Monday, September 27, 2010

Love, the meaning of life and everything, including our inner toothpaste-wielding brat.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about relationships. What makes a relationship successful? What preconceptions do we carry with us into one and burden our partners with? How could we improve and become better people?

I think this boils down to two very simple concepts: I want to treat my partner with the same appreciation and wonder felt during courtship and I don't want to drape my burdensome agenda over their shoulders (instead embrace them for who they are).

This sounds simple but how many times have you seen couples exhibit contempt for each other? Ugly behaviors like eye-rolling and snide remarks -- would those work as pickup tactics? No. Why, then, do people feel free to unleash unkindnesses on eachother? I know they say familiarity breeds contempt but why? We have control over how we act; there's no need to be mean. Those things erode trust which is the entire foundation of a relationship. How can any of us feel safe with someone who has hurt us or continually hurts us? Repairing what is broken is never as easy as preventative maintenance (a concept that works with both engines and people) and so it seems imperative to remember these things.

About the agenda thing. Say I want person A to pay more attention to me. How do I get what I want? Maybe I ask. Maybe I unconsciously pout. Maybe I unknowingly set up conditions. But if it's something that doesn't come easily or naturally to the other person, my request isn't quite just. When people care, they want to please but is it really fair of me to demand that they go outside their comfort zone for my sake? Then I'm trampling their needs to advocate for my own but when did mine become more important?

I want to remember to look out for other people's well-being the way I would a child: unselfishly (which is really hard as my inner id is also a child who may even happen to be throwing a tantrum right that very minute involving a large banana, a box of crayons and a tube of red toothpaste). The brainpower I have for self-examination during times of stress or perceived threat is exceedingly small and so I want to remember simple rules of appreciation, gratitude and acceptance.

To be truly thoughtful, I think I owe it to be honest to those around me. They can't know what I need if I don't say it. But I also need to ask in a way that isn't scary: there can't be conditions or heavy emotion. (How terrifying would it be if a pilot screamed "HAND ME THAT!!!!" while pointing wildly at something instead of coolly requesting said item?) Method of delivery is everything, right? I feel this is so important. And so I'm trying to pay attention to how I express myself.

Also, I need to give those around me the freedom to be honest without repercussions or they will shut down.

If I ask for what I need but they can't deliver it and then I get upset, then I've just made them feel guilty. They want to make me happy -- don't we all want to please those we care for? If we can't, maybe it's because of some frailty or timing or something, but it's not on purpose. I've never disappointed someone out of sheer vindictiveness.

Like right now: I'm supposed to call a relative who expressed feeling neglected, but I'm exhausted and fighting a cold and really just don't feel like being on the phone right now. It's not her, it's me. Intent is everything, is it not? Our entire legal system is based on it; the sentence someone receives from killing another human being hinges largely on intent. Why shouldn't our closest relationships also benefit from similarly charitable consideration? I'm not picking up the phone, but I still love her and hope to explain tomorrow.

I also think healthy people pick partners who show signs of being available in the ways they need. It's easy to replay toxic patterns learned in childhood but it's not productive. This is why I'm a huge advocate of mental health and why I feel it's so important to continually and rigorously undergo self-examination.

What do you do once trust is breached? Misunderstandings DO occur. A relationship without conflict is a relationship without intimacy. The reward of being emotionally close is enormous, however; I'd never want a union that just skimmed the surface. To truly know another person is a wondrous gift. If you take away our ambition and our skills and our work and our money and our health and our time (we will lose all these things anyway someday) what matters -- what's left -- are our connections. However, I don't really know what to do once trust has been breached. It's awfully hard to regain. It's inevitable though, given that only those closest to us can wound us so deeply and so despite the difficulty, we must try to heal. I think it's important to understand what led to the breach (harder than it sounds), then we can learn from it and forge a new path paved with compassion, forgiveness and mercy.

Which brings me back to the first point: treating loved ones with appreciation and reverence.

I want to remember how lucky I am to share my space on this earth with those I love, how their simple presence has brought me joy and changed me. What a beautiful gift they've given by leaving a mark on my heart.

It's hard to feel that way in the midst of hurt and pain but when time has gently smoothed the frayed edges of souls, are we not a richer fabric from our experiences?


  1. Your thoughts are mine. We are walking similar paths right now. From my side, I can tell you that things don't look any more certain. If things clear up on your side, please be sure and let me know what it looks like.

  2. this was a beautiful post. thank you for capturing what I'm sure a lot of us feel.