Linda: Back in the old days, at the very beginning of my relationship with Charlie, what I wanted most of all was the comfort and security of a committed partnership. The family I came out of was so chaotic, I wanted some peace and predictability. I was so anxious and insecure that that sort of relationship sounded like heaven to me. Charlie and I often found ourselves at opposite ends of the spectrum and I feared that we were so different that we might not make it in the long term. We both had to stretch into other 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. It is in our human nature to desire comfort, predictability, and security. When we experience these in our relationship, we feel grounded, centered, and secure. Too many roots, however can leave us feeling 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 start to feel like a trap or a prison. What had been reassuringly safe can start to feel painfully confining. 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 in the former both partners are 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.
A common duality is that in which one partner holds freedom as a very high value, while the other is a stand for connection and engagement. As many of us have discovered, people with one of these tendencies tend to be drawn to those who are their counterpart, often with challenging consequences. It’s as if some deep inner knowing is telling us that the other person has important information and a skill that we need in order to experience greater wholeness. The one who is more comfortable with separateness may feel anxious in the experience of deep emotional intimacy. She may fear being swallowed up or controlled. The other partner may hear alarms going off if there is too much separateness because he may fear abandonment. While it is likely that our natural tendencies will remain dominant in our predisposition, if t 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 area that feels unsafe again and again we can gradually become more graceful in this dance. Some people have a negative association with the institution of marriage seeing it as a constricting structure that fosters excessive dependence and boredom, and requires both partners to sacrifice freedom, adventure, and spontaneity as the price of commitment. While for many couples this can be the case, it doesn’t have to be this way.
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. Looking at your partner through the eyes of gratitude is another great way to enliven a relationship. When we intentionally focus on our partner’s better qualities and those aspects we appreciate about them, our feelings towards them become more positive. 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. There are many ways that we can support this process. Going on trips to places we’ve never been before is a good way to shake up our status quo. Creative processes such as drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, journaling, making music, dance, drumming, jewelry making, etc. keep our generative juices flowing, whether we do them together of separately. Another way to keep the romantic spark alive is to be transparent with our partner about what we desire to experience with each other. A willingness to do this keeps a flame burning that heats up our connection. Tapping into our erotic nature and inviting that of our partner to come forth is a creative process in and of itself and is something that we never outgrow. Only lovers who truly know and trust each other can experience enough emotional safety to risk experiencing such an adventure with each other. 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 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?