Part 1: Why Everything Matters
Earlier this year, I presented a marriage enrichment seminar entitled Everything Matters. Over a series of posts, I hope to share many of the thoughts I shared in that seminar with you! Enjoy!! You can find new information about the seminar at http://everythingmattersseminar.com.
Relationships are difficult. To be clear, making the most of our relationships is difficult. It requires work. Effort. Sacrifice. If you were to believe Hollywood, you might think that when two unbelievably attractive people meet, they fall in love and they live happily ever after. Granted, if you’ve ever actually had a relationship – you know…the unscripted, unedited, real life kind – then it’s obvious that this isn’t the case. If we really are interested in seeing our relationships thrive, it’s going to require us to put some effort in.
One of the reasons that relationships can be so difficult is that people are complex. We’re complicated. We have histories and families. We have beliefs and traditions. We have needs and wants and desires. We get triggered. We also make assumptions that others see the world in largely the same way that we do ourselves. If we’re talking about you as an individual person, maybe all of this is fine. If you’re happy, then there’s really no problem. Introduce another person into this mix, however, and the storylines start to tangle.
Sometimes we need help – a little perspective – to make sense of what it means to truly be in relationship with another person. Usually, that means we need to have a better sense of awareness about what’s going on inside ourselves. Where do these triggers come from? Why do I react so strongly when he says that? Why don’t I care more when she tells me about her day? What about my past might be interfering with how I’m seeing the current situation. Awareness about the things that matter is crucial to developing relationships.
Here’s the thing: Everything Matters. Yes, it’s true that everything may be a little broad so let me explain what I mean by everything. For our purposes, everything is going to refer to three main areas.
Below all of the thoughts and emotions and experiences that we have, we are biological creatures – we are animals. That has some pretty profound impacts on what it means, first, to be a person, and second, to be in relationship with other people. Our biology matters because it is the framework that everything we ever experience relies on. When we fall in love, we have chemicals and hormones that cause reactions in our brain. When we have an emotional experience, there is a collection of electrical signals set off around our body. Every memory, every emotion – every single moment – has an impact on and is impacted by our biology.
Biology really matters when we talk about relationships. Understanding how our biology works and changes with every experience gives us place to start from when we think about everything else that matters in our lives. Hopefully, it also gives us a little more grace around how we think about ourselves!
Not only are we biological, but we are also social. A tribal way-of-life helped us to survive and to evolve into the the most capable species this planet has ever known. We know that, without our tendency to cooperate with others, we could never have achieved everything that we have accomplished. Hard-coded into our biology is a need for relationships and human contact.
From the moment we are born, we are dependent on others and these first relationships – our attachment to our caregivers – become a sort of template for all of our future relationships, romantic or otherwise. We form a lot of our understanding about the world based on how we are cared for in these early years. Is the world a caring place? Can we rely on other people to meet our needs? Am I cared for? Am I valuable? Relationships are not only essential to what it means to be human, but they also have the power to transform the way that we see the world.
Every experience we have impacts us. From brain science, we now know that every experience has a neurological impact, strengthening or weakening circuits in our brain, reinforcing patterns of how we interpret the world.
You experiences are uniquely yours; they’re uniquely you. Like a fingerprint, no one else has the exact set of experiences that you do. These experiences contribute to your own unique worldview. Which movies do you like? Where do you fall along the political spectrum? How open are you to new ideas? The experiences from your past interact with genetics and other factors to make you into the person that you are today. It’s this person that people see. It’s this person that your partner loves. Understanding your experiences can help you understand a little of what others see in you.
Of course, awareness about ourselves doesn’t automatically make for more loving relationships. Once we become aware of the elements that make us who we are, we can also start to form a better understanding of how we communicate with others. Everything Communicates. Who we are impacts how we relate to others. Everything that we do or do not do sends some sort of message. In the field of Marriage & Family Therapy, it is said that “You cannot not communicate.” The idea, of course, is that even if choose to not offer an opinion or thought about something, you are, in effect, communicating that you would rather remain silent than get involved. When you choose to listen rather than speak, you’re communicating that the other person’s experience is valid and important.
Finally, after harnessing the power of communication, we can start to move towards what is probably most important in a romantic relationship: intimacy. Intimacy is Everything. But this is so much more than physical intimacy. When we take the time to know our partners, to know their worlds, and when we show interest and engage voluntarily in their experiences, we are strengthening our relationship. We express not only that we’re interested in them but that we enjoy them. We want them. And, when we more fully know their experiences and the ways in which they communicate, we can begin to have more compassion for them.
We start to become one, but not in such a way that we lose any sense of who we are as individuals. We contribute to something. We form something new; our relationship exists as an extension of who we are rather than replacing who we are.
Intimacy really is about more fully knowing and appreciating everything about your partner, because Everything Matters.
So, over the next several posts, I hope to flesh these ideas out in much more detail. This series is not meant to be a prescription about better ways to exist in your marriage or relationship. This is simply an invitation – an invitation to be more open and compassionate towards the person you love. I truly believe that these ideas are the basis of self-compassion and compassion for others.
Hope you can follow along with the series and I’d love to hear your feedback about anything and everything that we get to share over the next several posts.