During my recent tour of China, one of the things I did was go to a hospital that does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
At the hospital a doctor came out and gave our group a short talk on the ideas behind TCM, and coming from the world of western medicine it seems pretty bizarre.
I’m probably going to mess this up completely, but as an overview the premise is that the human body has 5 main elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and that each of these elements is related to an organ in the body. The kidney represents water, the liver is wood, the heart is fire, the spleen earth, and the lungs are metal.
Why, who knows? That’s just how it works.
But the key to health in the Chinese model is that it’s important for us to maintain a balance between these elements, and when we don’t, bad things happen. Similar to rock/paper/scissors, there is a relationship between the elements, so an imbalance in one vs. the others will cause specific effects.
After the overview, they had doctors come in and assess us. The approach is to look at our tongues and hands, and then based on whatever it is they are looking for they prescribe herbal remedies that are supposed to help alleviate any imbalances in our body.
It was pretty interesting stuff.
My biggest takeaways from traditional Chinese medicine were as follows:
- Balance is important to a properly functioning system, and when things get out of balance bad things happen.
- Prevention is better than cure.
Whether you believe in traditional Chinese medicine or not, these two points seem painfully obvious. And really I think they apply to virtually everything in life.
Balance is important. And prevention is better than cure.
As people, we have (at least) four different sides to ourselves. There’s the physical – our bodies. We also have our emotional state, and our intellectual. And then there’s our spiritual side. I’m not going to delve into religion here, but whether your spiritual side is manifested through religion or not, I think you can look at your spiritual side as your connection to yourself, and/or the world around you. The idea that there is “something more”.
It’s important to nurture and take care of all these different sides of ourselves. And I believe the more we are able to find balance between these different sides, the healthier we are as a person.
In addition to trying to find balance between these states as a person, we should also strive to find that balance in our relationships.
Often a relationship starts with physical attraction, leading people to start to get to know one another. As they learn more about each other person, attraction and connection will hopefully start to happen on additional levels. Emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually.
There can be different depths of connection for the different areas.
For example, two people may have an incredible physical connection. And that may be fun, for a while at least. But if that’s all there is, it’s unlikely to sustain a relationship over a long period of time.
A couple needs to be able and willing to explore and connect with each other on all levels. Sharing beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings. And striving to accept and understand each other for who they are.
Some people wall themselves off, either because they’ve never learned how to open up to another person or because they are trying to protect themselves from being hurt. Ultimately doing just hurts the relationship, as you can’t have closeness without vulnerability.
Finding balance in relationship is important. Between being an individual and part of a couple; and between the different levels of connection. The goal in relationships should never be just building connection initially, but also continuing to grow and maintain this connection over a long period of time.
And I think this is where couples often get into trouble.
Prevention is better than cure.
At some level we all know this.
When rot or decay has infected something, that rot needs to be cut out before it spreads and does further damage. So preventing rot in the first place should always be the preferable approach.
Yet time and again couples struggle to build resilience into their relationships. Couples build the relationship, and once they have it they act like the work is done. They stop doing the little things. They stop putting in the effort. And they stop trying.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, life gets busy.
Most of life is mundane – jobs, chores, bills. All these little things eat away at our time, and prevent us from focusing on our partners. There are countless little things which on their own are perfectly valid reasons for not putting effort into our relationship.
As one-offs that should be fine, and understandable even. But when it continues to happen over time, it becomes a pattern. And that pattern clearly tells the other person:
“This relationship doesn’t matter to me”.
“You don’t matter to me”.
If we aren’t making our relationship a priority in our lives, why should we be shocked when we realize our relationship is in crisis?
What does prevention look like in a relationship?
Taking a page out of traditional Chinese medicine, I think it comes back to balance. Maybe not between wood, fire, earth, metal and water; but between the different parts of our life.
Yeah, we probably all have jobs to do. And there is always *stuff* that needs to be done. Groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, bills, etc. For those who are parents, there is also the time spent on kids. And these things have to be balanced with having time for yourself and for maintaining friendships.
But there also has to always be time for your relationship. To not only maintain it, but hopefully to continue to grow it, and continue to learn each other as you change and grow over time.
I think prevention means taking time out every day and being present, in the moment, with each other. Taking that time to try and stay connected with each other on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
It is about staying curious about each other, and interested in continuous growth both as individuals and as a couple.
It’s about showing your partner that no matter what else is happening in life, they matter to you.
I think the above graphic illustrates this need for balance well. Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – these different levels of connection are all related. You can’t neglect some parts of a relationship and not expect the other parts to suffer as well.
So don’t wait until there are issues in your relationship until you remember to show your partner that they matter to you. When you neglect it, sometimes it’s too late for “a cure”.
Instead, focus on prevention; and make each other a priority each and every day.