Helen Hunt, Author and Relationship Expert, On Positivity, Growth, and Women’s Empowerment
Written by Renata Black, EBY Co-Founder & CEO
A version of this article was first published on HuffPost.
Helen LaKelly Hunt is an active member of the Women’s Movement and has significantly impacted change for numerous organizations including Women Moving Millions where she is the Founding Chair. WMM currently consists of 196 members and has garnered $288 million in donations advocating the advancement of women and girls to promote a world of gender equality. Helen is an inductee in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and has authored books about faith, marriage and feminism both independently and with her husband, Harville Hendrix, as they work together to establish healthy relationships as a primary social value.
Renata: In your life has there been a breakdown that has led to a breakthrough?
Helen: I so believe in this dynamic. What has the potential to look like the biggest shame and the biggest failure has the potential to be the biggest glory if it is held in the right way.
The answer to your question, simply, I would have to say was the failure of my first marriage. It was really quite disastrous. I had let my ex-husband handle the money and he mishandled it and that snowballed into our ultimate separation. Seeing my marriage fail like that shattered my life but that is what then set me on the path to fulfill my purpose in life.
When you are having a tough day, when things are just not going your way, is there one thing that you can do to turn it around?
I have lived long enough to know that things that seem like the biggest pain to us are actually when growth is trying to happen. Pain should be held with wonder and with curiosity and not denied and suppressed. If a person has terrible angst, betrayal or hurt, they should take a step back and say, “What is trying to happen here? What do I need to learn here?” If the person can do this, they bring a positive energy to it that it can transform the situation into an important breakthrough.
At this age and at this time in my life, I have the utmost confidence that almost any situation can have something exquisitely beautiful come from it. I believe that we can transform situations by changing our outlook from “judgment to curiosity.” I approach everything with wonder. I hold it in and wait for the meaning to emerge.
What is the one aspect within yourself you are always striving for others to see differently?
I am known as someone from a family of wealth who early on was excluded from the family conversation of finances. Women were not allowed to talk about money in those days and certainly not in my family.
Once I discovered that I was a part of a wealthy family, I decided to dedicate my life to giving women a voice. I have been working in the women’s movement for most of my career life not only to be sure the world has a group of healthy and strong women, but also in forging a strong relationship between men and women.
When I began my work, women’s voices were muted. I worked to amplify women’s voices but not with the intention of dominating men’s voices. The intention was to create healthy relationships. There is a ying and a yang. There are two energies. I am now striving towards the turnkey focus of not solely focusing on women’s empowerment, but rather healthy relationships between men and women.
In the past women had to go on hunger strikes and be dragged to prison because it was the only way they could get attention. I knew that anger was a necessary energy in certain points in movement building; however, I also knew that the ultimate way to have a positive social movement was to wheel the power of love and that this was the women’s movement growth edge.
Instead of women protesting about women’s rights, I want it to be known that there is a different way. A way in which women listen to men in a different way and say, “Let us help you be part of the solution too”
What has been your support by women vs. the support coming from men?
I always had more support from women. I think if women are not supportive of each other it is because they are subjected to so much societal stress. There has always been this question in the women’s movement- whether we want a bigger piece of the pie or do we want a whole new recipe?
What do you feel is the biggest paradigm shift you’ve experienced in which seeing something differently changed your life?
In the 1980s Gloria Steinem said that patriarchy is a dangerous place for women. This got people marching for her diverse coalition of marriage. Gloria later said marriage is a dangerous place for women. This was when I was just getting my divorce and I thought “Boy is she right! Marriage is a dangerous place for women.” But now what I am so excited about is the kind of marriage Harville [Hendrix] and I teach, the partnership model. Being in a partnership, you learn how to handle “otherness” and how to handle and control problems. You learn how to handle difference and you don’t let it crush you.
There is a myth in our culture that if you are having problems in your relationship that you married the wrong person. What we say is that if you are struggling in your relationship, growth is trying to happen. Something new is trying to emerge and the way you can let it emerge is by being in a partnership, learning to have patience and to handle problems constructively.