The Benefits of A Mystery.

Image by Dino Ahmad Ali on  Flickr .

Image by Dino Ahmad Ali on Flickr.

When I was a kid, I would go wandering through my backyard in search of the mysteries hiding under rocks or in the ditch behind my house. I would bloody my fingers and dirty my toes looking for crystals, hidden treasures or maps that ancient explorers had left behind. 

My favorite place to look was my own backyard, or my grandparents', who lived just a few blocks away. I didn't know it then, but I was compelled to discover something new in familiar territory. 

My mother could tell you innumerable stories of a dust-covered little boy carrying newly discovered dank and dirty ditch stones he was sure were diamonds. 

There are few things more intoxicating than finding a mystery where you expected PREDICTABILITY. 

If I could harness this passion, if I could put the curiosity of little boys and girls in a bottle and sell it, that magic might make marriage a little easier. 

Curiosity is the start of something you didn't believe was possible.

A classic human psychology argument is that belief precedes reality. The philosopher Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." Philosophy classes across the world debate the phrase's meaning, but one argument suggests that it means that we know we exist because we are aware of ourselves

To me, it means that the stories we tell ourselves produce our behavior.

This is never clearer to me than when I witness the intricate and sophisticated conflict music to which distressed partners dance.

Those who have had the misfortune of living in a relationship in distress know that ongoing and unceasing conflict feels chaotic, like a house after a flood. It's miserable and seemingly disordered. 

But actually, it's quite ordered. It's like a blindfolded dance. We don't realize our part in the steps, but we move to the music just like our partner does. 

We predict the steps our partner will make. We know, for example, that her foot is about step to the right, and so we step to the left. If a choreographer asked you why you stepped to the left, you would say because your partner is leading this dance and she stepped to the right. 

Of course, your partner's reason is the same. She stepped to the right because she knew you would step to the left. 

She's danced this dance before. Just like you.

The dance is so intricate. It's so predictable. It's familiar, like the stones you laid in your own backyard. You know exactly what to expect.

So, you dance.  

You move, not realizing that your movement is what creates the chaos in the dance. You know, for example, that if you say what you're about to say, in that tone, with that face and in that timing, your partner will step left to counter your tone with defensiveness.

You know it won't be effective. You know it won't make him listen. You know it'll probably just anger him, but you say it anyway. 


Because we know this song. We've stepped these steps. We know what to expect. And it is that certainty, that predictability, that keeps the dance alive. 

Forget why it started. Every dance has it's own beginning. Most of us spend way too much time arguing about how the dance started without giving energy to how it feels when we dance, or whether we should keep this particular dance alive. We need to change.

change requires novelty.

Novelty requires possibility.

Possibility requires curiosity.

We must believe it is possible to find a secret mystery in a dance we've come to know and predict. We must stop asking, "Why?," and start asking, "How?"

We must believe that it can be different. Only then will we find the courage to step out of line because the two-step we've been in isn't working anymore and we need to tango.

Changing a dance takes time. Your partner may have a more difficulty finding the courage to believe you are a mystery and not a certainty. He may think that as soon as he tries to tango with you, you'll trick her and go right back to the two-step.

It's this fear that leaves partners standing out alone on the dance floor. A million steps have turned into a story that can no longer be edited.

Creating a relationship starts between dance partners. But changing a relationship starts within. You have to believe that the dance can change. I know you feel certain that you know what to expect from this dance, but we know change is possible

The question is, do you have the courage to believe it?

Dr. Mathis Kennington