Daily Herald August 19, 1989
In the book, DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP ME TO BE LOVED BY YOU?, Jordan and Margaret Paul show that couples choose their own paths when experiencing conflict. Their choice of path has consequences for the future of their relationship. The Pauls are married counselors who discovered in their counselling and in their marriage, that partners who don't take a good look at the basic purpose or intent of their behaviours can make little change in their relationship.
The Pauls describe two paths through conflict. The most common path, one we all likely use, is a defensive, closed path of protection. It's intent is to protect at any cost. We don't like to experience pain, fear or insecurity, so we choose the easiest way to avoid these. In doing so, we avoid facing personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and consequences that naturally result from these.
One branch of this path may lead us to give up because we're afraid of being disapproved of, or afraid of conflict.
Another branch may lead us to control others to avoid responsibility for ourselves. We may try to change others, so that they take on our responsibilities, either to please us or because they feel guilty or fear us.
A third branch may lead us to withdraw and become indifferent: emotionally, physically, conversationally, or sexually. Taking any branch of the path of protection may result in power struggles, hurt and pain, a lack of fun and joy between people, boredom, deadness, and feelings of being unloved and of not loving.
The other path through conflict is an open, non-defensive, path where the intent is to learn as much as possible about yourself, and about your relationships. People on this path assume personal responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, behavior and the resulting consequences. This means taking risks.
You need to risk learning about yourself, find out and accept some things you might not like, and still love yourself, regardless. You need to risk learning about others, find out some things you don't like about them, and choose to love and accept them, regardless. Instead of a defensive reaction, the second path leads to a process of learning and exploration. It involves exploring each other's childhood, fears, values, beliefs, expectations and goals. It involves believing there are reasons behind feelings and behaviors, and being willing to explore those important thoughts and beliefs. It involves willing to risk being open and vulnerable to the person you love. This is the most risky part. For in discovering new things about yourself or your partner, new pains, fears and anxieties will most likely surface as the two of you gain a deeper, more intense understanding of each other.
The second, more difficult path pays off for a couple. It leads to a more intimate love life, not just sexual, but emotional, social and total. The task of learning is never complete. You and your partner constantly change and grow.
If you choose the path of learning and evolution, your personality and your marriage both continue to grow, giving you each more personal freedom to be yourself within a loving relationship.