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There is an old expression: “You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Although we believe this was first coined in 1579, and the exact origin of the Scottish phrase is not certain – perhaps that all parts of a pig’s body can be rendered, but for its ears – it is generally taken to mean that you cannot produce something admirable or valuable from something that is unpleasant or of little value.

This adage does not hold true however, in my view of relationships.

Constant readers of this series of blogs about relationships may recall that there are five truths underlying every relationship, and that, because of those truths, we can build our relationships on three pillars.

We have reviewed the pillar of impersonality, as well as two parts of the pillar of capability. Today we will look at the last aspect of that pillar.

We are extremely capable of having excellent relationships. At our disposal we have magnificent brains, good sense and the capability to execute what we want as well as we want. We realize that, unlike animals, we can change our basic biological drives of fight/flee/freeze into constructive actions, controlled separations from our partner, and leaning into behaviour that we can do nothing about.

However, because the universe is breaking down, even with these tools in our toolkit things will still go wrong. Despite our ability to master relationships, sometimes, things will happen that will blindside us, or things may go wrong and remain undetected until it is too late. There are many examples of this. My readers will come up with examples I have not even thought of.

Let’s look at one, that of infidelity. In a 2008 USA Today/Gallup poll 63% of married people indicated that they will divorce their partner if they discover that the partner cheated on them.

One does not blame the wounded partner for the view. Often, love and life hurts. Little else in the relationship hurts as much as this betrayal.

No matter that we try to not take it personally – our partner would have cheated on whoever they were with – no matter that we try to deal with it as best as we can – working on ourselves, making sure that we do not discuss it with the children, attempting not to curse, yell and scream – it is a wound that is difficult to heal, and the scar never goes away.

There is a great consolation to be found amidst our pain though.

No matter how bleak our relationship may look or how deep the pain may go, if we look hard enough we will find something to redeem, something to be grateful for, or something good or useful which would not have come into existence had we not gone through the painful experience.

Couples have a choice after such a catastrophe. They can separate and go their own separate ways; or they can choose to restore the relationship, to root out and replace that which led to the act of unfaithfulness, and end up on the other side of the pain with an even stronger relationship than before the blow of the unfaithful act(s). If we deal with our inner feelings of shame, rejection, outrage and we work at restoring that fundamental principle of trust between partners, if we work like soldiers in the army of the two of us, indeed if we put all our energy in working at loving the other despite, then I have found so often in the stories my guests and my patients bring to me, that beauty and strength and passion and even a deeper trust is within our reach.

In relationships, no matter what happens, if we are committed enough to do the work required, we can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Because relationships are truly sacred things, when the going gets tough we can salvage, rebuild and expand beyond what we believed possible before.
Next time we will talk about the pillar of specificity.

Dr. Strauss l Wellness Lead
Follow me on Twitter @DrPieterStrauss