Three weeks ago in Action, Application, Change I proposed that while action and application are important, what really matters is being willing to make changes and then deciding to make the needed changes. Sometimes real change is needed to make a significant improvement. Then last week in Denial is Not a River in Egypt I said that we have to be careful with change. Sometimes we are willing to change jobs, change mates, change friends, but never consider the possibility that what really needs to change is ourselves. It seems logical, not to mention more comfortable, to focus on the outside factors and influences we feel are responsible for our lack of joy and happiness.
There are two major problems with that approach: (1) outside factors fall into the category of “things I cannot change,” and (2) we end up focusing on symptoms of, or effects of, the real problems. What we need to focus on are what the real issues are, and determine what I can indeed change to make an improvement. And the one thing I have the most potential to control is me – how I view the problems, how I react to them and what action I take. With control comes the ability to determine needed change, decide to make the change, then taking timely action to do so and follow through.
These ideas are represented well in the first part of the well-known serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things (and circumstances and people) I cannot change, the courage to change the things (me) I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In addition to the wisdom and courage mentioned, decisiveness and determination are also necessary.
Since this blog is about love, I’ll share some more about sometimes changing the wrong thing in a marriage, changing mates. Last week I mentioned the myth of The Other, as in the other woman. When communication falters or fails, when the spouses grow in different directions with different interests, it seems logical to change the spouse. The myth of The Other was explained to me about 22 years ago at a dinner in a Swedish castle. We were a large group of European aviation officials, and the British gentleman sitting next to me insisted on sharing his personal lessons of the myth of The Other. Our waitress was a very attractive young Swedish woman who seemed extra attentive to me.
The British gentleman asked me if I was married, and when I replied that I was he said that he wanted to share from his personal experience. He went on to say that he was married for many years, but the communication between him and his wife decreased in both quantity and quality. They withdrew from each other and drifted apart. They each blamed the other for the distance and cooling of the relationship. Neither of them wanted to be the first to take a step closer, to give without taking or getting in return. Then it happened – an Other Woman caught his attention. He paid attention to the other woman, which she returned. They seemed to share a lot in common, and enjoyed many intimate conversations. It wasn’t long before intimate conversations turned to physical intimacy. He had found The Other Woman.
This gentleman was very frank and open. He explained that the intensity of the intimacy was not only heightened by the fact that it was shared with someone new and different, but the limitation of stolen moments and sneaking around intensified the feelings as well. Convinced that The Other was The One, he divorced his wife and married The Other. But The Other was now simply the wife. And the second marriage ended up with many of the same problems, but in much less time. He shared with me that a lot of the problems in the first marriage were problems he had with himself, and changing wives did not change or improve them. He said that the Myth of The Other was that by finding and marrying a different woman, he would be guaranteed happiness for ever after.
The British gentleman challenged me to think about what I could do to improve myself and my marriage, rather than admire the Swedish waitress or any Other Woman. As I shared last week, change is important. We have to be willing to determine what we need to change and then change it. But we need the wisdom of the serenity prayer to also know what really needs to change.
The coins in the photo at the top are ancient Roman denarii, silver coins first minted a couple hundred years before Christ. Each denarius was worth about $20 and was the daily wage of a common soldier. Not many things compare to digging up one of these coins over 2000 years later.