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In doing work with couples, at the end of a session, I usually give both parties some homework to do (for example, I would say to the husband: “John, I want you to spend ten minutes at the end of every day telling Liza about the most significant feeling you had that day”. The wife would be asked: “Liza, make sure that you touch John—whether holding his hand, rubbing his back, or squeezing his forearm—at least once a day”).

I started noticing two peculiar things.

When they came back for their follow-up visit, first they would most often either not have done the homework at all, or started and then it petered out. Second, they would blame the other party for it not happening. (Liza would say: “Why don’t you tell doctor Strauss what you did last night, John? Why don’t you tell him that you threw a plate at the wall—the plate my mom gave me when my grandma died?” John would say: “Well, shall I tell him then, Liza, how you stormed into my office telling my secretary to keep her hands off me, in front of my business partner and how you embarrassed the heck out of me?”)

This happened time and time again.

Both parties come to the therapy sessons because they want help. Both parties bog down because they have never been informed of the greatest of the Great Truths in human relationships.

Before I tell you what that is, let us just quickly review the other four Great Truths of relationships:

  1. Love one another
  2. Love is work
  3. Life is hard
  4. Women and men are two different species

If we do not understand in our relationships that we can never change who the other person is, and that very seldom we are succesful in changing their behaviour, we will never reach optimized happiness in our relationships.

In any of our relationships, we must understand that we can only count on ourselves. Nobody else is guaranteed never to let us down, disappoint us or hurt us. We must understand that we are our own determiners of our happiness. We cannot bank on the other to provide that for us. We must understand that we alone are able to sustain ourselves in our relationships, as we cannot ensure that the other person will always feed us.

In any of our relationships, we must learn to become responsible for our feelings and actions. Nobody else can make us feel bad, sad or mad. We decide, based on what we think of the interaction between the two parties, what to feel. We then let ourselves be swayed and influenced by the feelings we decided to have to behave in a certain way. Often then we do not care that–even if we know the behaviour is not right—that behaviour is highly likely to evoke a negative response in our partner. (John feels justified to throw the plate, because, after all, did Liza not embarrass him so greatly, and does she not deserve to be hurt in return as well?)

In any of our relationships, we are in charge of ourselves. Nobody else is. We are in control of our minds, spirit, feelings and body. If we do not understand this, we are the branches of a willow tree swaying wildly in the winds of other people’s behaviour. If we let go of being in charge of ourselves, we are doomed to dance to other people’s tunes and dance using always the same steps, at the same time wondering why things always turns out, predictably, so poorly.

The fifth Great Truth.
I am the relationship.
Not you, or you, or you, or all of you over there.
I am the relationship and I will never give up on myself. I make my relationships better and better until they are beautiful and shiny things, lighting up the world around us.

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