PART 2. Great Love. The Surprise Flip To Avoid.
Last week, I introduced a giant topic.
(I highly recommend reading last week’s post so this one makes more sense.)
Last week, I spoke about the convenient wisdom of applying what you know from an area of life where you feel successful to an area that could use a little help.
Take closet cleaning, for instance. I’m good at that. Can I apply what I know about closet cleaning to clean up my role in my intimate relationship?
It turns out, I can.
To begin, I practice noticing what’s hanging in my relationship closet. What do I say and do in my relationship with others? What are my reactions? What stresses me? What makes me happy?
Notice everything that’s now hanging in my relationship closet. Become aware of the contents.
THIS WEEK — THE FLIP
This week’s conversation continues with a big question. What is a cleaning practice that hangs up most relationships?
In cleaning my clothing closet, I used to think that all I had to do was organize what was there, that if I could just keep ahead of the mess and tidy it more often, things would work better and I’d be happy.
This is the most common mistake in the idea of “tidying” according to Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Do we do this in relationships, too? Try to keep ahead of the mess? Try to organize the contents of the relationship better? Keep moving the same parts around, even if those parts don’t spark joy?
We do! We do so many things other than effortlessly enjoy our partnership with another person.
When the connection, love and appreciation of each other goes sideways, do you ever wonder why keeping enjoyment over time is sometimes so hard?
There’s a good reason for that.
In relationships, there’s often an interesting flip to the idea of tidying. Do you know what it is?
(See if you can come up with an answer before you look ahead.)
Answer: We don’t try to re-organize or tidy ourselves.
Most humans go about attempting to improve a relationship by tidying the other person.
The “other person” can be a friend. An intimate partner. An acquaintance. An employee. A government official. A child.
We attempt to tidy that person over there — oh, maybe just a touch up here and there! Maybe they could do a little more of this, and a little less of that. If my husband or child or friend did these things, but not these other things, I’d be happier.
We make their business our business.
TAKE A PAUSE
Sit with this for a minute. It’s important. It’s the bugaboo in every unhappy relationship I’ve ever met.
This idea of how to make things better by tidying someone else is completely backwards, yet most couples do it.
Further, this is somehow accepted as the norm, as if we have the wisdom to know what’s better for someone else — and the right to make another person change so that we can be happier.
In other words, I’ll fix YOU and then MY life will be better.
I confess I’m a former expert in changing anyone but me. I’ve been married four times (three times on paper) and had a total of six significant relationships.
Even after 26 years of a predictable pattern of marriage followed by divorce in 5 years, I began my relationship with Eric undaunted.
I re-arranged him, subtly at first, and more boldly as the relationship continued, in the attempt to be happier with me, him, marriage in general, my life as a whole!
My goal to be happy? Admirable.
My method? Not so effective…
After five years together, with my patterns and habits operating at full speed, we were poised for yet another botched and bungled relationship, thanks to me.
But at that point in my 17 year relationship with Eric, I woke up by realizing the pattern was my pattern, it had nothing to do with him, and that I could change my pattern. This was a starting point that made all the difference.
WHAT’S THE STARTING POINT IN IMPROVING A BIG OL’ MESS IN A RELATIONSHIP?
The starting block in the game of relationships is with observing the self.
To improve my relationship with Eric, it finally dawned on me (Hello-o-o-o, Terri) that I could begin with me, and me only. I could clean my own darn closet. I could be the change I was hoping for.
Well, that was a moment!
(I know, like I said in last week’s blog, we usually hope to avoid that personal change thing…)
You’ll be happy to know the results were revolutionary, extraordinary, and really fun. My flailing relationship with Eric recovered – fully, entirely, completely. We went from hell to heaven because I began to see things from this new perspective. After my epiphany, we had some very beautiful years together.
Keep investigating the central question posed from last week: What’s hanging in your relationship closet? What do you say, think or do in your relationships? What do you notice?
Don’t worry about removing anything from your closet, just keep noting what’s there. Learn about yourself as if you don’t know you. View you and all that you do with fresh eyes. Be curious.
And this week, pay special attention to noticing when you tidy someone else, even if it is in your mind.
Having a passing thought that a family member or partner did something wrong counts as tidying someone else. Secretly wishing a friend would stand up for herself counts. Evaluating the adequacy or worthiness of someone’s actions counts. (Go ahead, think politics…) Thinking you know how someone else should act around you, treat you, or speak to you counts. Being frustrated about a partner’s habits counts.
All of these count as tidying someone besides you, which diverts the attention from you, the source of all change.
Not getting into other people’s business doesn’t make you a passive person. It allows you to be proactive on your behalf, instead of against someone else. It’s way more efficient.
P.S. Keep me posted on what you find, if you are so inclined, if you can bear it, if you’re willing to speak it aloud. I know intimate relationships can be a pretty private thing, but sharing a little about your journey could be helpful to others reading this.