Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Relationship Tightrope

As everyone who has ever sought to enter into a loving and committed relationship with another human being has learned, the actual living out of that relationship can be fraught with difficulties. Living in a loving relationship is a gloriously complicated enterprise. And one of the things that makes it so complicated is that we often think we must make the other person in the relationship happy. Trying to make someone else happy can certainly be compared to the act of walking on a tightrope, a skill that takes much, much practice.

Let's assume for a moment, however, that you have had a great deal of practice and are pretty accomplished at the art of tight-rope walking. After all, most of us have been in relationships of some sort for years and should have learned most of the tricks by the time we are functioning adults.

As anyone who has been to a circus knows, the dangerous tightrope walk is done under controlled circumstances. The rope is inside a tent, so there are no weather vagaries to deal with, and there is a good, strong safety net spanning the entire length of the tightrope. Even the most experienced performer falls frequently, especially when learning new skills.

When beginning to learn this skill, the tightrope is close to the ground and there is a lot of support. Eventually, it get higher and higher and the skills of the performer becomes greater and greater. At some point, however, an imbalance in the situation may lead to a tumble.

Now, to keep to the comparison, let's make a list of demands that are often placed on a relationship that is based on making someone else happy. Unfortunately, those demands, while they may seem innocent, may be causing just enough imbalance in the situation to lead to a dangerous fall.

Pretend with me for a while that the items in parenthesis happen in parallel with the requests for attention and support, that is, the requests to “make me happy.”

I want you to be very interested in me and to show that interest by frequent phone calls, with inquiries about my life and work and family.

(Wind is starting to blow outside the enclosed tent where the tightrope walker performs.)

I want you to so desire to spend time with me that you often arrange your schedule to make sure it matches mine so we can be together with much frequency.

(A rope-eating virus invisibly lands on the safety net and begins to multiply.)

I want you to be fully supportive of my own demanding work that when I come home exhausted and uncommunicative, you simply honor that with quietness and grace and then you rub my shoulders and fix me a healthy snack and give me adequate space before engaging in any other way.

(Circus master decides to delight the onlookers by raising your platform from which you step out onto the rope to the highest level available-higher than you've ever walked).

I want you to anticipate what I need without my having to ask.

(Wind picks up even more outside and begins to infiltrate some weak spots in the canvas tent, bringing some slack to what should be a very tight rope.)

I want you to be grateful for the little tasks I do around the house that make your life more comfortable.

(Tightrope walker starts having trouble keeping his/her balance but decides to keep going and not risk a loss of face by turning back or asking for help or renegotiation.)

I want to be adored spiritually, mentally, socially and physically.

(Rope eating virus weakens several spots in the safety net and the increasing wind permits some of the virus particles to land on the tightrope itself.)

I want you to be completely understanding of all my moods, and never try to fix me when I get into a down mood. However, you should try to distract me, but be very understanding if I snap at your proposed distractions.

(It starts to pour rain outside and the canvas roof leaks. Wind speed dramatically increases.)

I want you to have a highly successful career but make sure you have plenty of energy for me.

(Somebody's blackberry goes off in the circus tent and warns of a tornado in the immediate vicinity.)

I want you to get much public recognition for your hard work and for your salary to rise competitively as a result of those recognitions.

(Rope eating virus leaves several large spots of the safely net radically weakened but the weakened areas are invisible.)

I want you to completely open your heart mind and soul to me and let me in whenever I want.

(Tent poles begin to sway and rain lands on on the head of the tightrope walker.)

I want you to be physically and mentally healthy, taking plenty of time for yourself as you need it, but being sure to explain kindly to me when you need that time, plus I want an ETA as to when that self-time will be over and you can resume playing close attention to me.

(Audience begins to panic and leave in droves. Rope eating virus weakens the tightrope and it loses even more tension.)

I want you to spill over with joy when you see me, and yet see me off on my travels or other times away with support and generosity. I also want you to miss me excruciatingly while I'm gone, but to use your time well so you can concentrate on me when I get back.

(Despite heroic efforts and high skill level, the tightrope walker falls, expecting to be caught by the safety net, but lands on one of the weak areas. There is just enough intact net to break the fall before the tightrope walker lands on the ground. still alive, but greatly injured.)

Does any of this sound familiar? It's the common problem with so many relationships—each wants so much of the other, but doesn't always see that by having those needs met, they may be causing the other to crash. Personally, I think one of the most dangerous phrases is the English language is “I want to make you happy.” Or even worse, “I'll do anything to make you happy.”

It should never be our responsibility to make another person happy. Happiness is a personal choice. When it becomes dependent upon the actions of another, the ability to make that choice is lost. Now, it is the actions of other (or perceived actions of others, or even worse, the perceived motives behind the perceived actions of others) that brings happiness or unhappiness. When we start examining the motives of others, we leave behind one of the greatest definitions of love, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

If love really believes all things, then love does not go around suspiciously checking out the motives of others, or trying to manipulate someone else to “meet our needs,” but instead graciously puts up with anything, operates out of trust, looks for the best, and keeps going to the end. This is how we want God to love us. We would serve that desire best by learning to do this for others.

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