Virginia Satir, the brilliant family therapist, who introduced us to Conjoint Family Therapy, contributed on a grand scale to our understanding of relationship and family dynamics. She was brilliant at identifying unhealthy dynamics in a relationship and educating the members to function more effectively together. Yet one of her more startling contributions was what many might call common sense. That is, so often in therapy, or consulting, our goal is to adjust, correct, even fix, something that has gone awry. Whatever metaphor suits you, Virginia was notorious for making relationships work better. However she famously also pointed out that sometimes things have just gone so awry that it may not be worth the effort to correct. Correcting a path sounds simple, and though some of you may wince at this, it is always possible. Not simple. Not easy. But possible. As with anything, it’s where desire and strategy converge. The common way we’ve all heard this spoken before is, “Where there’s a will there’s a way” and that’s true. The “way” in that case is the strategy, and that’s where we have spent out time, identifying strategies that have worked for others, strategies that, when applied in similar situations–not necessarily the same–yield similar results.
I’ve focused my own attention on modeling and developing excellence in general. Though as you probably know, one of those areas is interpersonal relationships. I’ve been very interested for a long time in the question of what’s so different between people who “make it work” and those for whom “it just doesn’t work”. But the convergence mentioned above offers a crucial hint to the formula. Without an effective strategy, desire alone may not be enough. And vice versa. Though to be fair, I’ve seen people who just want it so badly that they are determined to fine or create an effective strategy. And more power to them! What I want to address here is that other scenario – you have the right strategy, perhaps, but not the desire to use it. This is at the root of the age-old complaint that someone “knows what to do”, but doesn’t do what they know.
Virginia pointed out that there may be a point in a relationship where it’s gone so badly that it would be preferable to just end it and start over. Presumably with new partners.
There is also a phenomenon many have tried, some with success, some less so: the Do-Over. I worked with one client who called this a “Reset”, and the way it works is this: The couple has reached that point where Virginia Satir would likely agree that it’s time to “dig up the garden and start over”. But instead of ending the relationship and moving on, the couple decides to stop everything as though nothing occurred before. They agree: no more fighting about, arguing about, even discussing, hurt feelings or points of contention that occurred prior to the Reset.
There is of course a problem with this, if taken literally. Arguments, though often not enjoyable, are one healthy form of expression a couple can and arguably should utilize. It doesn’t have to become heated, and certainly if it descends into insults or name-calling, the argument is no longer constructive. But in and of themselves, arguments, even fights (when done fairly) are not unhealthy. What a Reset does is take all topics that inspired such struggle and take them off the table. Yet there is a reason they were placed there to begin with. They mattered to both people or they wouldn’t have caused an argument.
Since communication is vital in a relationship, and argument and even fights are forms of communication, it seems foolish to just shut them down. What is to become of the topic that mattered so much? If both people disagreed to the point of passion, are they to just avoid the topic, sweep it under the rug?
This may be taking it too far as in many cases such a Reset isn’t meant to white-wash everything. There is some devastating event that led to a great deal of fighting. If it threatened the relationship, a couple may decide to do such a Reset and hope for the best. The only way I’ve seen this work is when the couple first resolves the issue(s) that led to this conflict. It would otherwise be like an infection in the body where the skin closes over it. You can treat the infection, the root cause, or you could just pretend it’s not there. Though how often does the latter work?
I would suggest deciding whether the will is there–Is the relationship worth it? Then if you decide it is, you can pursue the way to get there. As with any adult, I’ve ended relationships and I’ve had them ended when I didn’t want them to. I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve experienced that “knowing what to do, but not doing what you know” thing. In fact, I’ve been guilty of it. So I’m speaking as always not as someone who is somehow wise and doesn’t make stupid, awful mistakes. On the contrary, I have had a chance to see that, when you know what to do, it’s up to you. You must act on it.
And you must do the same. Once you decide, we can talk about the way.