We all have keepsakes, items that are the physical incarnation of an event, a memory, a relationship… talismans through which we can remember. Oddly enough, there are individuals who gather around themselves a disproportionate amount of keepsakes as a way of not remembering: Not remembering a painful event, a horrific relationship, a disappointment; we call these people “hoarders”. There is a TV series entitled “Hoarders” whose double-episodes usually focus on individuals and their struggle with this illness. In most of the episodes the individual is convinced that their way of living “works” for them, despite the evidence of dysfunction in their environment and their relationships. In some of the episodes the individual sometimes reaches out for help, but more often than not their family steps in demanding change, or the city even threatens change via eviction.
Being dysfunctional manifests itself along a spectrum, of which hoarding is but an extreme. Like the hoarder who convinces himself that his life is working, a relationship may be viewed by its participants as “working” despite the evidence of arguments, bruises, slamming doors, and the over-whelming desire to be “away from” rather than “with”. Sometimes we ignore the dysfunction in a relationship because we can’t figure out how to change it, or we fear the unknown that changing it implies.
I knew a couple… let’s call them Fred and Lucinda… who, as was clear to everyone but themselves, were in a dysfunctional relationship. Fred often said one thing while meaning another, thereby confusing Lucinda. She became volatile at any suggestion that she was being unreasonable, which volatility was often accompanied by flying objects. He said that he would do something, and then didn’t. She blamed him for being the way that she was. One day a long-time friend of both sat them down and said, “If you will both go for 6 sessions with this Marriage Counselor friend of mine, after the 6th session I will give you each a $1000, no questions asked.” Surprisingly, the one thing they agreed upon was going for the money! By the end of the 6th session Lucinda was still volatile, but she no longer threw things. Fred had learned to be courageous and clearly say what he meant. After the 6th session, instead of bringing up evidence from the past they both focused on a future together, a future that now included $2000!
Changing is often not an easy task because how to go about it seems so unclear. Fred and Lucinda are proof that there is life beyond confusion and fear! The reason that Fred and Lucinda’s relationship became a healthy one was because… beyond the original bribe of the money… they each wanted to be different than they were, and that desire had grown out of their recognition that the way they were was not working. Is your life working? Could it, and you, be different? Could it be better?