I confess to being seriously steeped in an existential approach to life—to the world, to myself, and to relationships. How I found my way to this philosophy is somewhat of a mystery. Maybe it was all those hours spent alone driving a tractor on the Kansas plains when I was a kid.
I tend to think much about how the way we live is determined by our awareness of death. This isn’t morbid. It’s just acknowledgment of the truth of the human condition.
What I see is that we spend a lot of energy fighting against annihilation. For example, I can’t allow myself to lose the argument I’m having with my wife because losing would be symbolically accepting my own death.
That sounds a little crazy, I know. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to people express their astonishment at how hard their partner fought over some “little” issue. Evidently, for the partner, that “little” issue wasn’t little at all. The argument was, in some way, a “life and death” struggle.
I have come to believe that everyone who stays in a committed relationship eventually says to themselves, “If I stay with him/her another day/week/month/year, it will be the death of me.” Or thinks—and occasionally even says—things like “I can’t take this anymore!” or “You’re killing me.”
Symbolically, it’s often true.
Paradoxically, the willingness to lose often precedes a meaningful gain. When we experience the “lethal” aspect of our relationship, the question that should arise is not “How can I arm myself better so I can survive?” or better yet, “How can I do him/her in?”
The relationship is better served by asking the opposite: “What in me needs to die so something new and better can be born?” Or: “What kind of surrender do I need to embrace for something better to come into our relationship?”
It takes a lot of courage to allow something that seems important to die. It feels unnatural. But if we keep doing what comes naturally, nothing changes.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.