Linda: Back in the old days, at the very beginning of my relationship with my husband Charlie, what I wanted most in my life was the comfort and security of a committed partnership. I grew up in a family where chaos and struggle ruled and I was determined not to replay that scenario in my adult life. What I wanted was peace and predictability. Because I, like most of us, chose a partner who was (it turned out to be for good reasons) very different from myself, what I experienced, particularly in the early years of our relationship proved to be more conflictual and less peaceful than what I had in mind. Sometimes Charlie and I seemed to be so far apart in our views and desires that I feared that we wouldn’t make it. The fact that we did, I would attribute to some hard work, determination, good help, and love.
We both had to stretch into the other’s world. (It’s a long story!) Over time, he softened and I became more flexible and learned to let go of some of my rigidly held attachments.
The longing for comfort, predictability, and security is inherent in all human beings. When an excessive degree of rootedness, however is present in a relationship, we may feel weighted down, cramped, caged, and suffocated. In addition to roots, we humans also need wings in order to fly. Many of us opt for continuity and predictability rather than risk the instability that can come with change and growth. Unfortunately this attachment can, in the long run, squeeze the juice out of a relationship. The quest for eternal security can lead to boredom, complacency and ultimately, stagnation. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Truths are left unsaid, needs repressed, desires denied, all in order to avoid conflict. What had felt like security can begin to feel like a trap or a prison.
While most relationships involve each person holding one of these two polarities, (freedom or security) to some degree, what distinguishes great marriages from good ones is that each partner is able to honor both of these aspects and are able to move fluidly between them. When this is the case, the relationship becomes invigorated with a kind of vitality that promotes co-creativity, instead of co-dependency, and there is a quality of ease and mutuality that pervades the couples’ shared life.
A romantic partnership involves the interplay of many polarities and abilities: giving and receiving, action and contemplation, feeling and thinking, separateness and connection, and others. While few of us are comfortable with both sides of each duality, we can learn to appreciate that the value of our partner’s ability to bring into our relationship those tendencies that are less developed in ourselves.
While it is likely that our natural tendencies will remain dominant in our predisposition, if it is possible to strengthen our less dominant side through practice and by paying attention to our partner and learning from them. By risking going into the areas that feel unsafe again and again we can gradually become more graceful in this dance.
To prevent the stultifying influence of excessive predictability, there needs to be a full-hearted commitment on the part of both partners to maintain and deepen the passion and vitality of their relationship. We can keep the relationship in great shape by taking good care of it, making it a high priority, checking in with our partner and ourselves, (every day isn’t too often) being completely honest about any dissatisfaction and resentment, and consistently expressing through our words and actions, the love we feel inside. A passionate relationship requires room for expression of all feelings: gratitude, joy, hurt, fear, sadness, disappointment, loneliness, guilt, shame, resentment, anger and even rage. As Zorba says, “the full catastrophe.” It is the willingness to risk authenticity and honesty that fuels romantic passion.
Who we are is vast, and much of it is invisible to the eye. Our challenge is to see all of our partner with eyes of acceptance and appreciation and to allow ourselves so be fully seen by them as well. When we both engage in this process, the excitement of discovery, so enchanting in the earliest phase of relationship, continues and deepens throughout the life of the relationship.
Keeping the mutual adoration flame burning requires a commitment on both partner’s parts to stay on the path of ongoing growth and discovery. It’s never too late to make a different choice, even if your relationship has gone flat. It takes courage to make and implement such choices. Of course there may be risks of disturbing the status quo, but they are small compared to the potential benefits. A delicate balance of security and adventure, the familiar and the novel, characterizes relationships that sparkle over the decades. A fierce loving connection, coupled with the freedom to be your unique separate self is a genuine possibility for us all. It’s a piece of work to have all the moving parts humming along, but well worth the effort. Why settle for less?
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