“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
– Melody Beattie, author
“I just want to find some joy in my life!”
Marcella said, “I don’t even want to count the number of times we have split up and got back together…it’s too painful!”
Marcella was a thirty five year old mother of three children in middle school. She was a short, stout, angry woman who seemed to try to distract you from it with her friendly manner and kind face. She worked in government as a team leader, overseeing one of the largest provincial parks.
Her partner, Martin, worked out west in the oil industry. He worked three weeks there and then had one week at home. As a family, they had worked around this and developed a stable lifestyle with their high income but, apparently, an unstable relationship.
Marcella’s second comment to me that morning was,
“I just want to find some joy in my life! Is that too much to ask?”
“What do you mean by joy?” I asked her, since clearly, she was carrying around some handicapping illusions about life.
“Are you saying it is some kind of fantasy?”
“You know, some joy…some heartfelt happiness…some pure pleasure…some easy ecstasy!” she replied looking at me as if it was a stupid question to ask anyone…and especially her, that morning.
“Oh! Then you’ll need to get some street drugs or certain prescription drugs will also do it to you! That’s their purpose…to create temporary joyful illusions until you’re ready for the truth!” I replied, challenging her naivety.
“Aren’t I entitled to be happy? Isn’t everyone entitled to be happy? Doesn’t the Canadian Charter of Rights and the American Constitution both say I have a right to be happy?” she asked to ensure she had a legal basis for her illusionary thought.
“I believe they say you can pursue it, but not that you will get it!” I responded with a small smile to see if she was open to a new perspective.
“Are you saying it is some kind of fantasy?” she asked, an edge to her voice, not showing much interest in my perspective or anyone else’s except the founding fathers of Canada and the US.
“Have you met anyone who says they’re happy who is not medicated or doesn’t have the full picture of the situation they are in?” I said testing the waters again.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings…”
– William Arthur Ward, writer
“She was so proud of me.”
“I was happy on my wedding day…I remember being so excited and so pleased to have my family and friends around me. Wasn’t that happiness?” Marcella asked.
“Let’s find out! Marcella, go to the most happy moment of your wedding day…that moment when everything seem to be in place. When was that on your wedding day?”
“I remember it well. My mom was helping me get into my dress. She was so proud of me. She said I looked beautiful and I thought I did, too. It fit great! I had been so worried it wouldn’t.” she said, a smile filling her face for the first time.
“As you think about that moment, close your eyes and re-experience it for a second. Got it?” I asked to make sure she was in that moment.
“Yes, we were in my parent’s bedroom, in front of the full length mirror and it was a beautiful, sunny day.”
“Now, find the challenge for you, the stress or perhaps the pain at the very same moment?”
“All I notice is Mom’s pride in me, how beautiful my dress is and how excited I feel.” she said.
“That’s all true Marcella. That’s all going on, too! But, what wasn’t OK about that moment on your wedding day? What else was going on, what else were you worrying about, at the same second, that you haven’t been noticing until I asked you?”
“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” – Brian Tracy, author
“We are looking for gratitude, not happiness.”
She paused for a moment, furrowing her eyebrows, deep in thought. Then, she lifted her head, her eyebrows and her eyes, simultaneously.
“My maid of honour, Maggie! She was flying in from Toronto and she still had not arrived. Maggie was my closest friend. We had gone through alot together. It was so important to me she be there and I was so worried she would miss it.”
“Bingo Marcella! That’s what I’ve been talking about…the other side of every moment of everyone’s life. There is always those two sides. That’s what makes it real and true. It’s not to dishonour your special day or that special moment. It is to honour it with the truth. You had both pleasure and pain simultaneously at that moment.”
“But why can’t it be a happy moment even though Maggie hadn’t arrived?” she asked.
“Maybe it’s only semantics…our word choices. I’ve found most people consider happiness to be pleasure without pain. It’s not possible! There has to be both. The Disney Corporation tries to sell us pleasure without pain. People confuse happiness with appreciation. We are looking for gratitude, not happiness. Gratitude includes equal amounts of pleasure and pain! Appreciation includes equal amount of pleasure and pain!”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t expect to be happily married?”
“But, why is it so important to know that pleasure and pain are always balanced at every moment?” she asked in an innocent, almost child like tone.
“It goes back to what brought you here Marcella, joy. We often talk about joy in the same way we use the term happiness. As if it’s achievable. It isn’t! It is a one sided perception of the situation. It sets you up for not appreciating your spouse or your marriage!”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t expect to be happily married? I shouldn’t expect moments of joy in my life, Ken?”
“I’m suggesting you can expect moments of gratitude in your marriage and moments of appreciation for Martin! But, if you’re still looking for happiness across hours or days of time, it is an illusion you can only create temporarily with the assistance of mind altering drugs.”
“So, you’re saying there are no happily married people?”
“I haven’t met any so far! But, I have met people who appreciate their partner, appreciate their life together, both the pleasures and the pains. I have met lots of couples who are grateful for their marriage and family, but who know they pay for it at every moment with the pain of stress and responsibility.” I said.
“That fits the people who I have met as well. So, then what’s the value of staying in my marriage if I can’t expect more pleasure than pain?” Marcella asked, her frustration coming to the fore again.
“That’s my great confusion! That’s really what brought me here…”
“That’s a great question! Why do you stay? Under our laws you’re entitled to half of the family assets! You know you can’t pick the kids of divorced parents out of the school yard mob, so they’ll be OK! He is only home 25% of the time. How come you are still with Martin, Marcella?”
She got very quiet for a few moments, deep inside herself. She looked around my office to buy a little more time for herself. She adjusted her chair and her hair briefly. Finally, she said,
“That’s what I’ve been asking myself! That’s my great confusion! That’s really what brought me here, Ken!”
“Let me ask you the same question another way. I’ve learned, after 43 years of being married, and 35 years of doing couple counselling, a person stays in a relationship because there is enough pleasure in it to counterbalance the pain in it…it serves them in a perfectly balanced way! So, what’s the biggest sources of pleasure you get from being married to Martin?” I asked her.
Another pregnant pause as she shifted herself in the chair and adjusted her clothing. Eventually she looked directly at me saying,
“I’ve never said this to anyone before but at times I like it when Martin is out west. I can do things my own way, the kids seem easier to manage and I have a measure of independence I enjoy.”
“That makes sense to me, Marcella. But, why is it so important for you to be able to do things your way and be independent? My best professional guess would be it is tied significantly to some part of your past…long before you even met Martin. Do you know, specifically? ” I asked.
There was another long pause as Marcella’s mind skirted across time like the fine particles of snow do when blowing over the tips of the drifts in my back yard during a winter storm.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie, author
“Love is an attitude of gratitude or appreciation for the way things are because they are perfectly balanced.”
“I was the youngest in my family. I was the baby. I had two parents and three siblings hovering over me my whole life. To this day, one of them still calls me periodically when Martin is away working, to check on me. I know they’re concerned but I don’t need it…I’m doing fine!”
“Can you see how living the lifestyle you have with Martin enables you to demonstrate to yourself and others you are an independent person who doesn’t need to be protected anymore?”
“Yes, I see it now! And now, I also understand why I found it so annoying when they called. But, you’re saying besides the caring and support I receive from Martin, there are other important pleasures I receive that I haven’t been noticing…or appreciating, right?” she asked with awareness seeping from her voice as she started putting things together.
“I know it has to be half and half within your highest values, Marcella! But, only you can really uncover what the two sides are. When you do, you move to an attitude of gratitude. Love isn’t a one sided emotion! Love is an attitude of gratitude or appreciation for the way things are because they are perfectly balanced. Love is balance, love is symmetry, love is equilibrium!”
“So, there is a balance to my life with Martin I haven’t been noticing or acknowledging. That’s why I have stayed in the relationship, right? And, if I find that balance I will be OK, right?”
“Exactly, Marcella! That’s why you have stayed. You know there is a balance there, unconsciously. You will just be uncovering it to put it into your conscious awareness. Then, you grow your gratitude for yourself and your life with Martin.”
“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher
“… it means marriage is really a learning tool for our survival into our future.”
“Can I ask a ‘what if’ question about this, Ken?”
“What if I looked at my life with Martin and couldn’t find the half and half anymore…maybe I had evolved in some way and didn’t want this life with him, what would happen then to me?” she asked cautiously.
“I like that question, Marcella! Marriage is really just a social contract between people to optimize our society and so our species. So, it follows the same 50/50 law of nature.”
“Really! How does that work, Ken?”
“In every 100 marriages, half will divorce. Of the half that divorce (50), half of those (25) will remarry, and the other half (25) will stay single. Of the original half (50) who stayed married, half of those (25) stay married because of a conscious value they derive, like religion, children or financial security. And, the other half (25) stay married because of an unconscious value such as safety, stability or security.”
“When I think of some of my relatives and friends who are in relationships, I can see that being played out. But, that suggests to me that marriage is about a person’s survival in some way. Is that true, Ken?”
“That’s an accurate way to put it. People do enter and leave relationships ultimately for their own survival. And, if you take your idea to the next step, it means marriage is really a learning tool for our survival into our future. Can you see that Marcella?” I asked to see if she was still with me.
“Yes, I can see that now! And, it reminds me of why I have stayed with Martin. I have learned so much about me by being his partner and a mother to our children. Yes, I’m getting it now! But…” she hesitated.
“That means every marriage and every family is a learning tool for the people in them. And, even a divorce is a learning tool. And, even what we call a family is changing…just within my lifetime, right?” she asked, taking the ideas and running with them herself.
“I think you are right on about that! Our concept of family, marriage, relationships, parenting are all evolving very quickly as we adapt to our changing world.”
“So, my relationship with Martin is not really that unusual when you look at it from that perspective…even though he is only home a quarter of the time, right?”
“Given you have been in it for a while and have stayed in it for a while, that suggests it’s been vital to your present and future. No mistake, eh?”
“It’s nice to know it’s been right for me, eh Ken?”
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, philosopher
Until Next time…
Now you know, the purpose of your significant other is to help you learn to appreciate yourself. Your relationship is a learning tool for your evolution. You are meant to be pleasured and pained your entire life by your spouse so you can grow and contribute to our species. You’re not meant to be happy, you’re meant to be grateful for yourself, your life and everyone in it! The more carefully you look the more likely you will prove this to yourself!
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Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, January 28th, 2017. Details are available at ww.kenpiercepsychologist.com
Send us your feedback and topic suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question or wish to schedule a consultation, feel free to contact me.
Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com