I watched Alice in Wonderland recently. As Alice was questioning the social customs and values of her time, she was advised to “follow the path,” to which she replied, “I make the path.” Alice spoke to the importance of knowing ourselves, of holding onto our dreams and fighting our demons in the process.
Dreams are important for they guide us, and we have all kinds of dreams; who we are going to be “when we grow up,” dreams of saving the planet, rescuing the underprivileged, meeting our prince and raising our children, etc. But sometimes we embark upon the path of our dream and lose our way. We do not necessarily have to tools to make our dreams manifest.
What happens when we have a dream, but fail at it? We become failed heroes, initiates who do not pass the test. Culturally, marriage is one of those precarious paths that many embark upon, but not so many navigate successfully. And yet relationships and the experience of love are so important.
I attended a “Hold Me Tight” couples workshop run by Sue Johnson recently. Sue talked of research that had been done around POW’s who got through their difficult circumstances psychologically intact, versus those who did not. Those who survived had done so by holding onto an image of a beloved. They had pulled into their experience, memories of people and times of love. As they focused on those memories over and over, they used those memories to sustain them. They brought the experience of being loved into their present and often horrific circumstances and it allowed them to survive.
Our fairytales and stories present the dream of the happily ever after relationship. Yet the tools we have are about as adequate as taking a 5-day hike with no food or water. We follow our dreams blindly, with inadequate resources to make the journey successfully. Recently, I saw a TV personality, “The Bachelor” being interviewed with his fiancée, except he was yelling, “Stop interrupting me!” and she crying bitterly, stood up and raced away. Their blissful union fell apart so quickly. What were they thinking? They believed the dream with no understanding of what it would take to make it work.
We need different maps with different tools for different journeys. The journey of a successful relationship requires more than just a dream; it requires a multitude of abilities and skills, as well as an understanding of what will sabotage us. Do you have the map you need to successfully navigate a relationship? I recommend, “Hold Me Tight,” by Sue Johnson, to start with, although there are also other good books and workshops available.
Here are some questions to ask yourself: When I was young, how did I sooth myself when I was upset? Did I go to anybody to talk? Did I fight for what I wanted? Did I retreat? How does that tendency still occur? What did my partner do when he or she was young? Now look at those two tendencies. How do they interact? What pattern emerges out of them? Can you and your partner talk about the pattern, or do you get stuck in blaming each other? If you can’t talk about the pattern that you both get caught in, you will need to learn to do this, whether by seeing a therapist, attending a workshop or reading a book. Good relationships don’t just happen: they are made. We live in a world filled with endless information. Educate yourself wherever you wish to have mastery. There is no reason anybody should not achieve his or her dreams.