Notes from Windward: #61

Couples and Community

Part Three

It hardly news that communication is the bedrock of sustainable community, whether we're talking about a community of two or twenty. Our ability to cooperate is founded on our ability to communicate effectively with each other. We can only work together effectively if we understand our personal goals and the goals of the people we're working with, and then use that understanding to accomplish those objectives.

Lots of couples have problems in the area of communication, and for them, becoming part of a larger community is especially difficult. In some ways, a couple's sexual intimacy can facilitate communication, but just as often, the ancient agendas that sexual intimacy triggers get in the way. All too often, when that initial burst of passion fades, a couple will find that they don't have enough in common to make the relationship worth maintaining. Simply put, lovers don't have to be friends, but those who want a sustainable relationship do.

Much of the practice of creating community involves finding ways to build and celebrate friendship. When a couple focuses their emotional effort solely on themselves, neglecting the need to build bonds of friendship with the other members of the community, then that situation isn't likely to take root and flourish.

It's natural enough to cling to an old friend in the midst of a new and uncertain situation, but new people have to get over that and reach out to the community. We feel a definite responsibility to be accessible and welcoming, but the primary burden for insuring the development of those bonds has to lie with the new person for a number of reasons.

One reason involves the issue of timing. New folks come here for all sorts of reasons, the most common of which involves getting a chance to get a grip on themselves. Windward is intended to be a refuge for people in times of personal crisis and transition, and we know that a person needs to work through at least a portion of the baggage they bring with them before they're going to be ready to get on with the rest of their life. We understand that with the clarity of one who's been there, and are content to let the new people sort things out and decide the timing for themselves. It's the sort of thing in which too soon is almost as bad as too late.

Another reason is that the folks here are already integrated into the operation of the community. We all have tasks we've undertaken, interests of our own, and relationships that we want to maintain and enjoy. Since we're already engaged in community, we're in a very different place emotionally from someone who's just arrived. We remember what it was like to be the new kid, and really do care, but the new kid is the one who has to make the effort to get involved when the time is right and an opportunity presents itself.

As an aside, Joyce and I are the two people here who are most comfortable working with new people, and both of us were raised as military kids. That's a lifestyle in which you have to learn early on to adapt to new situations and make new friends on a regular basis.

It's easy for a couple to fall back into old patterns, and to overlook opportunities to connect with others, or even the need to connect with others, and yet unless those connections start to grow and multiply, they'll not be there when they're needed down the road to bind the community together.

The ambivalent feelings that the development of those bonds engender is another reason why new folk, be they singles or couples, have to take the lead in forming those connections; it's an attraction/adversion issue that each of us has to sort out individually. Everybody wants to be useful, but nobody wants to be used, and the difference between the two conditions is subtle and often in the eye of the beholder.

With every degree of freedom, there comes a commensurate degree of obligation, and with each form of empowerment there comes a heightened degree of responsibility. It's a journey of faith as the new person endeavors to thread their way through the transition from their old social context, which they understood but didn't like, to a new social context which they don't understand yet but have strong hopes for. It's a scary and uncertain journey, but in the words of the old hymn, "You got to walk that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yourself."

Part of our task is to stand back and allow that process to go forward in each person's unique way. The path to inner peace and self-respect is different for each person, and while we can share insights we've learned along the way, no two journeys are ever the same. About the best we can do as a community is to provide a supportive context within which each person can progress according to their own timetable.

If a couple sees their relationship as a means by which they strive to fulfill their individual potential, then there's no reason why they shouldn't prosper within the larger context of community relationship that functions the same way only bigger.

On the other hand, if they see their personal identity as submerged and conjoined into the couple relationship, then it's almost inevitable that they will see the larger context of community as being in conflict with their coupleness, and fairly soon will come to the point where hard choices have to be made.