By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Great relationships take a lot of work. You’ve got to do your own work if you want your marriage to work. If you don’t do the work, you won’t get the benefits. The idea that we have to work in order to create a worthwhile relationship has been around for quite a while and many of us, particularly relationship ‘experts’ and therapists have been affirming the idea for so long that we rarely question it’s veracity. But what exactly does working on your relationship really mean? Is it really true that the willingness to do “the work” is the critical factor in determining the quality of your relationships? And what exactly IS the work that relationships require anyway?
The idea of work is so embedded in our beliefs about relationships that we rarely, if ever, question these assumptions when we hear them in conversation or read them in self-help books. Might there be some benefit to taking a closer look at this notion? Perhaps. As my grandmother used to say, “it couldn’t hoit”.
One of the first things that we may notice when we begin to examine our beliefs about work and relationships is that we often aren’t exactly sure what the “work” of relationships really is, and consequently tend to default to our associations with the word “work” in our efforts to better understand the concept. When you think of “work”, if you are like most people the associations that you have are not likely to be especially thrilling or even particularly pleasant. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘work’ as “the exertion of physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production of something.” Synonyms for work include labor, exertion, travail, drudgery, trouble, chore, and toil. “Toil” a word frequently associated with work means “to proceed to make one’s way with difficulty or pain. To labor continuously and strenuously.” Phew! Is it any wonder that most of us have a certain degree of resistance to the notion of embracing work as a path to anything?
So if you have any confusion or mixed feelings and thoughts about doing your relationship work, it’s with good reason, and you’re not alone.
Yet the desire for loving relationships and the pain of living without them can be strong enough motivators to provoke efforts on our part to confront our confusion, challenge the odds and overcome our resistance, persistent though it may be. The question however, still remains, what exactly IS this “work” that relationships require? In confronting this question it becomes obvious that paradoxically, doing “the work” often requires us to redirect our attention away from our relationship, and focus instead on ourselves, sometimes even to the extent of running the risk of losing the relationship itself. Barry and Maya found this out the hard way.
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