Couple under covers with feet poking out

The second most important quality in a relationship

In Community and Relationship, Love, Sex and Sexuality by Barry VissellLeave a Comment

Each partner needs to take full responsibility for their part when there is dysfunction or disharmony. Is there a relationship that you have that could be better? What is your part of the problem? And how can you take responsibility and communicate it to your partner?

 

People often ask us, “What is the most important quality in a relationship?” We always answer that the spiritual aspect is the most important, just as for each individual the spiritual aspect, the awareness of a higher power or non-physical consciousness, is the most important to develop. Then people ask, “But what is the second most important quality to develop in a relationship?” Until two weeks ago I have never known the answer to that question. I usually respond that there are many important qualities, like appreciation, gratitude, honouring, understanding, sharing ideas, making the relationship a priority, nurturing the inner child within each one, having a sense of humour, communication towards a healthy sexual relationship, a shared vision and taking responsibility. Two weeks ago at a couple’s retreat, a couple showed me that taking responsibility for your own pain rather than blaming it upon your partner, is the second most important quality to develop in a relationship. Without this quality, none of the other qualities can be developed.

At the couples’ retreat, there was the usual assortment of issues between the couples. We have always taken the attitude that the bigger the issue, the greater the possibility for a breakthrough. We appreciate challenges and know that there is only more love on the other side of each challenge. We ourselves have experienced plenty of issues and challenges, and believe firmly that when two people go through a challenge together with consciousness, there will be the possibility for deeper commitment.

One particular couple with a small child at home seemed especially distant from each other. We kept our eye on them and carried on with the workshop. To our dismay, as time wore on, the distance grew and grew. When we had couples appreciate each other, which brought most of the couples closer, this couple sat far apart and didn’t look at each other. In a group sharing, they each clearly blamed each other and were unwilling to take responsibility for their own problems. The other couples were starting to be affected and having difficulty concentrating on their own process.

In our lunch break, Barry and I had a concentrated talk. Should we ask them to leave and give them back their money? Asking someone to leave is very difficult for us, and we have only done this four times in 33 years. We decided to return in the afternoon, and try one more thing before asking them to leave.

When the group resumed, we looked at this couple and asked them if they felt any hope. They both responded that they felt almost no hope, but wanted to break through for the sake of their child.

We then asked each of them to take full responsibility for the pain they were experiencing in the relationship. We asked them to not project and blame the other, but to look at the way they were contributing to the unhealthy situation. We had them sit looking at each other, with the group gathered around. The woman spoke first and took responsibility for projecting her pain onto her partner, admitting to anger caused by abuse that happened to her before she even met him. We congratulated her on being able to take responsibility. Then it was the man’s turn. First there was only anger toward her, and each time he blamed her we steered him back to himself. Finally he switched from projecting all his anger onto his wife, to taking responsibility for his own childhood abuse, and the tears started flowing. The relief on his wife’s face was beautiful to behold. We asked them to continue taking responsibility while we guided the rest of the group to do the same.

When the group was finished, we all looked over at our “problem couple.” They were holding each other, an expression of tender peace upon their faces. They truly looked happy.

Projecting your anger and pain upon your partner is a burden. Sometimes, like in the case of this couple, the burden becomes so great that each person can hardly carry the weight. When we take responsibility for our part of the disharmony, the burden is lifted, the weight gone, and the issue can be worked out in understanding. With this couple, they could not do any of the healing exercises until they had each taken responsibility for their part of the disharmony.

It is so tempting in a relationship to want to step into the victim role. It is because of him that I am in pain. If it weren’t for her, I would be happy. It is always the other person’s fault. And yet that is a trap and weakens the individual. For we always have a choice to either stay in love or to move away from love. Sometimes the responsibility that one needs to take is not so obvious, like not saying a clear “No!”, not honouring yourself, giving into dysfunction because it seems easier to do, working hard to provide for your family and ignoring their need for your attention, and the list goes on and on. And yet when each person takes full responsibility for their part of the problems, an important first step is made. From that point and not before, healing can begin.

Notice that the emphasis is on both people, for it also doesn’t work if one person takes on all the responsibility. That weakens the other.

Each partner needs to take full responsibility for their part when there is dysfunction or disharmony. Is there a relationship that you have that could be better? What is your part of the problem? And how can you take responsibility and communicate it to your partner?

About the Authors
Barry Vissell

Barry Vissell

Barry Vissell is a psychiatrist and counsellor near Santa Cruz, CA. He is widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. He is a coauthor of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.

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