The Path to Freedom and The Four Pillars were tested

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The past few weeks have been both happy and sad for my wife and I. We have just got back from a fantastic week in London, where we successfully planned out our next move and had a lot of fun doing it. In the time leading up to this, we were both struck down by an episode of covid, which left us both feeling quite weak. I can say with absolute certainty that the COVID virus is not like the flu. I have never before experienced such intense pain. The inability to breathe, cramping in the throat, and general discomfort made life difficult. My wife, on the other hand, had it much worse. She was bedridden for approximately three weeks and lost the ability to smell and taste for approximately two weeks. We were blessed with sufficient health to take pleasure in our trip.

During this time, our relationship was put to the test, and we needed to make sure that the groundwork for our relationship continued to be stable. The “four pillars,” which are further broken down into their respective categories below, make up the foundation. In our particular situation, not only were the two additional pillars of communication and conflict management put to the test, but so was my own “Path to Freedom” as well. We were each other’s only resource, but neither of us particularly felt like assisting the other, which led to tension between us. As a couple, we have enough resilience to deal with this challenge. We have overcome a lot of obstacles that might have caused other couples to break up. The challenges of moving across continents, having different backgrounds, and so on have helped bring us closer together.

Things returned to normal very quickly after we had a healthy discussion about the lessons that could be drawn from this experience. It prompted me to think back on a podcast that we recorded some years ago, in which we discussed how The Four Pillars applied to our lives. Things are different now compared to back then, but it was still fascinating to hear it again. You can listen to it above, and an explanation of The Four Pillars will follow below.

It’s comforting to acknowledge that a wealth of theories, models, and beliefs exist, illuminating the factors that contribute to a long-lasting relationship. Numerous resources are now at our fingertips, encompassing all facets of this complex topic. The existence of these resources can be seen as an encouraging sign of the potential to rejuvenate relationships and dodge frequent obstacles. Venturing into a commitment requires courage, and it’s a comforting reminder that such bravery paves the way for remarkable accomplishments. Trust in your capabilities and continue pressing forward.

For many years, I have been there for couples in turmoil. Often, they seek therapy when their relationship is at its weakest. Yet, it’s heartening to know that together, we can strive to better their circumstances. While it’s true relationships may undergo decline, the recognition of these patterns and their causes can be seen as the initial step towards enhancing and fortifying the relationship. There’s an optimistic potential for change. Sometimes, the necessary effort may not be put in immediately. But there’s a sense of optimism that the future may spark a renewed willingness to invest. Often, the foundational elements of a relationship are taken for granted and gradually deteriorate. The keyword here is “foundation”. There’s a promising prospect that couples who acknowledge and uphold the four pillars of this foundation stand a good chance of progressing their relationship to a rare and enviable level. Some may have more pillars, but the four that I’m about to mention appear to be the most crucial in my experience.

Remain hopeful for honesty, respect, trust, and mutual benefit – you are deserving of these!

Trust. It may necessitate time and effort, but the restoration of trust issues to cultivate a robust, healthy relationship is a hopeful possibility. Through consistent communication and effort, the encroachment of jealousy, suspicion, and accusation can be prevented, thereby reinforcing this pillar. The experiences of numerous couples struggling with significant trust issues yet managing to stay together are a testament to this. Defensive barriers may emerge, but remember, we always have a choice when dealing with a partner who has breached trust. Our past experiences and conditioning can be turned around to bring about positive changes in the present. In cases where trust issues exist for either or both partners, addressing these becomes critical for the survival of the relationship. Trusting your partner truly involves sharing a part of yourself for them to cherish and nurture. This vulnerable side is often concealed. The act of trust signifies an invitation into your personal world, your special space. Trusting others may pose challenges, but the resulting rewards make it a precious gift.

Honesty. This appears quite straightforward, doesn’t it? The goal of honesty is universally shared, and striking the right balance between sharing adequately and oversharing is vital. Couples are presented with an opportunity to concentrate on building a bright future together rather than ruminating on the past. It’s worth reminding couples that their shared past started the day they decided to join together, everything prior is extraneous. This is premised on the existence of basic honesty within the relationship and an absence of fabrication. True honesty can reinforce your relationship by enabling you to be emotionally open with your partner, even if it proves challenging at first.

Respect. This seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? The initiation or sustenance of a relationship with someone lacking respect would appear unfathomable. However, individuals may often find themselves in situations where their partner disrespects them. But, there is a hopeful glimmer. It’s not uncommon for individuals to rationalize such behaviors with statements like “that’s just their nature” or “they were raised that way”. But through concerted effort and communication, partners can work through these issues and establish a healthier relationship. The subtler indicators of respect, rather than the glaringly obvious ones like name-calling and domination, are also essential to consider. Often, it’s the little things that make a difference: remembering special moments, promises, and maintaining your word are all integral. For instance, I recall a couple from my therapy sessions. The wife disclosed that her husband often forgot things once they were out of his immediate sight. Deeper exploration revealed that he tended to change his plans or commitments without informing her as soon as he was amongst his friends or family, which left her feeling disrespected and frustrated. This disrespect resonated in other areas of her life as well. Perhaps his awareness will come in time, thus maintaining the spark of hope.

Mutual Benefit: This principle offers an exciting prospect for both parties involved, signifying the potential for an equitable and positive partnership. While it may not be immediately apparent, this pillar is just as critical as the others for a strong relationship foundation. The understanding of this pillar still holds promise. The hope lies in finding a way to fulfill our needs in a healthy, balanced manner through meaningful connections. This implies both partners are capable of giving freely without expecting immediate reciprocation, valuing the relationship and the person they’re with. Receiving without feeling obligated to return instantly is a mutual possibility. This doesn’t translate to one partner sacrificing themselves for the other’s happiness and presence. It implies that both partners have an equal opportunity to give and take in the relationship. Despite observing an absence of mutual benefit frequently in my work, I strongly believe that if mutual benefit doesn’t exist in a relationship, it’s time to move on, underscoring its importance.

In ensuring the presence of all the above-mentioned pillars, the foundation will naturally strengthen over time. Keep your hopes high for honesty, respect, trust, and mutual benefit in your relationships. You’re worth it!

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Russell Edwards

    Fantastic article Dr Jenner. I really enjoyed it. I particularly enjoy you talking about your own relationship. What do you advise for someone who is not only disrespected, but at times despised? All intimacy long ago denied.

    1. Hi Russell. Thank you for your comment. That ‘someone’ seems to be in a very precarious situation. One would wonder why that ‘someone’ would accept this behaviour.

  2. Bob

    Thanks Dr Jenner. I am really enjoying your articles.