep, exercise for you to keep you physically fit — no one can do your inner transformation work for you. At least in part, this often falls along socialized gender roles. Men expect themselves to “fix” their wife’s “emotional craziness”; and women expect to “heal” their husband’s ability to love and emotionally connect! Traditional roles are a set up for failure, suffering.
If you’re waiting for the “right” partner to fill the inner void or take away your pain, bring you happiness, etc., think again. Life and relationships, you and your partner are not designed that way. In life, there is no waiting, or standing still; everything is always in motion in the direction of either growth or atrophy. A couple relationship is a journey designed to transform each partner, expanding their capacity to love both self and other. To make positive change, you must own the power you have to choose, and that means to also embrace the power you have to rewrite your inner story, so that you see your life through the eyes of an ever wiser observer and creator of your thoughts and emotions.
There is power in every present moment, and you always have a choice as to how you respond. Your choices are life shaping, pure power to choose the values you want to live by, the life you want to live, and the direction you want to take. It’s your job to learn how to stay on course to realize the happiness and fulfillment you yearn to create, and navigate away from thoughts, beliefs and actions that throw you off course. In truth, it is your responses to your experiences that shape who you are and become, thus, the direction of your life.
You are not your emotions and thoughts, or the events you’ve experienced; you are much more. You are the observer, the creator, and the choice-maker of your life. Your observations allow you to gather data that optimally inform your choices. Your imagination informs subconscious processes, and you should know that your body-mind (subconscious) is a genie of sorts, who is seriously invested in supporting you to realize your every dream, to become who you aspire, and have what you yearn to create in your future. In turn, your response-choices seal the deal.
In Part 2, the remaining four questions.