Bakewell, that small town in the Derbyshire Dales famous for its tarts which are in fact puddings, is approximately 24 miles from Macclesfield. Take the back roads via Flash and Longnor and you can add a further six or seven miles to the journey. It should take around three hours to get to Bakewell by bike. I say should, because I have never completed the journey, this despite several attempts. These repeated and ‘unsuccessful’ trips have not left me feeling anxious, mildly depressed or to chiding myself with one of those phrases, an all too common part of my youthful vocabulary: “can do better”, “should try harder”, “not good enough”, and the one word that lurked behind them all, failure. As a young man I had hoped that these words, applied like a whip, would drive me on to greater success. They did not. My ‘failure’, a word that now strikes me as anachronistic, to reach Bakewell has not lead to a loss of self-esteem. May I long not get to Bakewell.
The major sticking point for many people in relationships is the belief that there is a problem that needs fixing, either with themselves or more often than not with their partner.
This mistaken belief leads to arguments* and recrimination. Unable to fix ourselves or the other at some point we tell ourselves that that is just how they/we are and the argument that cannot be resolved is best avoided. We create no go areas within the relationship in the hope that this will lead to fewer arguments. In doing so we rob our relationship of its ability to hold the full expression of who we are as a couple and as individuals. As the relationship grows colder our passion and energy for one another begins to die and with it the ability to maintain a healthy and vibrant relationship. Expansion and joy are replaced by feelings of claustrophobia and boredom. Rather than an expression of who we are the relationship transforms itself into an expression of who we are not. When this happens it is only a matter of time before we begin to look outside the relationship for the freedom, joy and vitality that we crave.
In attempting to fix ourselves or the other what we are really trying to do is make our relationship safe, to fit some preconceived idea, no matter how vague, of what the relationship should look like and how the other partner needs to behave in order to make that happen. All too often arguments are seen as road blocks to our creating the ideal relationship. Rather than nurturing the relationship and allowing it grow at its own pace and develop its unique and distinctive shape we restrict it with rules and fill it with unfulfilled expectations.
When we are free of the mistaken belief that someone needs fixing we are free to see arguments* for what they are; an essential part of a healthy relationship. Arguments provide the nexus through which the relationship can grow. Our ability to resolve them provides the relationship with the permission and safety to expand our compassion and empathy for one another, and in doing so create a new sense of closeness.
My wife and I are addicted to the Netflix series Chefs Table. Each of the six episodes features a world renowned chef. The dishes are exquisite, many are improbably complex, all extraordinary: and yet… six months later there are only two that we now remember. The first, Massimo Bottura's, ‘Oops! I dropped the lemon tart*,’ is a delightful combination of mistake (the tart quite literally dropped) and improvisational genius; once dropped Bottura repeated the process and reframed it as a ‘work of art’. The second, Enrique Olvera’s Mole Madre is strictly speaking, not a dish but the ubiquitous Mexican sauce, ‘mole’ with a twist. While both chef’s share a flair for the improvisational it is Olvera’s Mole Madre that breaks almost every conventional culinary code; defying rather than defining what we would expect from a Michelin star restaurant. The Mole Madre you taste on a Tuesday will not be the Mole Madre you taste on a Wednesday. It is I realise, a recipe without a recipe; a metaphor for growing and nurturing ‘daring’ relationships.
‘I have a theory that theories are destructive.’ Carl Whitaker
Despite Carl Whitaker’s iconic status, and his success in challenging psychological orthodoxies, nearly half a century later we find ourselves no less mired in theory.
For many, theory and increasingly formula, in the guise of theory, offers the hope of a prescribed way out of the uncertainty and anxiety of a disintegrating relationship. That we should find ourselves reaching for such formulaic devices is not surprising. In times of increased anxiety our natural inclination is to crave peace through the safety of the known.