Men and women around the world have found America’s pursuit of freedom inspirational.
An Outsider’s Perspective
I was talking to a recent female immigrant from the Ukraine. She was having trouble following the conversation concerning the Religious Freedom Act. She didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
“Aren’t you the freest country in the world?” she asked.
In essence she was asking—“What is your problem? Don’t you get how lucky you are to be here?”
What she missed is how in democracy, in relationships and in life there is an ongoing evolution. No matter what we have gained. We always need to be vigilant to ensure that our lives continue to evolve and our freedoms remain fresh and alive.
True Freedom Comes from Commitment
Currently, our commitment to freedom and self-expression is hurting our relationships. Women can pursue careers not just work, they expect a voice in the direction of the family and the relationship, and they expect men to do many things that were once considered “women’s work.“
Many men are working hard to embrace these changes even though they are often confused about how to be effective in their role as husband, father, or lover. Many men aren’t even sure how to be a man any more. Our freedom and the variety of choices available have left many men confused and uncertain.
Out of the confusion, I see many people focusing heavily on creating their own independence and self-expression within their relationships. They are missing that there is something greater than themselves. There are the needs of a healthy relationship.
They are not asking often enough- “What does our relationship need to thrive?” “How do we compromise our personal needs for the needs of the both of us?”
Freedom is only true freedom when it is within the context of something greater than ourselves. Men and women have been sacrificing for the freedom of our country since before we existed as a country. Their sacrifices were for freedom for others and also for themselves. They took a stand that they would give of themselves for something greater.
Freedom in Our Relationships
Luckily the freedom in our relationships rarely needs to be won by risking our lives. Yet there is something greater than our own needs. “What sacrifices do we need to make for our relationship to thrive? What kind of relationship do we want to model for our children?”
I can hear the appropriate screech as women read these words. ‘We have been sacrificing for centuries’ could easily be the chorus from women. Sacrifice for the relationship alone is not the answer. Of course they are accurate. What women often miss is that they have won the battle.
Many men are willing and able to step up to a more interdependent relationship. They are willing to sacrifice for the relationship. Men have begun to understand that uneven compromises leave their partner feeling victimized and is destructive to the relationship. Although there are still plenty of men who want to control and dominate their relationships, often women are fighting against domination, not seeing that men understand that they must share the power, the responsibility and the burdens of the relationship.
Couples in Therapy
Often a woman will drag her husband into therapy. She will be angry and critical. There will be a volcano of problems that she will share. The husband will cower in the corner of the couch and listen to the torrent of accusations.
As I work with them both, she will continue to heap on her complaints. Each time he attempts to step up and respond, he is beat back by her angry accusations. I often will have to pull the woman aside.
“What do you want?” Do you want the marriage to succeed?” Often the answer is ”Yes I want the marriage. I just want him to understand how much he has hurt me. I want him to understand that my complaints are valid and important.” My response is often. “He understands.
You have won. He gets it. He is here and ready to engage. He wants to find a way for this relationship to work together. You have to calm down. The anger that got his attention and forced him to take you seriously will not allow you to heal this relationship.”
When the person who has become angry because they weren’t being heard begins to understand that they can get their needs met, there is an opening for healing. Each person needs to express themselves and begin to find the road back to remembering their love and the life they wanted to create together. Then they can find that healthy relationship that is greater than either of them.
That relationship that allows them the freedom to be themselves within the stability of an ongoing commitment to another. What they come to realize is that the bond that binds them can give them a foundation to go into the world and express themselves. From the sacrifice, from the constraints of something greater than ourselves, can come the foundation to allow them to go forward into the world much more powerfully, with more freedom, and with more fulfillment.
Whether it is a marriage, an empowering business relationship or a cause we believe in, our greatest ability to be ourselves and to be free comes when we connect to something greater than ourselves and fully commit to it.
Allen Rader, LCSW – Allen is a therapist, entrepreneur and founder of ATS Wellness and Therapy: therapy and wellness strategies and occasionally writes for Indyatwork.com, a business blog for the Indianapolis community. He enjoys assisting people in transforming their lives rather than just learning to cope with the challenges of life.