I was nervous about writing this post.
While I’m quite forthcoming and like to “keep it real” around the challenges and ups and downs in my life, talking about my relationship with my partner is totally different terrain.
My parents divorced at age 48 after having 7 kids and 26 years together. Both sets of my grandparents have been through a divorce, my brother–who I am very close to–divorced after 14 years of marriage. And, the couple I idolized in college also divorced after 20-something years of marriage and 4 kids.
My internal dialogue in my twenties and throughout much of my thirties was “Relationships are hard and you don’t really have any great models for how to be in relationship so you’ll probably never be very successful.”
Can anyone relate?
A week ago, my husband and I took our first extended trip alone together since our son was born to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (we’ve been together since 1996). We went to Big Sur, CA and the trip was really phenomenal, check out our photos here.
But what was most amazing to me during this trip, was my realization of how much I have changed in the last 10 years—around how I view my husband, myself, our partnership and the whole concept of marriage.
One morning we were hiking down a beautiful sandy trail at Andrew Molera State Park on the Central Coast of CA. We were headed towards the ocean and were the only people on this beautiful, quiet path.
As I often do when hiking in nature and contemplating life, I asked my husband some “thinker” questions about his current life stage (all my male clients reading this are sighing with relief they’re not married to me right now). He paused for a while, shared and then I waited a bit to see if he’d reciprocate and ask me the same questions.
And I was fine. Actually more than fine.
Ten years ago, I would have been irritated, hurt and possibly angry for hours at his “perceived” insensitivity.
Today, I know three things that changed how I viewed this experience:
1. My beloved is an introvert. He likes to really sit with and chew on things. His internal world is vast, rich and when I throw out an introspective question, he needs time and space to digest it.
2. We don’t need to talk about everything OR go back and forth around a topic to enjoy intimacy. Often our most intimate moments are found in silence.
3. I don’t need my husband to make me feel complete or whole. I know who I am. I am in touch with my needs. And, if something is really important to me, I have no problem bringing it up and exploring it with him. And, he’s always receptive to listening.
I almost felt giddy at this realization as we continued along in silence towards the waves and I let John sit with his thoughts, while I sat with mine. (I did share this ah-ha moment with him later and he felt horrible for not creating more of a dialogue with me until I explained that I wasn’t upset.)
Relationships are hard? Yes, sometimes they are. But how well equipped are we when we show up at the dance? (One of my mentors used to say we’re all going to face our same issues over and over again no matter who we’re married to, so just pick your partner and do-se-do!)
I’ve noticed as I have become more self-aware, more compassionate, more loving towards myself and more attuned to my needs, my partnership has evolved and shifted.
Showing up in the relationship with a full cup rather than a half-empty one seems to significantly change the dynamics.
I certainly don’t have the answers when it comes to making a marriage work.
I still find that cultivating a deeply, evolved, committed relationship is not for the faint at heart and it takes everything I have to be present with my partner day in, day out. And, it continues to be the single most challenging aspect of my life, hands down!
But I also know it’s worth it. And being in a close, connected partnership where you support and hold the highest and best for each other–has been rewarding beyond compare.
I just read a wonderful new book by relationship therapists Linda and Charlie Bloom called Secrets of Great Marriages. It’s an anthology of personal stories from 27 couples, all of whom have been married for 15 years or longer. One of the insights many couples shared that stayed with me, is the reoccurring theme that one of the best things you can do to deepen and strengthen your marriage is to know and love yourself. And to make sure your needs are met before trying to support your partner.
Sounds like I just might be on the right track. Or at least beginning to create my own model for what a meaningful, healthy relationship feels like to me. I’ll keep you posted.
Photo: Big Sur, CA, 2010.