Love and work are the cornerstones of our human-ness… -Sigmund Freud
Learning how to stay and grow inside your relationship is an art form, a meditation practice and a work ethic all rolled into one. The nice thing about the work is that it is constructed of basic skill sets you can develop and strengthen just by attending to them and practicing. No one is born a great communicator or even a skilled listener. Many of us grow up in the midst of invisible negative thought patterns that infiltrate our best thinking efforts, without even our notice. Even showing up for your relationship is a skill that gets better when expectations and the meaning of promises are shared and negotiated.
In this new series, I will share stories about couples that might resemble people you know. See if you can imagine a way that a single interaction in the story could have changed to make the situation more sustainable and healthy. What else could have happened for the people involved that would have made the relationship more compelling? How could they have been kinder to each other?
Nancy had seen her boyfriends fall out of love before. She knew all the signs – the distracted half kisses, the late nights of work, the impatience at small requests… She also knew that her response to Michael had become short and less-descript. She tried not to fixate on the stupid way he left his dirty socks rolled up in a ball in the couch cushions or the way he slurped the milk at the end of his cereal because she knew it wasn’t the little things that mattered. She tried to ignore all the ways she felt disappointed in Michael and she tried not to notice the quiet ways she felt him looking at her with the same disappointed glances.
Walking on eggshells might have been easier than the ways they both worked to dance around the change in their relationship. Each night one of them lingered longer in the study or in front of the television so that they wouldn’t have to face each other in the quiet of preparing for bed, a time that used to be Nancy’s favorite moment of her day. The more space they built in between them to hold their unspoken feelings, the more lonely and resentful Nancy became of the socks she would find under every cushion.
She thought she loved Michael, but now that he was hardly ever really present, her doubts about what he was thinking about her and their relationship seemed to show up even in the smallest of exchanges about where to meet for coffee or who would pick up bread for dinner. Finally, one evening while making dinner, Michael broached the subject of finding his own place again. “I just think it would be good for us to have more space…” His voice wandered off. Nancy couldn’t decide if she was relieved or sad that another relationship that seemed to have so much promise was disappearing in front of her eyes. She caught his eye and for a moment thought she could see the same mix of doubt and regret that she was feeling. She wanted to do this differently even though she was afraid she would just make it worse….
Meanwhile, Michael too wished he could think of a way to reach back in time to their connection that felt so strong just a few months before.