Stronger at the Broken Places

How challenges can strengthen your relationship

Going for the Real Gold!

And getting it out of the ground

"Even if you should own a gold mine, you still have to dig."

Linda: My friend Michael told me that his Bubbie (grandmother) shared this bit of wisdom with him about 50 years ago, and he has never forgotten it. His digging efforts have paid off in ways that he never could have imagined and Michael and his family have reaped the benefits. Michael knows that having the right answers isn't always enough. No matter how smart you may be, you still have to roll up your sleeves, get to work, and sometimes get sweaty and dirty in the process.

Over the many years of doing marriage counseling and teaching workshops, I've seen a lot of couples quit on their relationships when the going got tough. Many of them were sitting on a goldmine, but they didn't realize it. They gave up their claim. They didn't know that if they had done some more digging, they would have hit pay dirt. Others were willing to put the sweat work in but didn't know exactly what to do, and they hadn't received good instruction. Digging for the gold in a relationship has to do with using what the relationship brings up as a means of becoming more understanding of ourselves. Greater self-acceptance allows us to love others more fully. The more intense the feelings and reactions that we experience towards each other, the greater possibility to discover more about who we are and what we really need.

Of course, not every relationship can or should be saved. There are some genuine mismatches, but not nearly as many as people think. In most cases, it's not so much a matter of being with the wrong person as it is about not knowing how to deal with differences that inevitably exist in all relationships. This has to do with mastering certain skills and in the process developing the qualities and strengths that great relationships require.

Another friend of mine, Rachel, is an administrator in a local university. She tells me that a lot of the entering freshmen have a very tough time when they leave home and move onto campus. In many instances, they have become accustomed to being the main focus of their parents' lives and the loss of this attention can come as a shock to them. These intelligent young people sometimes have been over-indulged and may lack the strength and resourcefulness that is necessary to manage their own lives without the ongoing guidance and direction of a hovering parent. When things become difficult they are often tempted to move back home. If they haven't internalized the motivation and self-discipline that is necessary for skillful self-direction, they may drop out when no parent is there to oversee and help them with their homework. The requirements of independent living, demanding academic requirements, and adjustments to new social and dating situations can feel overwhelming to someone who hasn't had much experience meeting and mastering life challenges.

Many of these young people haven't yet developed the muscle to keep digging and bail out when the heat gets too high. But this need not be the case. Any aspect of our life, be it career, education, relationship, spiritual practice, or activity for which we possess a great passion can be a gold mine containing great riches. But it will take energy, effort, and time to extract the gold from the mine. It's up to each of us to keep digging, which isn't always easy. I've found, however, that with practice, the process gets a lot easier, even fun! After years of digging, the mines begin producing abundantly. In difficult times in particular, they yield returns that can be literally life-changing or life-saving! Digging deep into ourselves to cultivate our strengths, talents, and gifts, and bringing them out into the world can be a piece of work, but the payoffs for our efforts can exceed our wildest dreams!

Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., are the authors of Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples About Lasting Love.

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