Love relationships are at the top of my list of “Life’s Great Mysteries.” They are not the kind of mystery you have to travel a great distance to encounter or have any esoteric understanding in order to experience. I am often reawakened to the mystery of relationship when I least expect it. I was in a perfectly mundane state of mind, scanning a recent New Yorker magazine, when it found me: a cartoon illustrated by P. Byrnes depicting a man and woman in bed. The woman, reaching to turn out the light, says “Look if we never went to bed angry we’d never sleep.” It made me wonder, “How is it that a relationship can in one moment evoke feelings of ecstasy and union and in the next trigger irrational reactions and unreasonable responses?” (Not to mention the myriad gradations in between.)
Relational Rubs Can Bring Out a Good Shine
I find his mysterious evocation of emotional paradox most intriguing. When I am of one mind about something, I can settle into a coziness verging on entropy, but when there are elements that rub and chafe yet pull in opposite directions, I can’t help but search for a resolution of opposites and the subsequent growth that it entails. By midlife I’ve had enough cycles of relational rub-and-resolve to see that nothing advances growth and personal luster like the polishing action of a good emotional rub. It’s those tough, uncomfortable moments with partners that call us to make the most difficult choices: to remember our relational commitments when we aren’t in touch with the love that made us want to make them. We may forget to garner our internal resources when we are riveted by what seem like totally externally driven issues or fail to find the will to move in the direction of love and light when dark feelings are threatening to overwhelm us and our relationship.
There are countless perspectives that can be considered when we feel raw from the rub of difficult relational moments. But the one that is both most helpful and yet most easily forgotten is this: Even when there may be no immediate relational solution, we always have a choice about what we do internally with upsets and challenges.
Making Empowering Choices
Here are some choices you have that might not be so obvious in the midst of difficult relational moments:
You could: Or you could:
Focus on finding fault in your partner Be curious about what you can discover about yourself:
pay attention to your own reactions and expectations.
Prove a point; Prove to yourself that you can stay in touch with you own heart in difficult moments.
Push for a change in your partner; Push yourself to become more of who you most want to be and how you can grow in the relationship.
Either withdraw or demand immediate agreement; Stay present and available for resolution.
Be dogged about being understood; Aim for clearer thinking, better listening, and greater compassion
for both of you.
Collect hurts; Collect moments of courage and calmness by managing your own feelings and reactivity.
Avoid conflict at all cost; Trust that there is something in it that could polish your edges and bring about more love and light in your relationship.
The process of discovering what would stop you from making a positive choice for yourself and your relationship involves reflection and a strong desire to become your Best Self. It may include inquiring into years of automatic emotional responses that seem to have a mind of their own. Even though it’s not possible to arrive at a pinnacle of perfection, a relational journey founded on a commitment to personal and shared growth has rewards unmatched by anything else.
A Relational Image and a Meaningful Mantra
There is a relational image in the final scene of the 1990 movie “Ghost” that is useful. Demi Moore’s character has lost her beloved partner (Patrick Swayze) to murder. He can’t let go of his life and remains a ghost until he solves his murder and discovers what he had in his relationship. In the final scene he recognizes that the love they created in life is a light that continues to shine so he can let go in death. The image of his love radiating, beyond his physical presence, is a visual reminder of the mystery and potential of love.
Love relationships have the power to bring out more darkness or more light, so in turbulent times I do my best to hang onto my “mantra in moments of relational madness:
I would rather be light than right