I must begin with a BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming in this post that I do this, can do this, or will do this in my relationships. I am merely setting out to teach myself a thing or two along with maybe a few of you. I can say, however, that the times I HAVE done this in either my most important relationships or my most trivial relationships, I have been much, much the better person for it, and I would hope the relationship has been the better for it too.
We are most of us, in several types of relationships. Whether spouse, partner, friend, family member, or co-worker, we are also most of us faced with times when the relationship goes off course or hits a bump or sometimes, threatens to implode or explode. When this happens, we have a choice to either ignore and let the situation flounder, fester, get worse, fall apart, slowly decay, or even die; or we can try to change the dynamics, fidget with the dance steps, and right the wrong. For this post, I use the metaphor of Righting the Ship — the RelationSHIP; and I would like to believe, that no matter where any particular relationSHIP ends, no matter what the port or destiny, it is very important to learn to make things right, at minimum for one’s own self, hopefully for both of the people in it, but ultimately because there is something BIGGER in a relationship between two people than either of the individuals by themselves. While no man is truly an island, some people do manage to go through life mostly in a little one-person dingy. And while my sailing through life alone in a dingy, can feel like freedom and can keep me from experiencing the rough waters of life that one is subjected to in any relationSHIP; in a little dingy by myself, I can never sail the “Seven Seas”, the great oceans, or ever reach the amazing shores that I can when I sail a relationSHIP with someone else. Sailing any relationSHIP with others is how we best learn to navigate our own lives.
But it isn’t easy to steer any course with someone else. Even just a little day-trip with a coworker can suddenly hit squalls. And those big relationSHIPS? — yowza! So many icebergs to avoid, big waves to bounce through, and irritating mates you have to bunk with! And so we need not only maps, compasses, oars, and life jackets — we need disaster plans, escape routes, and some flexibility amongst the crew. We also must have a huge dose of humility in the face of the unknown factors or uncontrollable elements. We must humble ourselves in any relationSHIP with the knowledge we have about the unfairness of the Fates, the unpredictability of the weather, or the hidden depths we can never truly know in both the world’s deep waters, and the unknowable deep depths of each human being.
By admitting at least to oneself, that one cares enough about both the relationship and one’s own inner peace and joy to do something about whatever happened to un-right or miss-steer the relationSHIP, we can at least keep ourselves from drowning in helplessness or hopelessness. And it is not always an admission of one’s personal responsibility, as much as it is an acceptance of one’s personal ability. In other words, I have the right and the responsibility and the ability to determine the importance of any relationship’s smooth sailing and my own smooth sailing with whomever I happen to be in a particular “relation — SHIP” with. And the longer and better we sail, or row, or steer any kind of relationships in this life, the more seaworthy we can become. It doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing, but it can help tremendously in keeping one from drowning or becoming sea-sick.
Imagine that a relationSHIP is just that — a ship. Ships come in all sizes and styles, and so do relationSHIPS. Think of your friend or co-worker as the other person in a rowboat. When that boat tips over or springs a hole and begins to fill with water, you are both going to be in a world of “wet” — tears and pain, or even a drowning if someone doesn’t do something. Don’t wait for the other person, but get to work on righting the boat. Of course, ultimately you hope that the other person will need and want to help you. No one should keep trying to fix a relationship that keeps breaking apart any more than someone should keep trying to patch holes in the bottom of a boat if your sailing partner keeps hammering holes into the hull. Swim for shore, friend, swim for shore! Abandon relationSHIP if there is no hope, and look for a new horizon. There will be a new person, whether life-mate or work-mate, to row or sail a relationSHIP with, all in good time. And just maybe the person you stopped trying to do everything for, trying to fix and right the sinking relationSHIP for, all by yourself, maybe he or she will stop knocking holes in relationSHIPS in the future, (maybe thanks in part to your own suffering self).
Some relationships are so special, meaningful, deep and large that they are like gigantic cruisers or warships. Don’t try to save the relationSHIP if you know for a fact it is the Titanic headed straight for the iceberg, or the big guns on the warship have started firing at the relationSHIP itself, instead of the enemy; but if the cruiser or the warship are basically seaworthy and your mate trustworthy, then you may have to be the one to be firm with your co-captain that the ship is badly sailing off-course, and take the time and energy to do whatever it takes — batten down the hatches, patch the hull’s holes, mend the sails, change course (sometimes drastically), or fight the pirates.
If the ship is basically water tight and usually sailing the right way to safe harbor, then during those times (and sometimes this may be daily), when the relationSHIP may hit some turbulence or even encounter a big iceberg up head, those should be seen as a time to call out a distress signal, and put all hands on deck, not to abandon the ship. And if you wake up to find you have somehow managed to go badly off course with someone you love, it only takes one person in a BIG relationSHIP to get out a trustworthy compass and to begin steering you both back to True North.
I love the music and lyrics of Joni Mitchel, but in her song, “A Case of You”, when she writes: “Just before our love got lost, you said “I am as constant as a northern star, “ and I said “Constantly in the darkness Where’s that at? If you want me, I’ll be in the bar” — Mitchel only gets it half right. She knows her own limitations in the relationship well, but she doesn’t have enough faith in her own abilities. Most of us don’t have enough faith in our abilities nor enough commitment to our responsibilities; and so we either look for a new relationship and abandon the current relationSHIP, or we stay on board, but we don’t row as hard, or care about how straight our direction, or we stop enjoying the view, and we just give up and just accept things the way they are in the current relationship. And sometimes, tragically, we let the whole “ship” sink without a fight. But any relationSHIP is worth some effort and some are worth a lot of effort.
So, let’s polish our oars and swab our decks and if necessary, learn to tread water a bit better and look at these suggestions on how to right a relationSHIP, for one day, one trip, a long cruise, a working season of fishing or tugboating, or a life-time of happier, more fulfilling, less “hole-y and more “holy”, more seaworthy sailing.
The R’s of Righting a Relationship
By Jane Tawel
1. RELEASE. If it’s a fight or argument or any situation with the other person that is getting out of control, apologize for what you are about to do and leave the person, the area, the conversation. Know that it is a bit of a power play, and do not do it until you absolutely must, but release the situation, and “walk away”. RELEASE the moment of conflict. RELEASE your need to have an immediate solution. RELEASE your power to bend the other person’s will or change their mind. Let go of a specific time frame to fix it. You want to fix it, but it doesn’t have to be right now. RELEASE yourself from your own immediate needs. RELEASE yourself and the other person from your feelings. Go away and on your own, alone, into the void of the universe, (not onto the other person) RELEASE your anger, hurt, fears, confusion, etc. RELEASE your grasp on your feelings and your justifications and your arguments. Let them go for however long it takes to find your center, your equilibrium, your mojo, your spirit, your peace, your words, your explanation, your questions, your identity, YOURSELF. When the relationSHIP has begun to speed out of control, HIT THE BRAKES, take down the sails that have inflated with too much windiness, and RELEASE the relationSHIP’s runaway energy that is steering your ship in a dangerous direction. Then take a:
2. REST. This is not always easy, but completely necessary, even if you are at odds with a boss or co-worker, and it isn’t your break-time. Sometimes we are in a relationSHIP in which we are chained like a slave to the underbelly of that relationSHIP at work or even in the family situation at home. At minimum, take a bathroom break (without a phone so you can’t call some one up to vent to), but if possible, take a walk outside. (Fresh air can clear our minds and rest our souls). After you have released yourself from the situation, REST EVERYTHING. Rest your emotions, your body, your mind, and your spirit. This means you can not do any work on any of them. Stop thinking about anything (use deep breathing or a mantra or hum some silly ditty). Stop feeling (recognize feelings as something you can now control now that you have walked away from their cause). Stop doing (whatever your body is doing it should be “play”, not work for it to feel rested). And Stop “spiritualizing” (if you pray, don’t — you can get help later after you have rested and usually prayer at this point will be about the problem you just RELEASED, so give yourself a REST). If you are stuck at a desk, or next to a sick bed, or with someone you must share space with, at least close your eyes, breathe deeply, and completely empty your mind and relax your body for as long as you can get away with it. If this is a home relationship conflict that you have just RELEASED yourself from, REST as long as you possibly can. Even if you need to read a book or watch a show, or take a walk (without your phone), or sit or lie down (even take a nap) in a private place, do it. The important thing is to DO NOTHING about the conflict, and do nothing that will just detour the stress onto something or someone else. Take an attitude of REST from the situation as long as you need to, even if you have to do it for a day or a week, (longer than that is usually not very helpful for either you or the other person), but REST for as long as you can or as long as you need to. Do not feel guilty; feel instead the toll the problem in the relationSHIP has taken on you, and the effects of the depletion or the added weight that your recent disagreement has had on your emotions and your inner strength, and REST. Regain your strength before heading from your berth back to being on-deck. Think of the recent conflict as if it were the last leg of a very hard race and you have rowed or manned the sails or the wheel, until your arms ache and you absolutely must take time to recuperate before heading back to the relationSHIP to do your part in steering, full-speed ahead. Relationships, no matter of what kind, take work and if yours just involved a lot of work without seeming to “get you anywhere”, then you need to take time before trying to recalibrate your direction and set sail again. You can re-navigate the course much better after you REST.
3. REJUVENATE. This is another way of saying RENEW. This can be either a time when I REJUVENATE my own thinking about the relationship, the problem or conflict, or renew some old thinking about myself; OR it can be a time when I RENEW my desire to see the other person with more kindness, more understanding, more desire, more acceptance, more adjustment, more humility, or just more need to make things right between us. REJUVENATING can not be forced however, and until there is a spark of this RENEWAL or perhaps sense of “wholeness” inside me, I can’t get the relationSHIP righted. Think of this idea of REJUVENATION like fixing the battery of a big boat. It may only take a spark, but eventually there have to be two jumper cables to attach in order to REJUVENATE the source of energy and life. There has to be a spark of energy to get the battery up and running again, but until you have let things cool down, you shouldn’t try to jump-start the RENEWAL process. Until there is that spark of desire or some idea about how to RENEW the energy needed to right the relationship, it is best not to force it. On the other hand, you can’t keep the ship going forward without some new and added energy and whether that is from a jump-start to the old battery, or some new wind in the sails, or some duct-tape on a broken oar, you will want to find the energy to REJUVENATE towards the future journey and up-ahead horizon. On the flip side, you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bilge water or forget all the things you have already learned or shared in your time together in any particular relationSHIP. So — -
4. REMEMBER. One of the greatest ways to REJUVENATE the relationship besides giving it new life, is to REMEMBER. This can be something you do together as soon as you have RELEASED, RESTED, and REJUVENATED; remembering with the other person if you are feeling strong enough to do that, or you can REMEMBER just by yourself. REMEMBER the good times, recall the good things about them, pull up memories no matter how small about shared vision, accomplishments, or tears or laughter. But, you can also strengthen your ability to right the relationSHIP by REMEMBERing your own past accomplishments in your own life, in this relationship and in other relationships that may seem to have nothing to do with this one. Reminding yourself of your strengths, your abilities, your accomplishments, and your successful relationship moments can hone your skills and give you faith and hope in the one you are dealing with now. REMEMBERing the good things and good times in and with the other person specifically, and the strength and successes and good times generally in yourself and your own life, will take away some of the fears about your abilities to navigate these particular waves that may have buffeted or bashed up your relationship in the present. If possible, REMEMBER the fun, the joy, the mutual accomplishments (whether that is a project or a child), the strength you found in each other and together, and let the memories grab like strong arms and open hands, onto each side of your overturned relationSHIP and right it. Then when the boat is right-side up in your mind and hopefully in the other person’s because you have shared those memories — THEN you can begin to bail out the water that threatened to capsize the two of you. Bailing out the dirty water left over after you have righted the ship, means you —
5. REJECT. This doesn’t mean I REJECT the other person, or the other person’s feelings or ideas of how to solve our smaller immediate issue or our long-term bigger problems. What I REJECT is a need to go backwards and REGURGITATE the disagreement. Have you ever tried to row a boat backwards or back a ship into dock? It isn’t easy and it isn’t advisable. This doesn’t mean we will not have to REVISIT the problem in the relationSHIP, but we should first REJECT any notion of picking up the same broken oars or tattered sails or stubbornly sailing in the wrong direction toward a rocky, undock-able shore. Don’t let the Sirens’ song tempt you to prove you were right and he was wrong and lull you into a false sense of happiness or sense that you are “winning”. And do not let your feelings rise up like dead pirates from a watery grave to convince you that there is buried treasure in what you feel or imagine to be “out there”, rather than the true treasure in what you already have — right there in the relationSHIP.
6. RECOMMIT. This is when you begin to bail out the water, together. I can do this alone, and if I really value the other person, and have an understanding of him or her that lets me know they just can’t help bail us out right now, I may begin the hard work of bailing out alone and by myself. Eventually I have found, if I managed to RELEASE, REST, REJUVENATE, and REMEMBER, then I can RECOMMIT and give the other person some time or cut them slack. Maybe the next time they will be the one bailing me out of the mess we got our relationSHIP into, so I want to take the long view and see important relationships as worth bringing safely home to shore, even if the other person can’t “get on board” with that yet. I do hope though, that in any truly worthy relationship, the other person will want to join me in that commitment to the work of mending, recalibrating, fixing, redirecting, and righting the relationSHIP before it completely tips over and sinks. When she does, that is when I know the relationSHIP is worth the hard work it takes to keep sailing forward. When both of us commit to figuring out how to navigate the present and future journeys together, then we RECOMMIT to something bigger than either of us — the relationSHIP. Somehow, then we are not just two deckhands, or two captains of our fate, left to the whims of weather or the world, but there is a THIRD identity that we make together — we are the relationSHIP. This has an almost mythical quality, when we remember that ships have long been personified by sailors, captains and crews. Ships and boats and seas and all that go with them, are symbolic of those eternal ideas and ideals, and crossing all cultures and people-groups throughout time.
In terms of relationSHIPS, I want to mention here, briefly that we are usually most concerned with those we have between the sexes or with those who identify as a different gender than ourselves (our spouse or partner), or in families, perhaps even with those who are the same gender we are but manifest it differently due to age, or power structure, or understanding of identity. But if we maybe step back, and think that in deep, important relationships especially, we can be more aware of both the feminine and masculine attributes each of us has, we can understand the yin and yang, or the push and pull of our individual and mutual needs, desires, and understanding of our destination. For now, can we all just try to channel our inner “feminine” spirits. Think of the mastheads on ships, which are always female. Thinking of my own part in righting relationSHIPS as more feminine in spirit, as opposed to a more masculine understanding of my psyche, can not only help me find the right kind of strength, but can help me look at the other person as more complicated, more mysterious, but also more understandable than I might otherwise do. He or she is just like me, both feminine and masculine — and also completely mysterious to me, depending on my own current balance or imbalance between the two sides of myself. I think, reaching down into our inner “female-strength”, can tell us a lot and help us a lot, if we are willing, (for both those of us who are male or female in gender or character). To right a relationship that has been attacked by the sirens of our need for power or fear of vulnerability or just our plain mistakes or wrongness in what we have done as part of the “crew”; we might all do well to meditate on that “feminine” quality we all have (or should?), that part of us that wants to be both cared for and taken care of, that “nurturing” side that is in all of us. If you can’t do this, perhaps you can at least see your important relationSHIPs as the old sailors saw their real ships. The relationSHIP has its own type of feminine power and its own ability to nurture, just like sailors once thought the ship had its own goddess or mother power to protect and nurture and care for those sailing her.
7. REACH-OUT. Seriously, this is perhaps the most obvious but also the hardest. Don’t let the other person drown. REACH OUT a hand to save them. We all do love to be needed and it is easy to watch a little too long as our partner flails around in the watery depths, not knowing how to get back to the safety of a healthy relationSHIP, while watching us with-hold our hand or refuse to throw our mate a life-jacket. Don’t watch too long, or the person really might decide it’s better to risk drowning or to wait for another relationSHIP to come along so they can board that one instead of yours. But if you are the one that seems to be drowning and you can’t seem to get back on board or find the desire to grab onto the side of the relationSHIP and get back to work on the relationSHIP, at least tread water until you can find your strokes. If you can’t yet imagine wanting to mend the tears in the sails or the breaks in the hull, at least just grab the hand your partner is reaching out to you. Don’t reject that helping hand because it isn’t being reached out in the way YOU would do it, or the life-jacket looks a bit flimsy or dirty, or you want her to jump in the water and risk your pulling her down with you. Just do it, grab on, seaweed and all, and get back on the boat. Don’t float around in the flotsam and jetsam waiting for a better way to stop drowning — REACH OUT. Get back on the boat however you manage to scramble up there. There is time then to — -
8. REASSESS. In a relationship, whether with a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent, or a coworker, we all have to eventually REASSESS. REASSESS your capabilities, your desire, your options, and the seaworthiness of the relationSHIP at that particular place and time. It may be that the crew has changed, and it’s time to let your mate or the once children now grown, have more responsibility in the steering department. It may be that you have had a successful run, and now it is time to retire and take up fishing from the shore. It may not be worth your working so hard or taking the time for this journey you have recently embarked on, but you may want to take a trip with it later. At the same time, the relationSHIP may not be something you want to continue to crew. This may involve looking at the relationSHIP as ultimately unseaworthy, and you need to jump ship before you go down with it. But usually, you have just hit a bad wave, or you have fallen overboard but you can get back on, or you have had some really, really, really bad weather, but you still want to keep rowing ahead with the person who has had the other oar all this time.
The end of a relationship is usually not because the craft has suddenly hit bad weather, or suddenly one of you changes your rowing style. No, usually your relationSHIP has been gradually inching its way off-course. But most relationSHIPS are worth at least some fixing, some help, some learning and growth, even if the crew changes. It is usually, in the end, more a matter of REASSESSing the situation not REASSESSing the relationship.
Before I let a situation irrevocably change my relationship, I should ask: Is it a deal breaker that will eventually cause the relationSHIP to steer into an iceberg of irredeemable consequences? Or is it something that I and the other person can both steer around and recalibrate the speed at which we were going? Is this situation salvageable, with a little elbow grease maybe, but perhaps better equipped and seaworthy in the long run? Is it a matter that will take some hard work together, but can ultimately lead the relationSHIP to a better shore, a brighter vista, a home where even a Crusoe or a family of Swiss Robinsons can live happily ever after? Or is the glitch in the smooth sailing of the relationSHIP really, as so often it is, something so small and inconsequential, something like a pigeon pooping on the deck, but which got all out of proportion, and was blown- up into a “sh*&%$#t storm”? In that case, we just need to say, “well, that was a bunch of pigeon poop! Let’s swab the deck and get back to the sailing ahead, my Matey.”
If we are honest, most of the time, no matter what type of relationship we are talking about, when we hit a snag, we tend to see icebergs when there really are none. The mirage of dangers ahead when we have a disagreement with someone can persuade us to actually steer toward a real danger that we don’t see or imagine. This is the opposite of the tragedy of the Titanic. I call this the Robert Peary- RelationSHIP Conundrum. Seeing something that isn’t there can cause the relationSHIP to go just as far adrift and off -course as not seeing something that is there.
The joy of relationship with my child.
9. Finally, to right a relationSHIP — RESTORE. This last step is the hardest, but also the most beautiful. If one of you ends up with a broken oar, you need to fix it or get another. Don’t make the other person row without one. If you have worn off the paint on one side of the boat by coming in too fast to dock at the pier, you will need to take some time to RESTORE the luster and beauty of that boat. It may be something you don’t want to do, but this is a lot easier than buying a whole new boat. True, it will not be the same as when the relationSHIP was brand new, but working on a RESTORATION together, can even end up making the boat more seaworthy and more beautiful. Even if the relationSHIP however, has truly crashed into the shoals, and there is no saving it, you can still work on some RESTORATION. At first, this might mean you can not bail on the other person and jump on board right away to another relationSHIP. Eventually, you may not both end up on the same ship, but you can still do some RESTORATION. Alone or together.
You may need to restore your own equilibrium, maybe take some courses in how to be better at whatever your last “job” was in a personal or professional relationship, maybe get some therapy to get over the traumas that caused this particular relationSHIP to crash and bust apart. Eventually you may even find you can RESTORE at least the peace between you and the other person. This may involve a long, long wait and it may involve a willingness for both of you to “investigate” the real cause of the shipwreck of your relationship. It will involve forgiveness of yourself and the other person but also at least a RESTORATION to communicating your hopes that both of you will have smoother sailing in your separate futures and hopefully, that your time on the deck of your relationSHIP together has made you both better at crewing and captaining your own relationSHIPS now.
The very best RESTORATION, though, comes when you and the other person RESTORE the relationSHIP together. This should be our goal in all the things and people who matter. Neither I nor the other person can ever really restore ourselves to some idea of our “original -self”, but we can RESTORE the things — the essences — that make up the original intent and purpose and greater good and higher meaning of the US. When we RESTORE, we understand that the relationship is so much more important than either of us on our own.
There is a “holiness”, an “eternity”, a “sacredness” that may exist in each one alone, but to know what is truly all that a human being was created to be, we must accept that true wholeness is when one is with some one other than just one’s self. Relationships no matter the importance, the length, or the circumstances are what keep the true horizons of life and keep us focused on the safe shores and the ultimate goal in view as we steer our own small crafts through life. Being with another person, whether partner, friend, boss, or family member gives me a vision of other vast seas, unimaginable depths, and glorious vistas; and allows me to live into the mysteries that surpass my presumptions. As Emily Dickinson wrote:
“As if the Sea should part And show a further Sea — And that — a further — and the Three But a presumption be — Of Periods of Seas — Unvisited of Shores — Themselves the Verge of Seas to be — Eternity — is Those — “
If you have given up on a relationship or your relationship is truly and permanently busted apart, never to set sail again, I would recommend you at least not give up on other people or on yourself. For a while, you may need to see yourself as a lonely sailor, who will, like a relational Odysseus, have to Right the Relationship of yourself to others, even if it is scary and lonely and you aren’t very sure you have the heroism it will take. And if you are in a relationship that you are afraid has hit a pretty bad shoal, or you seem to have misplaced your oars, don’t give up. Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on the other person and don’t give up on yourself.
Be that which makes each of us the very best person one can be — a sailor who knows she can not sail for long alone. We will only see the highest stars, and set the firmest course, and only reach our most sacred shores, when we keep our relationSHIPS righted and right.
My great teachers about relationships
In closing, I would like to look at this idea of Restoration from another difficult endeavor and point of view — the restoration of a work of art. It is interesting, if you have ever had the privilege, to watch an art restorer work on a valuable painting. The restorer can not of course restore something to its original — that “ship has sailed” for good, passed away into the history of different materials and the original artist long gone. No one can step into the same place in a stream twice, not even a brilliant art restorer. But the art restorer will do his or her very best, using all the skills and knowledge and imagination, history, and creativity possible to restore the beauty and integrity of the original painting, before it was damaged or allowed to decay.
This is our job in any relationship, to use every possible means to restore beauty and integrity to our own life and to the lives of those who choose to share life with us. We can not try to do the impossible and go back in time to an original idea of what a relationship was, and if we can not fix the damage, we need learn to live with the damage, heart-breaking as it may be. We may not be able to restore a relationship and with sorrow but more wisdom, we may need to move on to something we can work on, and restore. The new some thing won’t make the old damaged painting any less special, but will add a new layer of paint to our pallet, and bring a new sense of our own and others’ beauty, and allow us to embark on a different but no less artistic and beautiful endeavor. We should feel sad if we can not restore a relationship, but it can still hang in the halls of our memories and make us better at restoring the art of our lives and those of others in the future.
Our task at present, may be a restoration of the classic art we already have, or it may not. The old can not be made the same but it can be restored. And even if I must paint something new, by that I can restore something within my own artistic, relational soul. Either way, we must RESTORE our faith in our own artistic vision and our abilities to live and love, work and play, and imagine and create.
I hope that by doing the work and these suggested practices to right a relationship, we can set sail with new direction and greater joy in our relationSHIPS.
Welcome aboard, land lubbers. Avast, mateys! Ships Ahoy! — Jane
By John Masefield
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.