Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
“Please don’t reject me when I tell you this!”
I was screaming these words so loudly inside my head that I thought Christian could hear it.
Actually, I thought the koala could hear it. He gave a sleepy nod in my direction and what I perceived as a very knowing look. We were on a day trip to Australia Zoo, a wild experience.
“Please take it well, please don’t misunderstand, please let’s keep in harmony” my inner-monologue continued.
You may have an inner monologue similar to this when confiding with friends and family, but the stakes are higher when you are sharing something very, very, honest with your love partner. Extremely high. You do not want to lose them, so sometimes you wonder if you can be totally honest with them and allow them to be totally honest with you.
Communication in a love relationship is unique: you are special to one another, you are with each other for so much of the time, you want peace and harmony yet you have wants and needs to honestly express.
“I need to tell you something, and it’s going to take a lot of courage for me to tell you this.”
Good start Caroline, but where do you go from here?
I usually bottle things up and then explode during a heated moment. Christian tends to be more honest, but this can be hurtful. Often I keep things to myself, but he still feels the stirrings underneath. This time I was more prepared. The nature and animals around worked their special kind of charm and made me want to disclose, draw closer, share what was really going on and, I hoped, made Christian more receptive. Setting the right environment is important. This was the right moment.
“Okay, I’m listening” Christian held my hand as we walked through a wetlands area singing with birds.
Silence. Deep breath. Look at him Caroline, you can say it.
“When you….I feel….And you have been doing that a lot lately. I need you to be more….”
Whew! I said it and then held my breath.
We often confide on this level, but this time, what I needed to tell him went to the very deep core of our relationship. The stakes were much higher.
I felt like a meerkat on sentry. On guard, watching for the slightest sign of disturbance. I watched Christian closely, the tightening of his jaw muscle. What was it in his eyes, hurt, betrayal, confusion?
“Thank you for telling me.”
Silence as he took it in.
Honesty is tough. It risks a lot. It leaves you standing naked. But that’s kind of what’s supposed to happen in a personal relationship. For a time you sacrifice the harmony in your relationship and go through uncertainty for a deep togetherness, very deep. And yes, you sometimes hurt your love-partner in the process. Truth does that.
The closer someone is, the more they love you, but the more they can hurt you.
“What can I do to make it easier for you” he said through the hurt. We talked it through. A long, difficult talking through.
Before you back away from the daunting task of being more honest with your love-partner, and have them be honest with you, keep in mind the following:
A relationship means sharing love, and having someone who knows and understands you.
If you feel misunderstood by everyone, but your love- partner understands you; life is OK.
If you feel abandoned by everyone, but your love-partner accepts you; life is pretty good.
If you feel betrayed, hated or cheated by everyone, but your love-partner stands by you, loves you and is faithful to you; life is great.
As we walked through another large aviary we saw two Australian Emerald Doves flying from tree to tree. I wanted to take a photo of them but they were too busy following each other. One would move to a tree and the other would try and keep up. They didn’t always get it right, but they always ended up on the same branch somehow, standing by each other, just belonging to each other. It feels wonderful to be known.
After this disclosure Christian knew a lot more about me and it felt wonderful. Honesty peels back the layers, exposing the true gold and growing the deep love underneath.
We were driving to work along a busy major highway and someone had dangerously pulled in front of us causing us to brake.
“Honk!” Christian hit the horn of our car. Hard. Loud.
I hate it when he does that. It draws attention and I hate the attention.
“What did he think he was doing!”
Christian was exasperated and had a good rant for the next five minutes. He wasn’t particularly angry with the driver, but he used this opportunity to complain about everything that’s wrong with the world. He likes a good complain but I feel the need to save him (and me) from his overwhelming mood.
I tried everything:
I changed the subject
I talked about what he had to do at work that day
I even complained about how bad my headache was…to get his sympathy (that usually works). But no, he kept complaining.
We moved into the next lane to overtake as we needed to exit. As we passed the erratic driver I slunk down into my seat with embarrassment so he couldn’t see me.
A fortnight ago we looked at turtle and a chimp profiles in relationships. Christian had just displayed some choice chimpish behaviour and here I was, hiding back in my turtle shell, trying to calm and soothe and pretend nothing had happened. So what does it look like when turtles and chimps are in love? Or more importantly, when the two personality types clash.
A chimp may say they aren’t getting enough love, companionship, understanding, conversation, sex or attention. The poor turtle withdraws into a shell to protect itself from the onslaught, leaving the poor chimp with what seems like less love, affection and attention. The chimp then criticizes and demands more, leading the turtle to withdraw more, leading to more screeching by the chimp.
The remedy is to recognize that the chimp is acting out of love. The chimp wants love, understanding, warmth and more of the person they are so in love with. The chimp is trying to get these things the best way it knows how: by being a chimp.
The turtle, too, is acting out of love. The turtle wants to be safe and secure. The turtle is trying to protect itself but, out of love, it is also trying to protect the relationship and even the chimp. The turtle wants to save the poor chimp from any bad moods or complaints the turtle has. Turtles often don’t like their own bad moods so they don’t want to inflict them on others (chimps are quite willing to share their bad moods). The turtle thinks that not sharing these and avoiding conflict is the best way of sharing secure, harmonious love. The turtle wants gentle, secure love and is trying to get it the best way it knows how: by being a turtle.
The chimp needs to soften up and make things safe for the turtle. The turtle needs to come out of its shell and share more. Safe conversations help. (For more see Heim Relationship Asset, 67)
As I slid back up into my normal sitting position I took Christian’s hand.
“Are you really more comfortable on the floor?” he joked and laughed. I decided to try laughing too. It worked. I felt better, he felt better and we felt we were living on the same planet again. Yes, 27 years of marriage together and I still need to be encouraged to come out of my turtle shell. Heart and humour always help.
“What can I do to make things easier for you?” he said gently.
Wow! That came from left field. Now I knew we were no longer on the planet of the apes. (Believe me, with Christian it feels that way sometimes).With a genuine, heart-felt comment, he provided a safe place for me to emerge out of my shell and disclose and that just gave me a bit more courage.
Yesterday, with glee, I honked at a car that cut me off. We all have a bit of turtle and a bit of chimp in us underneath.
News Flash: We have just finished recording our first relaxation exercise to classical music. Christian is on piano and I am taking you through the relaxation. Follow this link https://youtu.be/UvthN3tvTY4
Are you a turtle or a chimp in your relationship?
I was reminded of Christian’s insight into these different personalities when we were meandering along the beautiful foreshore of the Sunshine Coast National Park. This is a unique place in Australia where two currents meet, two opposite sea temperatures, resulting in an abundance of sea life.
“Oh my gosh, a giant turtle!”
There below us in the turquoise, melt-in-your mouth sea, a giant turtle glided up to the surface for air.
I am the turtle in our relationship and I often need to come out of my shell for air. I’ll explain why later, but first let me describe Christian’s turtle and chimp profiles.
A turtle doesn’t talk about problems. If I pretend it’s not there, I don’t need to deal with it; maybe it will go away. It hides feelings in a shell and says nothing. A clever turtle can put on a show: pretend to have fun while feeling angry or hurt. A turtle gives the silent treatment, the cold shoulder. It keeps hurt and anger inside, bottled up, and pushed down. Alternatively, a turtle can be a loud and very social person, but it’s all a façade to keep feelings hidden.
A turtle may have a placid, peaceful and calm nature, but its lack of engagement can become stubbornness, avoidance and rudeness. A turtle is more likely to come from a family which was stoic, and where peace, consideration and order were valued.
A chimp on the other hand usually comes from a family which readily shared opinions and emotions, where jokes were made and people were spontaneous. It may come from a household full of arguing. When faced with conflict, a chimp will talk it out, nag it out, criticize it out, blame it out, and even fight it out. A chimp will let the other know just what a so-and-so they are and give them a piece of their mind. A chimp can be fun to be around when in a good mood, but when in a bad mood, it can become intrusive, obstreperous, blaming and annoying. (For more see Heim Relationship Asset 66).
I’ve talked about Christian’s chimpish ways before: annoying but loving. I’ve talked about my turtle behaviour before: avoidant but a good listener. I am attracted to Christian’s chimpiness and he is attracted to my turtle ways.
Of course you may be a turtle, you may be a chimp, you may alternate, be both, or be some sort of a turtle-chimp hybrid or mutant. Compared to your partner you may be a chimp, but with someone else you may be the turtle because they are a lot chimpier than you are. Or, as a turtle, you start looking very chimpy next to a turtle with a much thicker shell.
What has really helped me is understanding this dynamic in our relationship. There seems to be a great comfort in knowing and identifying different personalities. When I understood that Christian was a chimp, I was able to forgive him more, accept and even grow to love aspects of his chimpishness.
As I watched the turtle break the surface of the water, take a gulp of air and then soar with new-found energy and purpose into the luminous depths of the sea, I felt a deep joy. I realised that for many years I used to be lonely and controlling in my shell. Marrying a chimp was challenging, uncomfortable and overwhelming at times. Early on I wanted to hide in my shell. Especially when he unknowingly used to do things in public or social situations that embarrassed me. I have since learnt the joy of living with a chimp.
We continued our walk. There are so many opposites on the coast: sea meets land, rock meets water, soft meets hard, warm meets cold. We laugh a lot; chimp around. I break the surface of my silence and come up for air. It is the air we both breathe: of acceptance, love and a celebration of our differences.
Do opposites attract? Yes, no and everything in between. The real question is, how do chimps and turtles dance together?
…More next time on chimps and turtles in love.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post once a month. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.