Walking on Fresh Grass
I had just been talking to a friend who is on the brink of separation.
So much hurt.
There were no affairs. There was no lying, no emotional abuse. They were just “too different” she told me. “We’ve hurt each other too much.”
“But why do people in close relationships hurt each other so much?” I pleaded with Christian.
We were finally back to our walk-talks. The trees were shedding their bark (beautiful but messy) and the bark on the path crackled under our feet as we wound our way through the gentle giant gumtrees.
“The closer someone is, the more they love you, but the more they can hurt you.”
Christian replied. He sees couples that are on the precipice of separation often.
Christian and I also hurt each other (I guess you know that by now). Cold shoulders, selfish actions, but mainly hurtful words. At times it has escalated and built up so much that I feel I have to change my life. Something seems wrong, dreadfully wrong. Emotions are so powerful. It’s actually comforting for me to know that everyone, at some point in their relationship, feels something like this. Whether they admit it or not. Whether they repress it or not.
Then the hurtful words begin. Or resentment. Or they “keep the peace” for the sake of the kids, or the crowds that surround and press in on every side: parents, friends and colleagues.
So why do we hurt each other so much?
Christian calls the hurtful words “quills” like those on an echidna or a hedgehog or porcupine.
Our hurtful quills are our pride, defences, selfishness, unresolved conflicts, demands or whimsical wishes. These lead to conflict. Conflict is everywhere; the whole world handles it badly. The only way to avoid conflict in a relationship is to make sure you don’t get close. We are all flawed, spikey, fragile humans.
A relationship need not end because of conflict. But conflict needs to be managed somehow. This is a skill you can learn.
The path we were walking along became more overgrown. It looked even more of a mess: the weeds, the bark. Australia is one of the only countries in the world where the trees shed their bark. Its messy, it needs to be cleaned up. My Dad spends hours each week cleaning his front yard to get rid of it. He even designed a catapult in his backyard to shoot the excess bark deep into the bush. That’s one solution, hide the mess so no one can see it.
A tree on the path caught my eye. The bark had almost completely shed, revealing a smooth, cream trunk underneath. There was writing on the trunk. Scribbles that were lovingly etched by little moths onto the surface.
If you shed all the spikey bark in your relationship, what you find underneath may surprise you.
Your relationship may have grown layers of anger and resentment or a rough protective shell. But the love is in there somewhere, otherwise you wouldn’t hurt or be hurt so much.
You hurt because you love. You wouldn’t bother arguing or having demands on another person if you didn’t love them. Think about that early time together. There was something that person fulfilled in you that other people couldn’t.
Find it. Dig it up.
Underneath are the words that are written on the tree of your hearts.
“I just need you to listen!”
I was exasperated.
We were driving through the countryside - to the Sunshine Coast - and this was the first chance we have had to talk - really talk - for many weeks.
Moving house has taken its toll. We are exhausted and drained physically and mentally. We have both have been given extra responsibility at work on top of the move, and our lads weren't around to help.
The worst part part for me? No time for our walk-talks. I sort through emotions, confusions, hurts, grief, pain and challenges by talking them out with Christian while walking in nature. These walks stabilise and heal. But we were too busy. I felt I had to carry everyone else through at home and at work. My bottled up emotions were running over and stealing my sleep. I was desperate for a walk-talk. A drive through jagged mountains and blue/grey bushland seemed the best substitute.
Once we left the city behind and miles of trees stretched before us, I opened up with pent up thoughts and feelings. We talked. Christian too has been under pressure, so the talking didn’t go well. Every time I shared an issue, confusion or hurt, he came up with a solution. (That's not what I needed.)
“And Alisha keeps interrupting me while I’m working. She knows I have a deadline.”
“Well remind her that you have a deadline”
“She already knows, but it’s not that simple. She’s going through a lot at home and I’m usually her sounding board. I don't want to fob her off.”
“Well be a broken record. She needs to get the message that you can’t be there all the time.”
This was unlike Christian. I just needed him to listen. His resources were depleted. Like me, he wasn’t sleeping so he fell into his old habit of problem solving.
"But it's not that simple!!!” I politely yelled.
Listening is not problem solving.
Often, in relationship listening, people are at cross-purposes. The talker wants to be listened to but the listener thinks the talker wants a problem solved. Problem-solving may follow a listening session, but the two are very different.
The cross-purposes can be rectified by the talker saying I need you to just listen, not problem-solve or by the listener asking do you want me to help solve a problem or just listen?
Listening is helpful even if problems remain unsolved. It builds trust and connection. This may be the only tangible outcome in relationship listening, but that’s what you want, right? In relationship listening one person shares thoughts and feelings just to be understood and accepted. It’s tough to change from being a problem solver to being a listener, but the end gains are enormous.
After my outburst Christian was quiet for a while then said,
“So, you really care about Alisha, but you need to get work done, so you feel stuck. ... That’s hard.”
He had finally put his listening ears on. I felt an immediate release of tension. There were deeper things I needed to share; so now I could.
“Yes. ... It’s all really hard” I replied.
A few tears rolled down my cheeks as a tight knot inside began to unravel.
Christian just listened.
Listened to the exhaustion in my voice.
Listened to the hurt underneath my words.
Listened to my cry for just a little understanding.
Listening is a language of love.
Christian's new book "listen (how to)" has just been released! You can order it on our "books" page.
I am sitting in our garage surrounded by boxes filled with musty memories: trophies, love letters, precious but tired books, photo albums filled with smiling faces, and records of some broken dreams.
We are moving. Finally.
Boy do we have a lot of stuff. There is so much stuff in this world! We have been sorting for weeks now. There are three main piles:
Christian gets excited when one of the people he sees tells him that they’re moving.
Moving is a chance to sort through belongings which is also an opportunity to sort your personal emotions and thought life. You can sort through some things, and throw a few things out.
It’s easy to decide what functional stuff to throw. Toasters that don’t work any more, clothes that are too tight, tape recorders from another century. Decorative stuff is a bit difficult: like Christmas ornaments, which represent magic and joy.
Past stuff is harder. Much, much harder. The memories subsumed in my grandmother’s cooking bowl, a poem my son wrote me, a letter from a friend who has now passed on. They were all part of me. Letting go is like letting go a part of ourselves. It’s a wrenching. Still, Christian and I encourage each other: “throw it out if you can.”
I smile a lot. I cry a lot.
I usually live in the now, but sorting through the past has stirred up some dust. I can let go of objects as just their memory can still burn in my spirits and warm me on a cold night; they still, as Wordsworth says, “flash upon that inward eye.” I think back on our son holding his “blankey” with two fingers in his mouth or the bowls and bowls of tulips from Christian that once filled my New York apartment. (I have thrown out “blankey” and the dried out tulips, but not the memories.)
We had a moment of revelation: past stuff can contain memories, but what about the baggage? Baggage is the heavy stuff that weighs you down. It sometimes hurts you; it suffocates your relationships. It can be extremely difficult to see it’s there let alone sort it.
It comes in all shapes, sizes and objects. Baggage from past relationships is often the elephant in the room or hidden in your “black bag” that has a lock on it that only you can open.
Perhaps you need to open it together someday.
The biggest, but often most liberating step, is throwing out the hurtful baggage. Only you can decide if that is right for you.
We grasp baggage so tightly sometimes that we don’t see the bruises on our own hands.
I picked up another old photograph. It immediately flooded my brain with bittersweet memories. It beckoned me into the past. But it was time to let it go.
I sighed, dropped it into the throw out pile, and stepped back home into my glorious now.
We had barely walked in the door when lists and lists of rules started screaming at me.
“Take your shoes off!”
“Wash the sand off your feet”
“Use the latch so the door doesn’t slam!”
"Bend your knees before sitting on the couch."
I counted seven more signs in the kitchen alone.
This was our vacation. A quiet place with miles of yellow sand and blue waves stretched before us. Salty nights and sun-drenched days. But…
This was my parent’s apartment. So, rules. My family love rules. Rules held us together. I have one relative whose favourite holiday is New Year's Day as she gets to make a new set of rules. I've spent a lot of my life ridding myself of rules and "shoulds."
Don’t get me wrong. Rules help tremendously. Our boys needed strict boundaries to feel secure and safe.
Like a tentative cat I courageously stepped over the threshold but felt myself tensing up. Smells, sounds, & dusty objects from my regimented, (yet happy) childhood assaulted me.
My tension was all the more acute having just spent Christmas Eve with Christian’s parents. They are the complete opposite of my parents. Think “Meet the Fockers.” That different. I’m not kidding. They're flexible, easy going, free spirited. But their flexibility comes with baggage.
My parents get upset if we arrive 10 minutes late.
Christian’s parents are insulted if we set a time to arrive.
My parents expect us to say three thank you's for each Christmas present, call the next day and say how much we are enjoying the present, then send an email about it a week later.
Christian’s parents get insulted if we say more than one thank you, and prefer that we don’t even notice that they gave us a present.
My parents love rules.
Christian’s parents live to break rule.
My parents like cats.
Christian’s parents like dogs.
And on it goes.
You see, our parents are from completely different cultures.
(How did we two ever get it together?)
The parents we love dearly drive us crazy sometimes. Get-togethers weaken and strengthen our relationship. We are drawn into family dynamics, our childhood roles are replayed, and we are challenged and questioned. If we behave differently to our expected role, our parents can hammer us:
“But you don’t like cats”
“But you couldn’t possibly just give that money away!”
“You always loved Whisky”
"You looked better in patterned clothes"
Each of them trying to reclaim their values as “the only way to be.”
But these are just the small things…
Earlier in our marriage, my tears and repressed anger were sometimes smattered over our windscreen on drives home. Cultural differences sought to exhaust and strangle our relationship.
“Culture” means “the way things are done around here.” Be it differences in country of origin, state of origin, or different faith or family traditions.
If you are in a relationship with someone from a very different culture, you may be like an Olympic diver who has chosen to perform a very difficult dive. If you are in a relationship with the boy next door, your dive degree of difficulty is not as high. In cultural issues, we expect our partner to behave in a certain way and are surprised, hurt or frustrated when they do not. Awareness is half of the solution.
To manage this, we discuss the following:
What are the cultural things we love about each other?
What are the cultural things which drive each other crazy?
How can we use our cultural characteristics for us rather than against us?
If you are going to make any New Years resolutions, consider making one of them being aware of your cultural differences.
We walked along the beach. We talked though the issues. There was a blue bottle on the sand in front of us. (A "marine stinger with a long tail." A real screamer. As a child, I was often stung, but now I just keep a watch out. The cultural issues still sting. Now we rely on each other to keep a watch out. We use heart and humour: a gentle hand on the back, a ridiculous comment.
Coming from different cultures, sometimes I feel that we are miles apart. My heart grieves. But on that Summer's day my perspective changed. Looking back on our sandy path, I was surprised to find that our footprints were not only close, but beautifully in sync.
“Six white boomers!” I started singing at the top of my voice. Yes, Australia has its own Christmas carols about Santa being pulled by 6 big old man kangaroos called boomers. Christian gave me “a look” and continued to play the introduction on the piano.
“What?” I said.
“You came in early” he whispered, and smiled.
Starting a song early is fine, even when you are leading the singing for 33 people in a small intimate setting. Everybody finds where the beat is, finds the rhythm and gets into harmony somehow automatically.
Each year we sing carols around our piano with old friends and new. It’s our Christmas. We decorate the house. There is a lot of joy, laughter, noise and gingerbread. Red and white wine and our secret recipe punch are obligatory.
I love this day. I love lying under the tree and staring at the lights through the branches. I love baking and icing cookies. I love the laughter that fills the house as we set up the chairs, light the candles and hang the wreath on the door. In 30 degrees Celsius.
Each year we ask guests to recall a memory of Christmas. This year, most people shared beautiful, loving stories. But there were sadder memories. As we went around the group, we heard stories of loved ones that have passed on, tough battles with health issues, separations. Big things. Some only shared a few words, but the weight of pain behind their Christmas-season mask was heartbreaking.
Just as physical pain seems to increase at night, emotional pain is more acute during Christmas. As I listened to the stories, I felt humbled that I am allowed to feel such joy while there is so much anguish. I like getting things perfect and I like entertaining, but here I was, confronted by some Christmas realities. I remembered that two of our regular singers could not join us this year. The tunes evoked too many painful feelings. Music can do that. It can by-pass the brain and overwhelm the heart.
At least a dozen people that night told us how much they miss community singing. They get to do it once a year, only at our carols.
The next song was Oh Holy Night sung beautifully as a solo. I just listened. I let the music wash over me.
Music touches the real self. Music heals wounds. I looked at those around me and watched the transformation on faces as people listened. Listened deeply.
After the song, Christian and I just looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing. He hears so many stories of pain at Christmas. But the true song of Christmas is bittersweet. It contains joy amidst stories of heartache.
I’d like to offer you another gift that doesn’t cost anything.
Take a moment away from the ads that command your attention and to-do lists that scream at you, and listen to the words and music of your favourite Christmas carol.
If you listen closely, you just might hear the angels sing.
We would love to hear why a Christmas song is special to you.
Please share this with us by leaving a comment.
This fortnight I’m taking a break from stories to bring to you some relationship gift ideas. You may not come across these in our material-driven world. Each values your relationship as your greatest asset. Anything material doesn’t hold a candle to the beauty and richness of deep, fulfilling love.
What do you give the person who has everything? How do you surprise them? Can’t afford what’s on their list? They may even say “I don’t want anything” but is that true? And maybe you want to give them something.
Christian and I have come up with three gifts that you can give your partner these holidays that money can’t buy. Each gift brings long-term happiness and is designed to strengthen and enrich your relationship.
For each gift, I’ll include some practical suggestions and a “voucher” that you can take a screen shot of, print and personalise. Better still, you may want to make your own voucher.
The Gift of Listening
Early in our relationship Christian didn’t listen.
“What!” I hear you saying, “but he’s a psychiatrist, it’s part of his job description.”
True. But I didn’t marry a psychiatrist, I married a music lecturer. He studied medicine later.
Christian was great at problem solving, but he didn’t listen. A lot of the time he would start problem solving long before I had the chance to tell him what the real problem was. Sound familiar? One year, he had had it with me complaining about how he didn’t listen, so he decided to learn. That was a wonderful gift to me, and laid the groundwork for the hours and hours of listening he does as a doctor: deep, caring, active listening.
You could give this enormous gift.
Here are some practical tips for learning listening. You can do any or all of them to work on your listening.
The Gift of Letting Go of Control
A few blogs ago I talked about control. I’m pretty controlling. My favourite thing to control (yes, I have a favourite), is what happens in the daily lives of my husband and adult sons. To be honest, I’d actually like to even control what they think about! So, I’m working on letting go of my control of their lives: their thoughts, their relationships, what they do with their time. My control drives Christian crazy sometimes. It hems him in and makes him feel stuck.
You could give this gift. Here are some practical tips I’ve been working on. I often fail, but I forgive myself and pluck up the courage to keep trying:
The Gift of Time
We live in such a busy-addicted world that our primary love relationship often gets pushed down the list of priorities. Time is money. Time is productivity. Time is “me time.”
“Us time” is often sacrificed.
Both Christian and I are guilty of this. As I write, we are both staring at screens and he is working on a talk on listening he’ll give tomorrow. Yes, we are productive, but we need to spend more “us time.”
The kind of time you give as a gift can depend on your personality or that of your partner. For example, if you like to control what you do with your time together, your gift may be “One weekend of doing whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.” Don’t be surprised if s/he just wants to stay at home and do nothing planned!
Give the gift of time. Here are some other examples of time gifts to get you thinking. Use these or make up your own.
The most important thing is that the time gift is something that they would want to do, not what you want.
Each of these gifts – listening, letting go, spending time – mean much more than any packaged “thing”. They can bring healing, depth, richness and beauty into your relationship. They are gift-wrapped in love.
We walked through a lush rainforest at the foot of Mount Warning. If you stand at the summit of this natural wonder at daybreak, you will be the first in mainland Australia to see the sun cast its long gilded beams over our desolate continent.
I’m not that fond of mornings, so it was 11am before we commenced our ascent.
We didn’t carry much on our journey, but still the rain's heaviness made us feel each dragging footstep. Our backpacks were full of unspoken words, unfulfilled longings and confusion.
Rainforests are filled with so much depth and beauty, but they also harbour secrets. Vines creep and entwine themselves around trunks and branches, concealing the trees beneath. They made me think about an issue of our relationship, sitting below this weekend's disagreements.
We had been niggling each other for days. This was a warning. A deeper problem festered underneath.
Problems come from many, many sources: parenting, extended family, finances, sex, differing cultures, your personalities, your values and priorities, political differences, society, drug and alcohol issues, work, friends, ill health, misfortune, broken dreams, unrealistic expectations, technology, being too busy, and the weather, just to name a few.
Notice that “the relationship” is not on this list.
When you identify the real problem, you capture it, hold it captive, and then you can begin to work on it.
I couldn’t stand it anymore so I ventured,
“We need to talk about this.”
We both knew what “this” was.
“Oh you mean how I always wear my t-shirts inside out and it drives you crazy?” he grinned.
I laughed. It eased the tension and helped my heart speak more gently.
I took a deep breath, took his hand and we began a long, deep conversation that crept its way around many corners and steep learning curves. We talked about how the attacking and defending of seemingly insignificant issues was a symptom of a bigger tension that had been smouldering underneath. We had both felt that our relationship was the problem but realised that the problem was somewhere else. It was a silent peace-stealer that had worn us down for months now.
The problem (if you want to know) is that we both felt stuck. Stuck with a house that wouldn’t sell, stuck with missing our boys who had just left home, stuck with work overload and stuck with unfulfilled dreams of wanting to do meaningful work at a university full of red tape.
And we were taking our frustrations out on each other.
But … we finally identified the real problem.
When you know and define the problem, you know what to work on.
In this and nearly every case where blame, shame, and guilt are plastered onto a relationship:
The relationship isn’t the problem, the problem is the problem.
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s what we come back to again and again.
It is so liberating. For us.
On the way back down the mountain, I noticed a tree that had uncovered, beautiful slender roots for the world to observe and enjoy. It was growing beside a stream and the longest arm had stretched its delicate fingers into the water.
I realised that although I was mentally and emotionally drained from our talk, I felt much lighter. We had uncovered the problem underneath. We could now work on a way out of this tangled undergrowth.
“I just don’t think we should!”
“Well I do!”
I have a bit of a temper. And no, It’s not because I’m a redhead or have a Scottish heritage. It’s just me. Actually, I have grown quite fond of my temper. It’s a great match for Christian’s hot-blooded European personality. Things can get a bit explosive at times. Like during an argument.
“And that’s another thing, you always get your way.” Christian sparred.
Argue, argue argue…
“And that’s another thing, you don’t understand me.” I retorted and went and hid myself in our room.
I suddenly felt a warm hand on my shoulder.
“And that’s another thing!” Christian yelled “I still love you very much!”
That was it. That was what I needed. The tight hand I had clenched around my opinions lost its debilitating hold.
As we walked along the beach a few days later, I was thinking about this argument. The pristine, beautiful Australian beach is Christian’s place of solace and healing. He goes there often to fling his stress into the waves. This time we both needed the winds and waves to heal some wounds. The tempestuous ocean reminded me of our heated interchange.
We had been arguing over something very insignificant in the
grand scheme. Christian thought we should get solar panels on our roof (a no-brainer if you live in Australia’s sunshine state). I thought we shouldn’t (a no-brainer if your house was on the market).
What resolved the argument? Heart and humour.
On later reflection, I knew it was a technique that Christian talks about in his book about arguing in relationships, but at that moment, I knew he wasn’t using something from a bag of tricks. It was straight from his heart. He had overcome his own fervour to connect with me again: a touch on the shoulder from the heart and a ridiculously loving comment in the middle of an argument.
Those words still bring a smile to my face.
Helpful humour stops you saying things you will regret or stops you letting your feelings run away with you. Helpful humour ideas:
Is this gonna be a short or a long argument?
Should I make a cup of coffee or can we fight over dinner?
Sorry, I just never noticed that beautiful freckle on your nose
Can I phone a friend before I answer that?
Just don’t use humour to avoid the issue or hide your feelings.
Christian sometimes falls into this trap. I fall into the trap of hiding my feelings all together. Neither is healthy.
Using heart and humour is part of healthy arguing. It keeps emotions and reasoning working together.
But it’s not easy. You have to swallow your pride. I’m not good at humour. Touch is easier for me. But even that's not easy in a heated moment. I need to make it a wilful act of love.
After our walk and talk on the long, lovely stretch of golden sand, we just stared at the vast Pacific Ocean. We hadn’t actually solved anything or decided about solar panels, but we had gained perspective.
I still have sand in my pockets from that day. Hurtful words are like the grits of salty sand that get in your eyes: stinging and aching until they are washed out. Heart and humour ease the pain and keep you in relationship.
We haven’t resolved anything, but we're now talking about what we were really arguing about: the problem underneath our words …
TBC in 2 weeks
“Handling problems with heart and humour” is one of the 5 Steps to keeping it together and keeping it great in Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset.
Last week our youngest son proposed. Outside. On a day of torrential rain. On one wet knee.
The months of dry weather in sub-tropical Queensland where we live were recently broken by an outpouring of delicious water from the heavens that quickly turned the burnt grass green.
“Do you have a wet weather plan?” I asked a few days before the proposal.
“An umbrella” replied our son.
The videos had been made, the driver booked, her boss had been alerted, the dress bought, the flowers ordered, the clues for the treasure hunt to take her all over the city written. It had to happen outside: in the middle of botanical gardens framed by a lush, rainforest backdrop, under an ancient weeping spruce that gently caressed the waterholes on either side. Perfect.
Except for the rain.
For seven days leading up to the event I checked the weather forecast (six times a day). At night I couldn’t sleep. Pelting rain kept me awake. I could control everything! (Except the weather.)
I like being in control. Having everything go perfectly. Corrie ten Boom once said that “Hell is getting your own way all the time.” That quote makes me very uncomfortable when I’m trying to control everything around me. But it gives me great comfort when things go wrong.
Standing on our back deck watching the persistent rain the day before the event made me reflect on control. I like to control my children and their paths in life. I like to control events so they work out perfectly. I like to control what people say to each other during events. I like to control my husband: what he does, what he wears, what he says to other people. Christian joined me on the deck and together we gazed at bamboo branches labouring under a heavy assault of wind and rain.
“I am so controlling. I want to control everything.”
“We all want control” he replied.
“Yes but it really takes over my thinking. It consumes me. It’s not healthy.”
He then shared with me three types of control:
1. Controlling others for the greater good
2. Controlling others out of habit
3. Controlling others for our own gain
The best example of controlling for the greater good is bringing up children. Giving them boundaries. Teaching them right from wrong.
Controlling others out of habit is something I do with Christian all the time. What clothes he wears, what he should say in a difficult phone call, career choices. This is OK. Occasionally it hurts him, but there is no malice in it. It is predominantly unintentional and innocuous.
Controlling others for our own gain is the one we need to work on. It is intentional. It is manipulative. It is selfish. It ties you, and others, up in knots.
I have been getting really down on myself about my control lately. I guess I have realised how much it has not only hurt other people, but how I have ultimately found no joy in it. Understanding these three types of control has helped. The first two are OK and I shouldn’t beat myself up about them.
The third isn’t.
So how do you work on it? The starting point is realising that
You can’t change other people.
Just like I couldn’t change the weather.
Sometimes, when you surrender control, the miraculous happens. But sometimes not. We all wished for a glorious, fine day, but it rained.
I treasure one precious memory in my heart about that day: rain or shine, I’m still going to end up with a beautiful daughter-in-law.
On the trail in front of us a two metre python slithered its majestic scales across our path, stealing our way forward. Recent soaring temperatures in Australia have burnt the grass, dust-bagged the soil and awakened the hibernating snakes.
We were bushwalking on our well-loved track populated with soaring gumtrees, scarlet bougainvillea and soulful whip-birds. A place near our home where we often go to de-stress and talk out our longings, failings and triumphs. On the simple walk, danger was lurking to steal our peace. Our reverie was halted abruptly by the appearance of the serpent.
“Do we wait, go around it, or turn back?”
“We can’t pretend it’s not there.”
We both had different responses, but we knew we had to come to an agreement.
Just before we saw the snake, we had been talking about a situation that has haunted our relationship for many years. A situation that has tried to pull our relationship apart. It rears its poisonous head every now and again. It is often provoked by a social gathering. A phone call. A memory. We can’t shake it. It hurts. Still. After many years.
A person close to Christian vehemently disagrees with his choice of partner: me.
Sometimes we were silent about it, waited for it to pass and time to heal. I can be an avoider. I closed my eyes and hoped that it wouldn’t be there when I opened them.
But it was.
We tried going around it by going off the track. Christian tried different tactics to “fix” the situation.
Most of them back-fired.
We tried turning back. Retreating. Even considered moving to another house to keep a distance from it.
It was still there. It still is there.
A family member or a friend who doesn’t like your partner can spread poison through your relationship. Parents can be disappointed in your choice of partner. Siblings can be jealous. Friends can be competitive. They can subtly lure you away from your greatest asset: your relationship
Each person handles it differently. Early in our marriage, we would avoid it. When I grew more comfortable with opening up, we would argue about it. Or Christian would point out the things I did wrong. Or I would blame him for it.
Then the wonderful thing happened.
Christian shared a technique he had been working on with his patients.
“Let’s try playing ‘you and me against the world’ with this issue.”
In a society that values individual happiness this is not always easy to do. Family and friends’ unhelpful criticisms of our partner can play over and over in our head. They get in.
“Actually, he’s not that respectful”
“Yes, she is very manipulative”
Playing “you and me against the world” means putting individual happiness aside and seeking together happiness. It’s not easy. You have to stop all the “what do I want?” thoughts and cultivate “what do we want?”
Once you have decided to stand on the same side against the problem, you are twice as strong.
The next time we saw this person, we decided to play you and me against the world. We used a lot of “we” language. We stole little private moments to check on our strategy. We affirmed each other in front of other people. But we were still on our guard.
Lots of negative thoughts about this person still come up for me. I have recently tried thinking about wonderful things happening for this person: for their health, for their career, for their relationships. Blessing rather than cursing. Strangely, this has helped a lot.
The poison still works its way into our lives at times. But we no longer ignore it, go round it, or retreat. We hold hands a little more tightly. At the moment it is only a snake on the trail in front of us.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains a little story of our journey and an insight drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience as a psychiatrist. We post every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.