A New Map for Relationships: Chapters 2 & 3

For reasons explained in my March 1 blog post, I’m posting draft chapters of my forthcoming book with my wife Dorothie: A New Map for Relationships: Creating True Love at Home and Peace on the Planet. My last post of chapter 1 had me mistreat Dorothie in a way that caused her to storm out of our car and, when she returned, rip up the map I was holding. The story has a happy ending, with the two of us breaking into laughter at the insanity of our actions, and then working to piece together the jig saw puzzle that our map had become – producing yet more laughter.

This time I’m posting chapters 2 and 3, on personal and international relationship maps. I felt it was important to get to chapter 3 so that readers will see the connections between improving one’s marriage or other personal relationship and ending global threats, particularly environmental degradation and nuclear war.

If you like what you read, please click on the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter icons at the bottom of this post. Or send it to friends via email.

Also watch here for additional chapters, and if you’d like to receive updates about the book, send me an email at “martydevoe AT gmail DOT COM” with SUBSCRIBE as the subject – body text is optional.

Links to all posted chapters are contained in my March 1 blog post.

Thanks very much.

Martin Hellman

Relationship Maps

DOROTHIE: Our “tearing up the map” had a deep symbolism to it. Back in 1967, each of us came into our marriage with unconscious maps for growing our relationship. We were madly in love, so what more was needed? Our marriage would evolve naturally – without conscious effort. It did evolve, but far from the way we wanted. In spite of constantly falling off the same cliffs and getting stuck in the same blind alleys, we stuck to those old, unconscious maps. Only when we were willing to admit that we were lost and needed to piece together a totally new map, could we find the courage to try new approaches and eventually reclaim the true love that we once had.

Our wedding, March 24, 1967. (Yes, yesterday was our 49th anniversary.)

Our wedding, March 24, 1967. (Yes, yesterday was our 49th anniversary.)

Part of the problem, of course, was that our initial “relationship maps” were different – something we didn’t realize at first. We married as polar opposites. Marty was an intellectual and tried to rely almost exclusively on logic. I was interested in relationships and put more stock in feelings. While both of those are valid points of view, each by itself is limiting, so we were fortunate to choose one other and have the opportunity to learn about the other perspective.

MARTY: Opportunity? It was a necessity! At least if we were going to stay married. For the first 10 to 15 years of our marriage, we repeatedly butted heads because we failed to understand the value in the other perspective.

Dorothie’s right that our initial relationship maps were very different. And, in my case, her ultimate destination was more than I ever thought possible. We needed to get there, and were able to, because she is like the princess who was so refined that even a tiny pea buried under twenty mattresses disturbed her sleep. But, in her case she’s “the princess and the pea of relationship conflict.” Dorothie is so sensitive that she picks up on my smallest frustration, my tiniest shred of anger. So imagine how my full-blown rage devastated her. And imagine how often I got angry when she demanded that I deal with issues that most people wouldn’t even notice. It was a vicious circle that came close to ending our marriage.

A handwritten letter that Dorothie wrote to me before we had learned how to really love one another gives an idea of how far we’ve come. After asking me to work collaboratively with her to get more of what we both needed and wanted, she ended the letter by saying that, if we didn’t do that, she was afraid that we would move on to new partners and have to start all over again.

When I read that part just now, tears welled up in my eyes. The thought that I might have lost the love of my life through ignorance and stupidity was more than I could bear. Given what we now have, that would have been the crime of the century – a disaster we came dangerously close to creating by following our old maps no matter how lost they got us.

Given how reasonable her cry for help now seems, and especially the last sentence in her letter, “I do love you,” why was I so resistant to the changes she wanted? The stories in this book will give a fuller picture, but here I’ll mention two sources of the problem.

First, because Dorothie was in such pain over our broken relationship, her pleas were often made in anger, and I confused her reasonable requests with having to surrender to her onslaughts. The story in the first section, where she storms out of the car and tears up the map, gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. Second, there was a mismatch in our levels of sensitivity. The little boy who cries is ridiculed as a cry baby. If he shows fear, he becomes a target for bullies. So my sensitivity was beaten out of me as I grew up. Dorothie, on the other hand, is a highly sensitive person who cannot ignore conflict in our relationship.

Earlier, Dorothie’s sensitivity drove me crazy. Now I treasure it, much as a scientist will spend large sums and countless hours to keep a sensitive instrument working as part of an important experiment to delve more deeply into the secrets of the universe. My “experiment” (which is also Dorothie’s) is to come as close as I can to the ideal human state, to be the most honest and loving person I can be. So what better partner could I ask for on that journey than a woman sensitive to my smallest frustration or my tiniest shred of anger? And now that we have learned how to truly love one another, she can point out those small failings in much tenderer ways.

My current over-arching goal, to be the most honest and loving person I can be, wasn’t even a point of interest, on the map I brought to our marriage. I knew that fame, wealth, and prestige needed to be pursued, but never thought that becoming an honest and loving person required hard work. In the new map that we’ve pieced back together it is the ultimate destination from which all good things flow.

DOROTHIE: And, of course, both of us had to make that kind of profound change. Marty’s right that, earlier in our relationship, he didn’t know how to love me. But neither did I know how to love him. The key to achieving the kind of love we have today was a profound shift in each of us, from demanding to be loved, to working at being both loved and loving – and recognizing that being loving takes work.

I still need love from Marty, but now that need is part of a larger goal to do what is best for the relationship and best for the world. He’s made the same shift, so now we are on the same side of the table. Instead of fighting each other, we each work really hard to do what is needed. Somewhat paradoxically, and as you’ll see throughout this book, life ends up being far better for each of us that way than if we got exactly what we thought we wanted going into the disagreement.

MARTY: Life is better not only in our marriage, but in every way. The new map isn’t just about our relationship. It’s about how we live every moment of our lives and our relationship to the whole world. As you’ll see in a short while, that holistic approach is key.

Of course, holistic thinking includes how we behave toward each other. But the changes which eventually made our fights a thing of the past could not have been achieved without the larger goal.

My deep gratitude to Dorothie isn’t just about building a relationship which surpasses what I thought was possible, but also for helping me become a better person than I ever imagined I could be. And that deepens my love for her. She helped me find my true self – a part of me that I didn’t even know existed.

Before we got here, I kept telling Dorothie that what she wanted was impossible. Fortunately for me, she wouldn’t settle for less than unconditional love. Those of you reading this don’t have to settle either.

DOROTHIE: It’s interesting that, earlier in my life, even I couldn’t picture what we now have. I knew that where we were was intolerable, and I knew that where we needed to go involved a much deeper love on both our parts. But, never having experienced unconditional love, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t fully picture it or know how to get there.

I’m unbelievably grateful to Marty for helping us arrive at this place – for having the courage to join me on this voyage of discovery to a destination I couldn’t fully envision, much less describe.

If you and your partner are willing to do what’s required, we can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to build a truly loving relationship, even if the foundation from which you’re starting seems shaky and prone to earthquakes. Differences of opinion, which used to become fights over who was right, can be transformed into opportunities to expand your horizons and learn from one another.

The essence of this book can be summarized as, “You have to believe in the seemingly impossible gift of unconditional love, and then dedicate yourself to discovering how to achieve it.”

International Relationship Maps

MARTY: In the same way that Dorothie and I brought unconscious, outdated maps to our marriage, the nations of the world are using a dangerously outmoded guide to ensuring their security and well being. The old map says that they shouldn’t sacrifice to solve global environmental problems until other nations are willing to do the same. It says that the stronger they are, the safer they are – and that strength comes from having more destructive weapons than anyone else.

But, if we’d look around, we’d see that we’ve made a wrong turn and are going down a dead end street. If every nation waits until the others are willing to make the changes needed to put the planet on a sustainable basis, global environmental collapse is a real possibility. And on the national security front, we have invested trillions of dollars since 1945 trying to ensure our national security. We have put many of our best minds to work developing weapons and strategies in an effort to maximize the value of that investment. Yet, in that same period, the US has gone from a nation that was inviolate to one which can be destroyed in under an hour. The other nations of the world are no better off. The old map is not working and is leading us to disaster.

The new map Dorothie and I had to piece together bears a strong similarity to the new one needed by the nations of the world.

Only when we gave up trying to get what we thought we wanted, and shifted to doing what was best for both of us did we get what we really wanted. Nations need to make a similar holistic shift to prevent global environmental disaster that would devastate every one of them.

And, just as we used to continually stumble into arguments, nations seem to fall into one war after another. Aside from the cost in blood and treasure, unless nations learn how to stop that cycle of violence, it’s only a matter of time before one of those wars escalates out of control, leading to nuclear threats, just like Cuba 1962. And if we teeter on the nuclear abyss repeatedly, it’s only a matter of time before we fall in.

DOROTHIE: People have always yearned for a more just and peaceful world, but most dismiss that vision as naive and unattainable. We can achieve that goal if we will open our minds to new possibilities – tear up the old map for international relations and piece together a new one, consistent with the current reality.

In an age where global environmental collapse is a real possibility, developing a sustainable economic model is not a luxury. It’s essential to national well being.

In the nuclear age, a more peaceful world is not just desirable. It’s essential for long term human survival. In the same way that Marty and I had to move from thinking that fighting would win the argument, nations need to give up the outmoded notion that having the most weapons, being the most aggressive, and taking the most risk will get them what they want.

MARTY: One of the key changes from the old map to the new, both personally and internationally, is to move from blame to responsibility and to re-examine the nature of power.

DOROTHIE: When we used to fight, each of us felt like the innocent victim, and that the other was solely to blame. Nations do that too, and it doesn’t work any better for them than it did for us. When Marty and I focused on each other’s faults, it robbed us of the power we needed to change the dynamic. Only I can change myself, and only Marty can change himself.

MARTY: I remember having an epiphany about that. Dorothie and I had just had a huge argument and, when I cooled down a bit, it suddenly hit me: If my perception was right, if Dorothie was solely to blame for the argument and I was the innocent victim, then I was powerless to get out of the pain I was in. I would have to wait for “this crazy woman” to come to her senses. But, if my perception was wrong, then I would have power to get out of the awful pain I was in. With that motivation, I was able to see the role I had played in the argument. I went and apologized to Dorothie for my misbehavior, which led to her apologizing for hers. Argument ended.

That example makes another important point. In the old map, admitting error is a sign of weakness at both the individual and the national levels. In the new map, it’s a sign of maturity and responsibility which conveys great power. Not power over the other, but power to fix an intolerable situation. A big part of the shift from the old map to the new is re-examining the nature of power.

That same approach would work miracles at the international level, with the conflict between the US and Iran being a good example. Americans tend to start the narrative with Iran’s taking our embassy staff hostage in 1979, in violation of all international norms. In that view, we are the innocent victim and the conflict is all their fault.

In contrast, Iranians focus on the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew a popular, democratically elected government and ushered in a police state under the Shah. They see themselves as the innocent victims and the conflict as being all our fault.

Both perspectives have validity, but each is, at best, only half of the picture. And each of our nations focuses on the other’s mistakes, where it has no power to bring about positive change. If either the US or Iran were to move from blame to responsibility and see the power inherent in admitting their own mistakes, who knows what would follow?

DOROTHIE: In the new map, at both the interpersonal and international levels, instead of trying to force the other party to the conflict to see things your way and do what you want, you are committed to doing what’s right. In fact, trying to force someone to change usually has the opposite of its intended effect. They feel pushed around, and dig in their heels. Marty and I certainly did that earlier in our marriage. In the same way, the nations of the world exacerbate their conflicts by focusing on each other’s mistakes, rather than their own.

MARTY: When I was working on this section in June 2014, I read an article by Dimitri Simes, president of The Center for the National Interest – formerly, The Nixon Center – about the Ukrainian crisis. Simes, who advised President Nixon on the Soviet Union and was, himself, a Soviet émigré, warned that, “the bellicose stances that Obama’s critics espouse are unlikely to deter Moscow and might even do the opposite.” (emphasis added)

But none of the mainstream American media report that kind of news. Instead, they put all of the blame on Russia, with a July 2014 New York Times editorial stating: “The Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.There is one man who can stop it — President Vladimir Putin of Russia.”

Putin is far from blameless, but pretending that we have made no mistakes robs us of whatever power we have to stop the human suffering in Ukraine. Just as in my epiphany, if our nation were to put its energy into searching out its own mistakes – instead of wasting our energy on hating Putin – we just might find a way to stop the carnage in Ukraine.

DOROTHIE: The directions on our old map said that when one of us wasn’t feeling heard, we needed to yell louder. Now when we feel unheard, we see that as a sign that we need to listen better. We have shifted from demanding what we think we want, to being committed to finding a solution that gives both of us what we need, no matter how impossible that might seem at first.

At a personal level, and at the international level, it’s time to tear up the old maps and put the pieces back together in a new holistic way. That’s how to save both personal relationships and the world. That’s what this book is all about.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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8 Responses to A New Map for Relationships: Chapters 2 & 3

  1. David Kunz says:

    Very thoughtful. The courage to muster the change as a nation, like in primary relationships, must generate from the fear of loss, from going to the brink and fearing the great loss?

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    David,

    I’m not sure if one has to “hit bottom” (as 12-step programs call it) in order to change a dysfunctional approach to life, either personally or internationally.

    Part of our effort is to illuminate largely overlooked dysfunction so that people and society need not suffer so badly before changing. And, by including our personal stories of dysfunctional behavior (with which many will resonate) as well as national stories of the same ilk, we hope people can see the bottom without actually having to hit it.

    Martin

  3. Carroll Webber says:

    A fine approach, since international relations are at bottom interpersonal relations, as seen for instance in George Mitchell’s mediation in Northern Ireland. I hope that your work will reach the full attention (how?) of world leaders responsible for nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, Your experience should motivate them to see that it’s good sense to try to change their own feelings and behavior.

  4. Daniel Beswick says:

    Your stories aptly describe the misunderstandings that occur when even the best and the brightest, well motivated individuals have blind spots that result in building protective walls that keep us from finding answers, even though our survival is at stake. Considering the possibility that I could be wrong is significantly more difficult and shallow than placing blame on the other party or country.
    Thank you both for your mutual efforts that provide answers in attaining a quality marriage and a sustainable world order.

  5. Nuclear Risk says:

    Dear Carroll,

    As later chapters of our book will explain, these ideas need to reach a tipping point before they will be considered by society at large, including world leaders. So the first key step is for ordinary people to start a process that leads to an extraordinary result – by considering the ideas, trying them out in their own lives, and if they work better than the old approach, telling others about that, for example by recommending they read the book, or at least look at some of these blog posts. That’s how slavery was ended, how women got the vote, how Jim Crow was delegalized, and more. What’s really nice is that, if it works in your life, you get an immediate benefit in addition to contributing to making the world a better place.

    Martin

  6. Nuclear Risk says:

    Dear Dan,

    Good to hear from you, and thanks for the encouragement – plus all your contributions in the past.

    Martin

  7. Chip Hauss says:

    Marty and Dorothie,

    Thanks for the three chapters. It will be exciting to see how the book evolves and then what eddies out of it.

    You all convinced me of the need to change the personal if we are going to change the political. We, too, are still groping to figure out how to mesh the two and take the political to scale.

    As a sidebar, when we all met you all (I mean plurals not southern drawl), it seemed that the Beyond War folks had figured the “relationship thing” out. In the backs of our minds, we probably sensed that you had gone through some pain to get there, but only in the backs. Now, we see that you just got there before most of us did.

  8. T R Tigue says:

    Very good read; looking forward to the book being available. Thanks, Tom

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