Marriage + Family | Walking in Flow


“Some of the most intense and meaningful experiences in our lives are the result of family relationships.” (175)

“It is clear that the family can make one very happy, or be an unbearable burden. Which one it will be depends, to a great extent, on how much psychic energy family members invest in the mutual relationship, and especially in each other’s goals. Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a repositioning of goals…. When two people choose to focus their attention on each other, both will have to change their habits; as a result, the pattern of their consciousness will also have to change. . . . All this can be very hard work, and it can also be very frustrating. If a person is unwilling to adjust personal goals when starting a relationship, then a lot of what subsequently happens in that relationship will produce disorder in the person’s consciousness, because novel patterns of interaction will conflict with old patterns of expectation.” (177) So as long as you hold onto your old, conflicting desires, goals, wants, and wishes, you will feel frustrated and uneasy. If you change your goals, you have to recognize and accept that your self, being the sum and organization of your goals, will change as a result. What this means is that entering any relationship entails a transformation of the self.

“Until a few decades ago, families tended to stay together because parents and children were forced to continue the relationship for extrinsic reasons. If divorces were rare in the past, it wasn’t because husbands and wives loved each other more in the old times, but because husbands needed someone to cook and keep housewives needed someone to bring home the bacon, and children needed both parents in order to eat, sleep, and get a start in the world. The “family values” that the elders spent so much effort inculcating in the young were a reflection of this simple necessity, even when it was cloaked in religious and moral considerations. Of course, once family values were taught as being important, people learned to take them seriously, and they helped keep families from disintegrating. All too often, however, the moral rules were seen as an outside imposition, an external constraint under which husbands, wives, and children chafed. In such cases the family may have remained intact physically, but it was internally riven with conflicts and hatred. The current “disintegration” of the family is the result of the slow disappearance of external reasons for staying married. The increase in the divorce rate is probably more affected by changes in the labor market that have increased women’s employment opportunities, and by the diffusion of labor-saving home appliances, than it is by a lessening of love or of moral fiber. … If the trend of traditional families keeping together mainly as a convenience is on the wane, the number of families that endure because their members enjoy each other may be increasing. Of course, because external forces are still much more powerful than internal ones, the net effect is likely to be a further fragmentation of family life for some time to come. But the families that do persevere will be in a better position to help their members develop a rich self than families held together against their will are able to do.

There have been endless discussions about whether humans are naturally promiscuous, polygamous, or monogamous; and whether in terms of cultural evolution monogamy is the highest form of family organization. It is important to realize that these questions deal only with the extrinsic conditions shaping marriage relationships. And on that count, the bottom line seems to be that marriages will take the form that most efficiently ensures survival. Even members of the same animal species will vary their patterns of relationships so as to adapt best in a given environment…. The form the human family takes is a response to similar kinds of environmental pressures. In terms of extrinsic reasons, we are monogamous because in technological societies based on a money economy, time has proven this to be a more convenient arrangement. But the issue we have to confront as individuals is not whether humans are “naturally” monogamous or not, but whether we want to be monogamous or not. And in answering that question, we need to weigh all the consequences of our choice. It is customary to think of marriage as the end of freedom, and some refer to their spouses as “old ball-and-chain.” The notion of family life typically implies constraints, responsibilities that interfere with one’s goals and freedom of action. While this is true, especially when the marriage is one of convenience, what we tend to forget is that these rules and obligations are no different, in principle, than those rules that constrain behavior in a game. Like all rules, they exclude a wide range of possibilities so that we might concentrate fully on a selected set of options.” (178-179)

By now, it should seem pretty obvious that all this church ultimately cares about is that you live a healthy, happy, and conscious life. Therefore, we highly encourage you to think about what you WANT in a relationship, not what society tells you you should want. The International Church of Slacklife condones all types of relations from gay to straight, from monogamy to polyamory, polygamy, and anything else in between. It doesn’t even have to have a name! Figure out what you’re into, and then structure your relationships around it. Whatever floats your boat!

“Cicero once wrote that to be completely free one must become a slave to a set of laws. In other words, accepting limitations is liberating. For example, by making up one’s mind to invest psychic energy exclusively in a monogamous marriage, regardless of any problems, obstacles, or more attractive options that may come along later, one is freed of the constant pressure of trying to maximize emotional returns. Having made the commitment that an old-fashioned marriage demands, and having made it willingly instead of being compelled by tradition, a person no longer needs to worry whether she has made the right choice, or whether the grass might be greener somewhere else. As a result a great deal of energy gets freed up for living, instead of being spent on wondering about how to live. If one decides to accept the traditional form of the family, complete with a monogamous marriage, and with a close involvement with children, with relatives, and with the community, it is important to consider beforehand how family life can be turned into a flow activity. Because if it is not, boredom and frustration will inevitably set in, and then the relationship is likely to break up unless there are strong external factors keeping it together.” (179-180)

“To provide flow, a family has to have a goal for its existence. Extrinsic reasons are not sufficient: it is not enough to feel that , well, ‘Everybody else is married,’ ‘It is natural to have children,’ or ‘Two can live as cheaply as one.’ These attitudes may encourage one to start a family, and may even be strong enough to keep it going, but they cannot make family life enjoyable. . . . Positive goals are necessary to focus the psychic energies of parents and children on common tasks:

Some of these goals might be very general and long-term, such as planning a particular lifestyle-- to build an ideal home, to provide the best possible education for the children, or to implement a religious way of living in a modern secularized society. For such goals to result in interactions that will help increase the complexity of its members, the family must be both differentiated and integrated. [In the family context], differentiation means that each person is encouraged to develop his or her unique traits., maximize personal skills, set individual goals. Integration, in contrast, guarantees that what happens to one person will affect all others. If a child is proud of what she accomplished in school, the rest of the family will pay attention and will be proud of her, too. If the mother is tired and depressed, the family will try to help and cheer her up. In an integrated family, each person’s goals matter to all others.

In addition to long-term goals, it is imperative to have a constant supply of short-term objectives. These may include simple tasks like buying a new sofa, going on a picnic, planning for a vacation, or playing a game of scrabble together on Sunday afternoon. Unless there are goals that the whole family is willing to share, it is almost impossible for its members to be physically together, let alone involved in an enjoyable joint activity. Here again, differentiation and integration are important: the common goals should reflect the goals of individual members as much as possible. If Rick wants to go to a motocross race, and Erica would like to go to the aquarium, it should be possible for everyone to watch the race one weekend, and then visit the aquarium the next. The beauty of such an arrangement is that Erica is likely to enjoy some of the aspects of bike racing, and Rick might actually get to appreciate looking at fish, even though neither would have discovered as much if left to his or her own prejudices.

As with any other flow activity, family activities should also provide clear feedback. In this case, it is simply a matter of keeping open channels of communication. . . . Unless the partners invest psychic energy in the relationship, conflicts are inevitable, simply because each individual has goals that are to a certain extent divergent from those of all other members of the family. Without good lines of communication the distortions will become amplified, until the relationship falls apart.

Feedback is also crucial to determine whether family goals are being achieved. . . . It is a fact of life that sooner or later all children will express the opinion that common family activities are “dumb.” At this point, forcing them to do things together tends to be counterproductive. So most parents just give up and abandon their teenagers to the peer culture. The more fruitful, if more difficult, strategy is to find a new set of activities that will continue to keep the family group involved.

The balancing of challenges and skills is another factor as necessary in enjoying social relationships in general, and family life in particular, as it is for any other flow activity. When a man and a woman are first attracted to each other, the opportunities for action are usually clear enough…. With time one gets to know the other person well, and the obvious challenges have been exhausted. All the usual gambits have been tried; the other person’s reactions have become predictable. Sexual play has lost its first excitement. At this point, the relationship is in danger of becoming a boring routine that might be kept alive by mutual convenience, but is unlikely to provide further enjoyment, or spark a new growth in complexity. The only way to restore flow to the relationship is by finding new challenges in it.

These might involve steps as simple as varying the routines of eating, sleeping, or shopping. They might involve making an effort to talk together about new topics of conversation, visiting new places, making new friends. More than anything else they involve paying attention to the partner’s own complexity, getting to know her at deeper levels than were necessary in the earlier days of the relationship, supporting him with sympathy and compassion during the inevitable changes that the years bring.” (180-182)


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