Good Relationships Are Hard Work

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When it comes to relationships, Lee Kennedy and William Houdek have been there and done that.

The two Rim Guidance counselors (officially referred to as behavioral health professionals) are both happily married, but they went through their fair share of relationships before they figured it out.

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Lee Kennedy, Rim Guidance Center counselor

Kennedy was married four times, each for less than a year, before she met her current husband of 15 years.

"The vaguer your idea of what you think you want, the harder time you're going to have," Kennedy said "It was trial and error for me.

"I had absolutely not a clue what would work for me, so I married the boy who lived on our block who we all grew up with. I knew this kid since I was five and still never got that his was a highly conventional, hierarchical male thing.

"My family was very different. We were raised to be women's liberation before anybody even heard of it.

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William Houdek, Rim Guidance Center counselor

"After the wedding I said, ‘Would you mind helping me write the thank you notes?' He said, ‘That's your job.' I said, ‘Oh oh.'"

Houdek was married twice before his present marriage, the first for 13 years, the second for just six months.

"The first one we were together a long time," Houdek said. "But there were some bad choices I made looking for who I was and we do that in relationships."

Based on their experiences and those of others, Kennedy and Houdek both believe the foundation for a successful relationship begins with knowing who you are and what you want.

"I finished college in 1966 when the whole cultural revolution started, and I certainly was affected by that," Kennedy said. "All of a sudden, everything I thought I knew didn't fit at all and so I rethought everything and spent about 20 years doing that, working on myself, being in counseling myself, reading probably 100 books on growth -- to the point where I would never look at one again as long as I live."

One of the keys to a successful relationship -- Once you figure out who you are and what you want in a relationship, you have to communicate it honestly.

"You have to let your partner know what your needs are, and sometimes that's hard," Houdek said.

Another key is to find somebody who wants many of the same things you want.

"I would say that your values, your major priorities, your lifestyle preferences, those things need to be pretty close (to your partner's)," Kennedy said. "I realized I'm not the slightest bit negotiable about many things and my level of compatibility that I want has to be about 95 percent. It has to be really good for me to go to the trouble of having a relationship.

"You have to find somebody who is equally committed to your picture of life," Houdek said. "This is how we're going to do it, this is how we're going to work through it, this is what we want together, and are those compatible?"

But you must also listen to what your partner wants and be willing to meet those needs.

"You have to have the ability to accept and to see the other person through the eyes of love -- what the other person values," Kennedy said.

"Wanting to change someone is a strong part of the problem," Houdek added. "We also think we can change, and we put our blinders on a lot."

"When people end up in marriage counseling, a lot of times they find out they have different concepts of happiness," Kennedy said. "It's that they didn't take the time to know each other well enough to construct a vision that excites both of them enough to do the really hard work that goes along the way -- learning your partner's language, learning what love is to each partner.

"For one person, it's what you tell me. For another, it's showing up on time and doing what you say you're going to do. There are so many little things that represent what the other person calls love."

Kennedy and Houdek both believe you have to want a relationship bad enough to persevere.

"It's the idea of effort, the idea that any good thing requires discipline," Kennedy said. "I don't care if it's to be a great dancer, to play the piano really well, sing really well, run a marathon, be a writer. Anything that is a goal, that is something of value, requires tremendous focus, commitment and daily attention to small routines that over time create sort of an epiphany.

"Most of the time when you're slogging through the first part, it's very difficult and not terribly rewarding. In dancing, there's muscle aches and pains. There's clumsiness. There's injury and failure.

"If it wasn't that you had a vision in your mind, you'd never put up with it -- and it's the same thing in a relationship, the ideal of what you believe you could be to one another lets you subjugate to some degree your individual selfishness."

For a variety of reasons, previous generations were more willing to do the work that made their relationships endure.

"Their mores were stronger about divorce back then," Houdek said. "My mother just recently got remarried after my father died 18 months ago.

"They were together their entire life, but her belief is she has to have a man in her life, so she remarried. She needs the companionship."

It was a time when family values prevailed over individual needs.

"Whatever difficulty the couples had, the integrity of the family was important enough that individuals would sacrifice maybe their own happiness for the family," Kennedy said. "A lot of research shows that kids do much better in families that stay together, and in the era of our parents the idea of individual sacrifice to keep the family together was an accepted cost."

Houdek contrasted those values to the ones that are prevalent today.

"Now we're in a culture that's kind of ‘Barbie-ized,'" he said. "Look at TV and the beautiful girls and those survivor programs. Society has kind of gone to crap.

"Today we say, ‘I don't need this. I'll go get another.'"

Kennedy's favorite metaphor for relationships is gardening.

"In a relationship and in gardening you pretty much have to do everything if you want to succeed," she said. "If you don't care that much, you just plant a few flowers. They die and you go get some more.

"But if you learn from the past and make better choices, that becomes the compost for plants that will last."

(Next Week Part II: When a relationship ends.)

Divorce Recovery Workshop

Lee Kennedy and William Houdek will be part of the Divorce Recovery Workshop that begins Tuesday, Jan. 20, with sessions from 6-8 p.m. through March 2.

Individual sessions, designed to meet the needs of those who are adjusting to the finality of a broken marriage rather than dealing with the possibility of a reconciliation, are focused on the stages of divorce and utilize a lecture/small group discussion format.

The workshop, which costs $25, will be held at Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main Street. The fee includes a copy of "Growing Through Divorce" by Rev. Jim Smoke, on which the workshop is based.

Free childcare will be provided for infants through 10-year-olds.

For more information or to register, call 474-2059 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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