Confessions of a Committed Couple
“Love brings up anything unlike itself”
I can be a jerk in my relationship. I am sometimes much nicer to other people than I am to Brian. This is a shameful admission, but it’s the truth. I take refuge in knowing that this phenomenon is fairly common and that I/we are not the only ones. The couples we work with often have this fantasy that Brian and I always handle things well— with complete emotional authenticity, self ownership and maturity.Yes it’s true that over the years, we move through our conflicts with more ease, faster and with more kindness. But do we ever deteriorate into shitty behavior toward one another? OH YES!
There are varying forms of crappy behavior. My style tends toward the aggressive side. I can be critical, blaming and self-centered. However I can also be moody and withholding. Brian errs more on the passive side, of quiet disdain, dismissiveness and withdrawal. We all have our own special cocktail of shittiness. Sometimes it appears that the partner who has the aggressive pattern is “meaner” than the other, but there is nothing nice about a partner that withdraws and withholds. We developed our various forms of harshness in our childhood as coping strategies we call “control patterns”. We also model our parents and their coping strategies. All “control patterns” have a dark side which ultimately results in harming ourselves and our relationship. I grew up in an environment where I witnessed women controlling and belittling their men. It is no surprise that I should also embody these qualities at times. For most of us the ownership of our negativity is very difficult and brings up a lot of self judgement and shame. The irony is the more we can face our more unattractive qualities, the more kind we become.
So why does our worst come out in our relationship to our partner? Is it because we feel safe enough to “let it all hang out” with our partners? Is it because the security we feel with our partner allows our dark side to emerge whereas out in the world we need to mask these parts in order to be liked?
Many years ago, I heard a powerful, yet simple quote from Sondra Ray describing the essence of the transformative purpose of relationship. She wrote “love brings up anything unlike itself.” Those words of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them 35 years ago. Relationship provides us with a kind of purification process that allows us to transform our “shittiness” into kindness and unconditional love. We can spotlight the darkest parts in ourselves in relationship. And if we’re committed to the process of transformation, we can also embody our deepest compassion and unconditional love for our partners.
How do we transform negativity and choose the path of kindness?
This is what I have learned.
1. Stop blaming your partner for their crappyness, and focus on how you are crappy to our partner. Own it. Take responsibility.
2. When your negative behaviors emerge, see it as an opportunity to notice whats really going on for you emotionally. Name it. Share it.
3. When your partner throws poo at you, restrain from throwing poo back and let them know you are hurt.
4. When your partner is being shitty, stand back and be curious about what’s going on for them.
5. Let your partner know how you feel when you are impacted by something they say or do. Say it without blame or any demand that they change. This builds compassion and kindness.
6. Work on transforming negative behaviors and set an intention to bring more kindness into your relationship.
7. Don’t wait for your partner to take the high ground. Do it first.
My deepest desire is to be a better partner to Brian. We both are committed to the relational processes mentioned above, although sometimes we need to get ugly for a bit, before we notice what we’re doing and choose another path. The key is having the consciousness and intention to make another choice and not get locked in the negativity cycle. I really like the greater depth of respect and kindness we have in our relationship.