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The Most Important Ingredient to Healing Your Relationship

Let’s begin with a fun little thought experiment I have posed to couples and individuals I have worked with:

Consider a relationship you have in your life that feels strained or unsatisfying and is not the way you want it. Perhaps this is your spouse or partner. You can also focus on a relationship with a friend, parent, child, sibling, manager or colleague at work. Choose one. Allow the feelings, thoughts, memories and pictures associated with this other person to come up in your experience.

Now imagine that your relationship with this person is like your favorite recipe. Your favorite recipe has a variety of ingredients that come together and create something special that you enjoy. Now I can bet that if an ingredient is left out of the recipe, you would notice it, taste the difference and your experience of your favorite meal would suffer.

Consider the following prompts and fill in the blank. Don’t over think it. Actually don’t think at all, more so let your heart and feelings intuitively come up what feels right and true for you.

What is missing from our relationship is any sense of ____________.

What I am deeply yearning for in our relationship is a sense of ____________.

First off, let's acknowledge that responding to these can sometimes be really hard to admit, be honest about and sit with. Maybe this is a relationship you have denied and brushed under the rug, not wanting to address the difficulties you have with this other person.

Also, the mere act of completing these prompts gives you some idea and direction for what you want to focus on in your relationship and what you may want to get out of counseling- whether that be individual or relationship counseling. Getting clear about the so called “missing or misplaced ingredient” can provide quite a bit of clarity and relief when things have felt confusing, muddled or even possibly hopeless at times in your relationship.

I have heard many different responses to what people have put in the blanks. I have heard people say things like love, closeness, intimacy, trust, sexual attraction, etc. All of these elements are undoubtedly focal points in the work I do with clients. Consider things like love, trust and intimacy. Those can be difficult concepts, ideas and experiences to conceive of, especially when the relationship is in the midst of disconnection, turmoil or resentment or has been that way for many years. It can feel unlikely and impossible to go from disconnection, anger and hurt to love, intimacy and trust. Those can feel like they are a million miles away from each other and not something that can be achieved in a day or a week.

What I have found in working with clients is that one ingredient tends to be at the heart of what they are desperately seeking and wanting more of in their relationship. In my experience, there is one healing and unifying element that tends to be a key building block to experiences like love, trust and intimacy.

Rather than tell you what this one key ingredient is that can heal and transform any relationship, I would prefer to show you.

There is a simple and fun way of depicting the struggle that often occurs in relationships. Many clients who I work with (myself included) find themselves getting stuck on this particular hamster wheel- running faster and faster, working harder and harder – only to find things to be getting worse. It goes something like this…

Here is a picture, What do you see?

One person will say “I see a duck”. The other person will say “I see a rabbit”. And the timeless struggle that people find themselves in is that they are arguing for what is they believe to be “right” or the truth. The arguing becomes more and more hostile the longer and longer it goes on because neither person is feeling heard and each person truly believes they are right in their position. I use this silly example of the duck and rabbit – because it depicts how both people can be “right” and how it depends on what perspective is taken in looking at the picture. Obviously in this optical illusion, it can be pretty easily rectified that there is both a duck and a rabbit. The fact that there is not as clear of a distinction that both people can be “right” (and more so that their own experiences are valid) tends to be the sticking point in many interpersonal relationships.

So what is the answer? How do we resolve this dilemma? What do we do about this?

While a lot of things in our world are overly concerned with “the facts”, black and white answers and what is “right & wrong”, healthy relationships live in the gray area. Relationships that are flexible are much more likely to succeed and experience greater fulfillment over time.

I always tell couples that I work with that I am not here to play the judge and jury. Relationships that struggle tend take on this “me vs. you” and this right/wrong context that is similar to the feel of a courtroom. Noticing that you are caught in this right/wrong context is the first step to getting out of it and creating a new context. Several years ago when I was discussing my own relationship challenges with a mentor, I’ll never forget the painfully simple questions he asked me that quickly provided clarity (and a twinge of annoyance that it could be this simple and my ego did not like). He would ask me…

Would you rather be right or would you rather be in love?

Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?

The Most Important Ingredient

I know I’ve taken a long, winding path to get to get here. So I do plan on addressing the primary question of this post- “what is the most important ingredient to healing any relationship?”

I believe the answer lies in creating a new context of understanding. Building a felt sense of understanding is the bridge that can be connect any two people. Understanding is the one ingredient that contains the possibility to reinvent and transform any relationship regardless of what challenges and conflicts are present.

Before trust or intimacy, attraction or love can be present I believe there has to be a sense of understanding- a sense that you are hearing me, seeing me, learning about and connecting with my feelings and inner world; a sense that I matter.

In my work with individuals, couples and families, I focus on helping them build a new context based on understanding. What I find to be quite special is how accessing and finding this shared place of understanding seems to automatically yield the deeper fruits of love, intimacy, closeness and trust that they were desperately seeking in the first place.

Xavier Heditsian, MA, LPC

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