Ada Rios-Rivera, PhD – Relationship Mythology: Suspension of Belief

“If we are only guided by other people’s thoughts what’s the point of having our own?” (Oscar Wilde)

"Fried Sweat" by Mika Rottenberg
“Fried Sweat” by Mika Rottenberg

The other day I was answering a friend’s questions about relationship mythology. An alternative to therapy, Relationship Myth is a unique approach to couples work. This model uses each partner’s story of their first meeting as well as the one they both share, as a toolbox for their relationship. The symbols, roles and narrative are potentially useful resources hidden in the relationship story. A couple’s story can be a narrative picture and evolving map of who they are and who they are not as individuals and as partners.

The biggest advantage of this approach to relationship work is that every couple gets to be the authority on their relationship. But as I explained this and other parts of the method to my friend, she kept asking, “So what does that mean?” And as she kept repeating her question I was reminded of another question that’s most certainly disturbed me, never ceases to provoke me, and without fail inspires me; what is the meaning of life? Despite its repeated appearance in my life and many days and years of trying to find an answer, I was unaware of its significance in this particular moment with my friend. So I quickly put it aside and attempted to answer what seemed to be the more pressing question, what does that mean?

But no matter what I said or how much I explained to her what a Mythological approach looked like, my friend’s “what does that mean” question, remained. So it wasn’t until she said that she thought individual and relationship myth was too ambiguous for her that I finally understood that my friend’s persistent question was unintentionally highlighting the most significant element and function of Mythology, which Joseph Campbell stated best. “Heresy is the life of a mythology, and orthodoxy is the death.” Our stories, our myths have the potential to transform our lives. But in order to truly live the myth of Myth we must use its dynamic energy for the change agent it is. And one of the best ways I know is to live the life energy that is so present and alive in our stories. Something is always happening in stories; the good, the bad and even all the in between are full with tension and potentiality. As readers, tellers or listeners of stories we are passive observers. But using our life and relationship stories everyday puts us right there living the story, experiencing it in the present, feeling all it’s energy and potential for meaning and change. Using the symbolism in our relationship myths is a unique and organic way of seeing ourselves as the ones with the answers to our own questions and challenges. The only constant is the original story. Who or what part of the story represents us is different with each life event, conflict, and curiosity. Using our stories gives us perspective and then changes our perspective. As these viewpoints change, we change and grow expanding our dialogue, our roles, relationships and our identities. Even when the story is the same for both/all people i.e., siblings, the meaning that emerges comes from their own unique imaginations and realities.

Wilde’s quote urges us to consider our own questions and doubts as seriously as we take others’. Answering my friend’s question meant clarifying that our Myths give us the symbols. We make them personally relevant. We live our stories into meaning.

So “what this means” is that we can use our own intuition, imagination, and even doubt to decide whether or not a perspective, an ideology, a political view, etc., is personally relevant. A return to our own story can serve as a reminder that it is most likely our intuition emerging from our Myth that makes one viewpoint more appealing than another. That moment of insight can be the start of discovering our own unique truth, authority and power. What we are attracted to or disturbed by can offer us information about ourselves. Believing in our intelligence means we trust that what we don’t know can be as informative as what we do know. That others will have their own questions and answers different from ours, means that our experiences and others realities, at the very least, become conscious and at the most, interesting.

Making questions personal sheds new light on them and eliminates assumptions that many of us approach questions with. Just as we changed the What is the meaning of life question to What is the meaning of my life, the What does that mean question can become What does that mean for me? For some of us changing the question may be all that’s needed to make an answer visible, for others it may be all that’s needed to make a question irrelevant. Sometimes both may be true. So what that means, is we can finally begin answering for ourselves and, in my mind, most importantly, to ourselves.

Ada Rios-Rivera, PhD

First published on Dr. Rios-Rivera’s blog, MYTHoughts, on August 31, 2013.