You’ve heard me say, in a myriad of different ways, that no relationship can be healthy and rewarding unless the individuals in that relationship are healthy. In that context, “healthy” implies that the emotional and intellectual facets of a person dovetail, or overlap sufficiently that they eliminate conflict or confusion.
As a result of this integration, all your desires and behaviors direct you toward the same goals. That being the case, you aren’t pulled in opposite directions. Instead, you know who you are, what you want and where you want to go. Consequently, you exert all your energy and efforts to getting there. Essentially, what you want, think, feel, say and do are all harmonious. This enables you to be free of the conflictual feelings, heightened anxiety and stress that typically permeate the actions, thoughts and feelings of most individuals. Because of that, you can be described as a healthy individual who possesses a positive sense of self.
In contrast, let me give you an example of how unhealthy people interact with one another.
Years ago, a couple married over thirty years came to see me. Their interactions had always been filled with conflict and discord. As is the case with most everyone, the issues they fought over were mainly of an insignificant nature. Yet, these seemingly minor issues resulted in major marital problems due to the emotional distance between them. A quintessential example was their long-standing argument over pears.
To fully understand the situation, you need to know that Herbert was a very successful individual. He built a small, one-man shop into a large manufacturing company and could afford, within reason, anything in the world he desired. His wife, Betty, was a bright, attractive, good person. Both of them were second generation U. S. citizens, whose parents came to this country with only the clothes on their backs. Money was a constant problem for each of their families. Therefore, most of their parents’ efforts were devoted to keeping food on the table, paying bills and educating children. Herb and Betty both benefitted from their parents’ struggles. They were college graduates who married and had one child, who was no longer at home. In their friends’ eyes, they were a successful couple who, despite their constant bickering, seemed to love each other.
But, Herb had a problem. It was a passion for pears. However, back then, few grocery stores imported fruit out of season. Thus, they were only available in two gourmet markets. Herb repeatedly said to his wife, “I’ve worked hard. I can afford to eat what I want and if you loved me, you’d buy them.”
Betty, however, insisted that there were many other ways she showed her love. One of them was that she made chicken soup for him, “from the chicken, not from the can”. But she drew the line when it came to pears out of season, because “they’re too expensive” and she wasn’t about to splurge excessively when it wasn’t necessary. The issue became larger than their marriage and neither would relent on their position.
Obviously, their problem wasn’t pears vs no pears equals a good vs a bad marriage. Pears were only the stadium in which their power struggle took place. The proof of that pudding is that on the one occasion when Betty bought pears, she put them on the window sill to ripen. Herb still went into a tirade, because he liked them “cold, not warm”.
What I would have you see is the inability or unwillingness of either of them to resolve their differences and demonstrate their love for one another. Essentially, Betty couldn’t afford to give up that part of herself that clung to the notions she learned in childhood, one being that you should never splurge or indulge yourself. Conversely, Herb felt that, throughout their marriage, he had given up all of himself. In his mind, he was the generous and considerate spouse. Although he wasn’t willing or able to articulate it, what he basically wanted from Betty was evidence that she cared as much as he did. What you can see is that Betty had so little sense of herself that she couldn’t afford to give any of herself away. Conversely, Herb felt that, throughout his life, he had always given of himself. First to his mother, before and after his father’s death and, later, to his wife. So much so that he had nothing left to give. Each of them was so focused on their partner’s behavior that they were blind to their own inflexibility, which prevented them from looking at self.
Had they had the gift of self, they wouldn’t have quarreled over pears. Note: If you have difficulty relating to “pears”, you can pick the battleground of your choice (the five most comon ones ares money, kids, religion, sex and in-laws). My main point is that, if Betty had felt good enough about herself, she might have said, “Herb, if pears are that important to you, I’d love to get them for you.” Or even, “I love you with all my heart and soul, but this is something I don’t agree with, and can’t support. At the risk of you being angry or unhappy with me, I’m not going to go along with it.” Unsaid is, “I can afford to do that because I have enough sense of self that, if you’re angry with me, there’s enough of me left to feel good about who I am and still love you, even though we disagree.” Conversely, whether or not he agreed, Herb might have said, “Okay, I’ll buy my own pears.” The rule being that you do not have to direct your energy and efforts toward getting someone else to do what you need in order to feel good about yourself. Instead, you have to develop in you the emotional strength to be who you are, to share who you are with others and feel entitled to be loved for being you. This requires that you be able to say what you think and do what you want, in order to feel good about you, i.e., to give yourself the gift of you. You see, the absence of a healthy you disallows you to create a healthy relationship with anyone else.