“There is no life as complete as the life that is lived by choice.” -Unknown
The problem with many relationships is that we don’t trust our own choices. For many couples this lack of trust starts early in the relationship, when we first encounter the difficulties of the relationship or, more challenging still, the foibles of our chosen partner. We question whether we have made a mistake in choosing our partner, and often this question comes in the form of pulling ourselves part way out of the relationship. Look around and notice how many relationships you are in or that you are witness to which are qualified by one or sometimes both partners having one or sometimes both feet out the door.
The surprising irony in this lethal trend of relating is that more often than not, we choose well in relationships. If you consider your relationships as the most gentle and thorough education available for growing up and becoming your best self, even the most challenging dynamics in a relationship have something deep and transformative to offer us. This is often an emotionally wrenching process. Our identity markers, our unresolved past pains and our often, inarticulate aspirations all mingle with that of our partners. It is easy for this messy process to feel like a mistake. We are forced to let go of things that we thought were essential and we are slowly taught how to hold things that seemed impossible.
We can’t do this work justice with only half our presence. And the part that is hanging back is not usually a cheerleader. The part that pulls away from the work often shows up as the small silent voice in your head that says it is impossible, it should be easier… confirming the mistake you fear. The piece of our heart that remains is torn before the work begins and is unable to bring your full courage to this essential work of growing up. I have engaged in this futility for years myself. I was indignant and at times even belligerent about having to deal with my in-law dynamics. It was too painful to bear with only half of me holding it. It took me years, and it is something that I am still coming to understand that choosing it fully is what changes the experience inside.
The often unseen oxymoron of successful relating is that our tendency towards self -protection is better served by subjugating our individual needs to the needs of the relationship. The more that we focus on what the container of our love needs, the more our own needs get met. Conversely, when standing with one foot out the door, assessing our ability to meet our own needs in the relationship- we create a hole, through which all of the good intention for the relationship leaks out. It is an invisible, slow leak that will undoubtedly drain the relationship’s potential.
The degree to which you hold yourself out of your relationship is proportional to what you are able to get out of it. This is true not only with intimate partners, but all of our relationships- to our work, our family, even our hobbies. It is a tendency that easily and invisibly replicates itself, because remaining comfortably disengaged evolves into a mental habit and before long is a personality characteristic.
Moreover, this habitual way of halfway relating often leaves us stuck in the no man’s land of not being able to truly choose when to leave or how to stay. Like the holding pattern of a jet over a landing strip, you are stuck, waiting for a message from the tower, outer clearance that will let you take off or land.
The wisest choice we can make in any circumstance is having the courage to trust our choices and give ourselves fully to the life we have chosen. This practice will transform all of your relationships, beginning with the one to yourself. There is no half way in matters of the heart, and living from this space cheats you out of the best life has to offer. Shakespeare, of course, said it best when he wrote, “See first that the design is wise and just; that ascertained, pursue it resolutely.”