Saturday, December 3, 2016

What's Good Enough?

Several of my clients have been looking at their marriages lately, for a variety of reasons. One couple -- while their marriage is already more than good enough -- wanted some fine-tuning and gave rave reviews of a workshop I recommended with Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Seattle, "The Art and Science of Love." 

With a client who wants to refresh her marriage, we began exploring "what's good enough?" I learned about this concept from Carolyn Bartlett, who uses it in
The Enneagram Field Guide. Initially coined by psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, "good enough" describes a nurturing relationship that provides the basic safety, love, mirroring, and containment needed by a developing child. It's also a template for effective therapy. And we can easily extend it to effective partnering in adult relationships.

Interestingly, healthy "containment" is not restrictive. Quite the opposite: the term refers to an emotional, mental, and spiritual space where both partners are available, expansive, and secure; where both feel calm and safe; where each can experience and express perspectives and emotions -- with the expectation of support and comfort, and without fear of judgment or rejection.

Clearly, this definition of "good enough" does not mean compromising or lowering standards. It simply recognizes the fact that no human being and no partnership of any kind is or has to be perfect. And it inspires open communication to make sure each partner's needs are being met.

In "Bad Relationships: Change your Role and the Rules of Engagement," Dr. Tara J. Palmatier quotes Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:" criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Palmatier suggests two scenarios that can have "mutually satisfying, long-term relationship outcomes" (the remaining eight are "either 'get out now' or 'live a life of resignation' outcomes"). In response to your concerns, your partner could:

  1. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, and actively try to change.
  2. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, communicate which of your behaviors are contributing to the situation, and you both actively try to change.
From a systemic view, I prefer the second scenario, and suggest that you also (1) look together at how the pattern operates that you've created together, and (2) agree on an interesting and inventive way to interrupt the pattern. Michelle Weiner-Davis addresses this in Divorce Busting, especially Chapter 6: "Breaking the Habit: Interrupting Destructive Patterns."

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