National Eating Disorders Association

Writing About a Significant Relationship Can Lead to Writing in Circles (But a List of Steppingstones can Straighten Things Out)

Carolyn Jennings

In my monthly writing group (we call ourselves the Journalistas), I led three other writers and myself to list the Steppingstones of our marriages.  I think of Steppingstones as milestones.  I've heard Kathleen Adams, author of Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, define them as before-and-after moments in that, looking back, you can see that something changed distinctly as a result of this Steppingstone event.

We Journalistas wrote and then read aloud the Steppingstones of our marriages, illuminating depths of distinct particulars, a richness rather surprising in short lists written in minutes.  These handfuls of facts revealed the bones of each of the four marriages.  One woman garnered certainty that her divorce had been the right choice.  Two of us celebrated our marriages, holding up to the light the bonds built over time, joints easily overlooked in the tussle of full lives.  The fourth was swamped with sadness about her marriage, leading her and her husband to redemptive couples counseling. 


Steppingstones provide a way to muse on a relationship, to clarify who you are becoming and how this relationship is unfolding.  The relationship could be with any relative, friend, co-worker, mentor—anyone you're inspired to write about, any relationship that holds possibilities or frustrations or depths that you'd like to hold to the light.

The relationship doesn't have to be with another person.  It could be with your body, body image or a part of your body, with illness or injury, seeing how it has changed over time.  The relationship could be with emotions or spirit, with money or certain objects or the place(s) where you've lived, with your job or career or education, with creativity or creative works, with organizations or institutions in which you are involved—any relationship that comes to mind.

Is there one certain relationship calling to you to be seen more clearly?  Or maybe you'd like to start with a short list—3 or 7 or 10—of juicy or puzzling relationships about which you'd like to gain insight.  From the list, pick one—or let one pick you. 


To create your list of Steppingstones, relax, breathe deeply, close your eyes and invite the movement of this relationship as a whole to reveal itself to you.  Let the entire life of the relationship drift through your mind from its start to the current moment.  No rush.  Let it come to you.  When you are ready, list each Steppingstone (milestone or point of change, large or small) with a single word or short phrase—a sentence at the most.  Number the items chronologically and read them to yourself.   Record your observations, thoughts and feelings about the list.  What do the list and your written reflections tell you about this relationship, about yourself and about future possibilities?

More on writing Steppingstones at “Writing Daily Details Doesn't Shine Light on the Bigger Picture (But a Few Steppingstones Can Illuminate a Lifetime).”


If you want to write more about this relationship, first see if you need to pause, rest and digest before going on.  When you are ready, review your list of Steppingstones to see which Steppingstone period you are drawn to explore further.  Adams states that spending time writing about a Steppingstone period allows you to “recapture the events and moments that shaped [the relationship].  And as you recall the time, you will often find that lessons left incomplete are offered back up for learning, old wounds that never quite healed are offered back up for healing.”  There are lessons that can't be learned at the time when events happen; some knowledge can only be gleaned looking back.

More on writing about Steppingstones periods at “Looking Back at My Entire Life Bogs Me Down (But Recapturing One Period of Your Life can Bring it to Light)”.

After the gathering of Journalistas, I was inspired to spend time on the page with each of the Steppingstone periods of my marriage, one at a time over many days.  I wrote briefly about the personal ad (“Looking For Springtime Romance”) through which I met my husband, about his New Year's Eve proposal, about our trip to Africa and how important that was to me, and about the gift of his work bonus as a nest egg to fund my dream of publishing my book.  I uncovered what these events really meant to me, giving words and acknowledgment to the currents that move our steady marriage in loving directions, seeing who I've become in the arms of couplehood. 

What revelations might be held hidden in the relationships of your life, waiting for your pen to reveal them?

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