Marcia and I were hiking one of our favorite trails earlier today and we got around to discussing how life can sometimes seem so scary. The more we talked, the more we realized how we each secretly look to the other to make our respective lives feel safe. Indeed, the lure of marriage involves the fantasy that our partners will somehow make everything alright. Through our partner we hope to finally find security. So it may come as a shock to some of you that the great value of long term commitment is in its ability to keep us on danger’s edge.
Over time relationships tend to become less expansive and more predictable. We wink and nod at each other in a mutual collusion to maintain the status quo. The grand quest is to feel in control, secure and unconditionally accepted and loved. We are attempting to construct paradise but usually end up despising harp music. Without noticing, couples memorize their lines and re-enact their parts over and over and over. As years slip by partners see each other mostly in past tense. That is, what they see is what they have become accustomed to seeing. A haircut may go undetected. An inspiration by one partner to venture into something new may be trivialized by the other. Couples interact based on narratives they have carefully constructed about who the other truly is. The more we believe we “know” the other the more control we imagine we have.
The desire to create safety is understandable. Just as a child needs to feel her environment is secure enough before she can explore her world with abandon, we look to our partners to provide a secure home base. But the security a child needs is fundamentally different than what we require as adults. As grow-ups we don’t need our partners to give us what our parents couldn’t, we need them to be real people. As John Welwood expresses it, “Because two people live in space and time, with different experiences, temperaments, timing and rhythms, likes and dislikes, they can never actualize absolute unconditional union in any conclusive, uninterrupted way.”
The blunt reality is that our partners pose a threat to our comfy self image. We know instinctively that they can hurt us. As a consequence, we develop patterns of relating that we hope will control each other from causing us fear, anger and shame. As long as we attempt to “spin” things so we can avoid being criticized, rejected, and, worst of all, abandoned, we shrink-wrap our relationship.
To be deeply in love, however, requires stripping away all the controls we put in place in an effort to keep ourselves safe. A thriving relationship is one that is more improvisational and less scripted. Things can seemingly go badly when we live in the unknowing of what comes next. Yet, we can know only so much and the rest is yet to be uncovered. Exceptional relationships forego the security of constancy in favor of the uncertainty that change and growth always demand.
There is an insecurity around living fully in the present. It requires us to feel more deeply, to risk that we will not be understood, to ride with the ever changing flow of moment by moment experience, and to tell the truth. It also means being curious about who this other person is and to be humble enough to be surprised by them. An evolving relationship requires us to be willing to plunge into the unfolding of life’s mysteries. Are you open to making your relationship less safe and more alive?
Here are some things to try:
- For 10 minutes the both of you only talk about the present moment and what you are aware of.
- Ask yourself if there is anything about your partner that evokes envy or makes you feel threatened (if you can’t think of anything you’re not looking deeply enough). Share it with him/her.
- Ask your partner to tell you about something s/he has always fantasized trying but never creates time for.
- Tell your partner some way you see unfulfilled potential in him/her.
- Sit quietly facing each other and breathe together. Notice any impulses that you sense within yourself and express them. (eg. An urge to laugh, to reach out and touch, to hide, to share something that you have been withholding, etc.)