Many of the clients I work with come into coaching because they are struggling in their relationship or their marriage. And let’s face it, choosing to be in an intimate relationship with someone is signing up to be in the hot seat. You are choosing to live with a mirror that reflects where you still have to grow in your life. This can be intense.
Luckily it doesn’t start out that way or probably no one would ever sign up. Instead relationships begin with “the honeymoon phase” where your heart opens wide and all the good-feeling hormones are released. You are experiencing what love is. What expansion feels like. You open so much, you feel like anything is possible. Your new mate can do no wrong. You see them with love’s eyes. And love’s eyes don’t judge. Love’s eyes don’t see fault. What is happening here is that the other person is reflecting all the love inside of you and you are being filled up by it. Everything tastes good, smells good. You are more present and available. You actually hear the birds chirping and feel the breeze on your face. You have inspired ideas. You feel alive! You are more willing to step outside your comfort zone. You love your life and everyone in it, especially this person reflecting love back to you.
And then what happens? The first argument, the first misunderstanding, the first annoying behavior. Maybe then you begin to doubt everything you were feeling and seeing before. Little things start to irritate you and pretty soon, you are no longer seeing through the lens of love. Instead you are looking through the lens of fear. Little things the person does start to trigger fear and your defenses go up. And before you know it, negative patterns set in.
You may wonder why something so good would take such a turn? What happened to all the beauty? Well, I promise you, the beauty is still there - just buried underneath many layers of stuff you don’t need. And believe it or not, that stuff has nothing to do with your partner. Sure, your partner has their layers of stuff also. In fact, their stuff is perfectly matched up to trigger your stuff! By design! This is why you were so attracted to this person in the first place. You are attracted to the person who is going to reflect back to you all of the painful stuff you have been carrying around with you for who knows how long. Painful stuff like: self-doubt, fear, uncertainty, self-loathing, shame, judgement, unworthiness. None of that stuff is serving you. In fact, you may be so used to carrying it around that you didn’t even know all of that was in there…until you got into this relationship that started bringing all out in the open.
And it’s much easier to blame someone else close to you than to face what’s being brought out of you into the open.
Choosing to be in relationship is choosing to look at yourself more deeply. I have often described relationship with a window washing analogy that I came up with in the mid-nineties as I was actually helping my boyfriend at the time in his window washing business. When you are washing windows alone, the whole process goes a lot slower. You wash all the outside windows and then you take all your cleaning equipment inside and begin washing the inside of the windows. And as you wash the inside, you begin to notice what you missed on the outside. Then you move back outside to clean the spots you missed and then inevitably notice more spots you missed on the inside.
But if you have a partner on the outside, while you are on the inside, your partner can easily point out what you missed and you can wipe the spot right then. Pretty efficient, right? Unless you get defensive about having your mistakes pointed out to you… Which is what is happening constantly in relationship, whether you realize it or not. Your partner sees you. Really sees. And in the process, all of your issues will inevitably surface.
When all of this stuff hits the surface, the tendency is to want to avoid it, hide from it, run away, blame the other person, ANYTHING but deal with it. This is how you can get stuck in negative patterns in a relationship: Repetitive fights with your partner, patterns of control, patterns of distrust….
As you probably know, these patterns can go on and on and on and on, until the relationship ends or someone decides to be the one to break the negative pattern so the relationship can continue – until you decide to break the pattern. And you may be thinking, WHY ME? Why do I have to be the one when they….dat da dat dat dat da dat dat.
Because you are the one who is noticing that something needs to change. Because you can’t control anyone but yourself.
Pema Choldren refers to the idea of “kicking the wheel” to describe how an individual keeps a pattern going. This analogy really nails it. Because when you really look at these type of patterns, your actions or non-actions keep the pattern going. It’s never just the other person. It’s you too. It takes two to tango. So do you really want to keep kicking the wheel and feeding this negative pattern? Or do you want to shift it. You have the power.
Now, the relationship may have gotten so abusive that you need to take some serious space. Take the space. Like with everything we have discussed in this podcast, you must feel your feelings first or you will not be effective in your efforts to break a negative pattern.
When you are owning and purging your feelings about a negative relationship, try to stay focused on how you are feeling and try to avoid making your feelings about what the other person did or didn’t do. For instance: acknowledge to yourself that you feel alone and comfort yourself through that. Acknowledge that you don’t feel supported, and hold yourself through that without making it about the other person. Acknowledge that you don’t feel loved or safe or whatever it is. Just try to stay present with the raw emotions without the blame story. Cry if you need to. Get it out. Punch a bean bag. Whatever you need to do to comfort and acknowledge yourself and validate your feelings.
Next, whether you are trying to break a negative pattern in order to end or continue a relationship, it is really important to get in touch with your why. Why is it necessary for you that you break this pattern now? Look at all the ways it is affecting your life and the people around you. Perhaps there are children involved. How does it affect your relationship with yourself? Then ask yourself, “Why is it important that I make this change now?” It may be as simple as, if not now, then when?
Once you have cleared out your emotions around the relationship, you can begin the steps toward breaking the negative pattern. If your exploration of your why led you to the necessity to end the relationship, then evaluate what you will need for your safety and well-being, call in additional resources if need be for any reason, and make the decision to move on from the relationship.
If your why led you to want to continue the relationship, start to get curious about how you could change your own behavior in the relationship. How could you bring more love in? Little shifts can go a long way. For instance, choosing to listen more deeply to what your partner is saying instead of thinking you already know. Trust me, if you think you already know your partner, you don’t know them. We are all brand new in every moment. If you think you already know them, you are keeping them stuck in who they were instead of allowing them the opportunity to grow. Giving them space to express is inviting growth and expansion.
And don’t be surprised if they don’t jump on board right away and respond to your loving gesture and effort to listen. They may not be used to having you listen, so they may be defensive and attacking at first. That is perfectly normal. Just listen without taking it personally. What might they be afraid of? What are they needing more of? Do they need to feel more acknowledged? Do they need to feel safe or secure? Listen from a higher place within than you have ever listened before. From the place within that can find compassion for this person who is clearly suffering or they wouldn’t be so angry that they can no longer reflect your love for them.
Just offering a loving safe space for your partner to express their feelings without trying to fix it or defend yourself or anything at all beyond offering your understanding and validation. This is a huge gift. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying to validate their feelings. Just find some way to offer love where you have been holding back. Maybe it’s a gesture of serving them in some way. Maybe you always make dinner, but this time you do it with all of your love, with presence. Maybe you fix things around the house, but this time fix something your partner cares more about than you do, and do it with all of your live, with presence. Like an offering.
The wheel may need a little time to stop rolling once you have stopped kicking it. Be patient. It may take a minute for your partner to recognize that something is different. Keep up the practice offering simple acts of kindness and letting down your defenses. It is worth the wait. When you make a shift, everything else cannot help but to shift also.