Why every relationship is an assignment (even if we’d rather it wasn’t)

boysEvery relationship is an assignment.

It’s a message I’ve been receiving loud and clear for a while now. That everyone who you meet (or marry or give birth to) – whether or not you like them – has something to teach you. And in turn, you have something to teach them.

And if (and this is a huge almighty if) you are open to learning whatever that is, and if they are willing to learn whatever it is you’ve got to teach them, then all sorts of good is going to come from that.

It’s all very lovely and delightful isn’t it? I, for one, love this idea. I believe it to be true. I want to put it into action in my life, but goodness me, if that isn’t a challenging path to tread.

It’s incredibly easy to apply with the people I love, admire and find easy and delightful company. I’m happy to appreciate how the combination of our personalities, brains, or whatever, creates something bigger and better than we do individually. That’s almost a no brainer.

But what about those people who, to put it lightly, rub me up the wrong way? What about those people who cause me to have a visceral reaction in their presence – whose very existence challenges me to the core. What on earth can they have to teach me?

Fortunately, I have my own personal little petri dish of ‘assignments’ living with me, in the form of my children. There are three of them. They are close in age. And boy oh boy if they aren’t assignments for one another (not to mention a triad of assignments for me).

While they are as young as they are, they have very few opportunities to escape from one another in any meaningful way. Not only do they live, sleep, eat, bathe and breathe in close proximity to one another, they are one another’s entertainment an awful lot of the time. As I type, two of them are upstairs in the lego box fluctuating almost moment by moment between deep, magical imaginative connection, and explosions of frustration and aggression and loud appeals to me.

I remember one particularly arduous car journey with them a few years back when my oldest two spent an really long time seeing how far they could push the other’s eyeball back into their head before they screamed. At the time, I was far from thinking that anything about this interaction was profound, and there was probably (definitely) some yelling on my part.

But looking back, that ridiculous sibling behaviour served a function. Between them, they taught each other about the limits of pleasure and pain. In their repeated eyeball assaults, they practiced those limits, and acquired knowledge that they would take out into the world, and into their relationships with others.

In their inability to escape from one another, siblings provide a perfect example of an inescapable ‘assignment’. As their parent, it’s unbelievably tempting to only see the value in the gorgeous bits when they show genuine love and compassion for one another, or lose themselves in one another’s imaginations. And it’s so tempting to try and shut down the ugly bits, or the eye gouging bits, and discount them as a Problem.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that I allow some kind of Lord of the Flies scenario to develop between my kids. Or sit back in zen like bliss while one pops the other’s eyeball out. But I am prepared to acknowledge that while there will be times when they are one other’s greatest friend, and others when they are one another’s greatest foe, they are consistently one another’s greatest teachers.

In their unknowing, but unrelenting commitment to their siblings’ personal development, they will force their brothers to dig deep, to access patience and tolerance they never thought they could, to laugh (and cry) harder than they do anywhere else in the world.

But of course, this isn’t only about siblings. They just happen to be the convenient example that’s under my nose today.

It’s about all of our ‘assignments’ –  our spouses, our friends, our kid’s teacher, our bus driver. And how we’re all busy teaching each other, and being assigned to one another over and over and over again.

Regardless of whether or not we know that we are.

Regardless of whether or not we want to.

And regardless of whether we like the people we’re assigned to or not.

Like what you just read? Feel a bit better about the world? Want to pay it forward? Share this post!

Did this resonate with you? Are you interested in applying the perspectives here to your own life? Work with me, and we can really get into it. I love talking about this stuff even more than I love writing about it (and that’s a lot).

6 thoughts on “Why every relationship is an assignment (even if we’d rather it wasn’t)

  1. Fantastic article. I love it. There is so much expectation that we are taught to have when it comes to relationships. How often do I feel that parenting should be 100% joy and then experience guilt or disappointment when it’s not. And what about marriage? This may well be the toughest assignment, but even in the challenges there can be positive learning. Thank you. My favourite post yet

  2. You’re a fabulous writer Michaela. I love the idea of seeing all interactions as assignments – I think we have choice in the way we show up in every single interaction in our life, and that there is an abundance of opportunity to learn and grow by reaching out and connecting to others.

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