Thursday, March 15, 2012

Staying Power: I Won't Give Up

Recently I heard a beautiful new song by singer/songwriter Jason Mraz called"I Won't Give Up."
It has a very pretty melody, but I especially liked the message of the lyrics. It always amazes me how music can go places and reach us in ways that words alone often can't.

Years ago, when I was working with cancer patients and doing hospice counseling, I had the honor of getting to work with an interdisciplinary team from the hospital that included a very gifted music therapist. She would play favorite songs or hymns for our mutual patients on the oncology floor at the hospital, or on our home visits with patients who were on hospice at the very end of their lives. Incredible things happened. Sometimes a patient who was relatively withdrawn or unresponsive would brighten and remember favorite songs from the past. They might even sing the lyrics from memory. Music can really impact each of us in powerful and healing ways.

At times, music can express emotional states and experiences, and capture them for us. With Mraz's new song, I felt moved by his message. "I Won't Give Up" is a powerful statement of resiliency, faith, and hope. When I am working at counseling couples, I am often struck by how much we need to dig deep and really try to learn and grow in intimate relationships.

It may seem easier to give up when we realize key differences between ourself and the other person, but the easiest choice isn't always our best path for growing into a stronger, more flexible, more loving person. Holding onto the resolve to choose to stay and grow can be a powerful life decision. If we give up easily, we avoid growth. Couples therapist and researcher John Gottman talks about each couple having a few perpetual, unresolvable issues. What matters is learning to dialogue about them with love and respect. Guess what happens if you trade in your partner and get a new one? Answer: You get a whole new set of perpetual,unsolvable issues you will come to identify within a couple of years. Grow now, or grow later. It's your choice.

There are situations where committed relationships should end. If your partner is abusive, refusing to deal with their addictive/chemically dependent behavior, or putting you and your children at risk with their dangerous behavior, you must act. You must give up to protect yourself and any children in such circumstances.

In many committed relationships, however, I encourage couples to dig deep and stay close through challenges. Mraz's song talks of hanging in there even if the"skies are dark." His lyrics also reference understanding differences with your partner, appreciating and accepting them. Mraz notes the value of learning to be flexible, and understanding how being a better, less rigid partner will help you grow personally. I often am struck by how powerful it is to help couples see that there are usually two correct (and different) perspectives on whatever issue they are stuck on. File this under,"Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?"

It occurs to me also with our children and teenagers, it is helpful to cultivate this "I Won't Give Up" mindset, even if they are going through a particularly difficult phase where they are acting out, rude, defiant, depressed, angry, etc. Keep on providing the calm, loving presence and set those limits. Get professional help. Find someone who can test and guide them if they are having learning issues. Find a good family therapist to help if the relationship between parent and child is breaking down. Work through it until you get to the other side. You will be glad you did for the rest of your life.

Even in thinking about individuals, this need to never lose hope is relevant. We may go through very difficult or disheartening experiences, but it is important to assess the impact, do extreme self care, and begin again. Some very challenging life experiences teach us, grow us, and tenderize us. I call it the Appreciation School of Life, because when better things happen later in life, you profoundly appreciate it. Don't give up on yourself.

I guess, upon reflection, I like Jason Mraz's new song so much because as a therapist, I feel much of what I spend my life working with people on is really, at the core, about resiliency and hope. Learning to grow from the losses and challenges in life is essential. Holding onto hope for rebuilding or strengthening your relationship, believing in yourself to go on, and not giving up on your children all have something in common. It all takes the ability to hang in there, and being open to learning and growing along the journey of your life. I wouldn't trade this work for any other work I can think of. It feels like a privilege to help people recapture their strength, hope, and ability to do better as they know more. Nice job, Jason.

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