Later this afternoon I’ll be teaching the first of a six-part class, Secrets of Successful Partners, at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center here in Lake County. It’s a course based on the PREPinc.com curriculum, with some additional embroidery from other sources. I used to teach it as Secrets of Successful Couples but changed the name to underscore the usefulness of the material for people in various kinds of intimate partnerships.
To get myself into the appropriate mindset for the class I dug out two of my tried and true “relationship books” – the ones that don’t focus specifically on sexual issues (I’ve got scads of those!). The two I chose were Fighting for Your Marriage by Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg (Markman and Stanley are PREP founders). But Paul Pearsall’s book, Partners in Pleasure, was the one I opened. Pearsall’s book is steeped in Hawaiian and Oceanic perspectives. Opening it again and reading the introduction was a bittersweet experience. I recently left a long-term (and mostly long distance) relationship with a Hawaiian elder, and I’d once hoped we could craft the kind of aloha kakou partnership that Pearsall describes in his book. But it was not to be. Of course, Fighting for Your Marriage is also bittersweet, as none of the excellent recommendations in the book would ever have been accepted or adopted by my ex-husband (not the Hawaiian elder) in order to nurture our marriage-with-children. He even refused counseling. Sigh.
So, with two such significant failed relationships in my own history, how do I even have the nerve to teach such a class? Well, for one thing, I’m a trained PREP facilitator and I know the material, and, well, you’ve heard about the “wounded healer” trope, right? So just consider me a “wounded educator” and let’s move on from there.
In thinking about the PREP curriculum, and what I’ll present on the first day, and in considering Pearsall’s basic premise, that establishing a “we consciousness” (which he refers to as aloha kakou) is paramount to a happier long-term partnership, I see (again and all too glaringly) that the most necessary component is the Willing Partner(s). I’m capitalizing this as if I am naming an archetype every bit as potent as the “Inner Child” or the “Wise Elder.”
I recall a recent conversation with someone who spoke about their “never does anything, won’t get out of the house” spouse. I sensed the frustration of this person who very much needs their partner to be more than just a lump in front of the television, the unspoken need to be with someone who will engage in the dynamic process of mutually assured co-creation.
Boy, I know the feeling. Even when I was pregnant with my (our) first child, I seldom experienced the kind of delight that I wanted from my husband, the expectant father. Other women have partners who take pictures of their swelling belly, who glory in the coming in child, who seem proud of the process. I don’t have one picture of myself during either pregnancy (or while breastfeeding either, sadly). Admittedly, my pregnancy was a bit of a disaster, with one week hospitalization and ten on strict bedrest. My husband was terrifically burdened as a result and escaped every Friday night to play poker with my sister and her husband. A special night set aside for me, even though I was flat on my back in bed to prevent going again into preterm labor, would have been lovely after being alone all day, every day, in such confinement. But, whatever. That was less important in the long run than the growing compartmentalization, the lack of sharing, and ultimately, the lack of willingness on his part to try to work out some substantial changes when we began to run aground, to engage in a process of repair. Yeah, I’ve got a lot to answer for in the later stages of this story, as my mid-life crisis turned to polyamory and higher education as a sexologist, but still… some active participation from him in saving OUR marriage through changing our patterns, could have interrupted our downward trajectory.
So as I sit with my students today and begin to share what I know, both from book larnin’ and hard won experience, my first emphasis will be on summoning forth the Willing Partner. Without one, and without being one yourself, there is no chance to grow, develop, or transform. If someone comes alone, whether single or in a committed relationship, that person will get some perspective and learn some valuable skills. The time will not be wasted. People who come to class with a loved one will have to gauge their own and the other’s willingness to try on something new – new skills, new perspectives, and a vista of new possibilities. If one or both shut down, nothing will happen.
To be willing, to be game, to take a risk of looking awkward or silly or formal in pursuit of greater mutal satisfaction and happiness – that’s the crux. You can’t use a remote to “change the channel” of intimacy.