February 8, 2009
“I’m not getting along real well with Amy right now,” Dillon confessed. “I get into relationships, and everything goes great, and after about six months, all these issues come up.”
“Congratulations,” I responded. “The relationship is working.”
Dillon was surprised but relived to hear my response. He was glad to know that something wasn’t dreadfully, fatally wrong.
“Look,” I told him, “I’ve always heard that the first six months of a love relationship are free. Then they start walking you through your fire. If you connect on a lot of levels, that fire will burn a lot hotter than if you don’t hook up so much. The fact that this person can drive you crazy means that she’s touching you on a really deep level. If she wasn’t, you could float along.”
When relationships start to bring up issues, some people try to sweep those issues under the rug and pretend they don’t exist. That’s a formula for bumping into the same problem again and again. In great relationships, partners untangle the mess and uncover the lesson in each collision. They walk through their fires and right out to the other side.
Dillon was guilty of jumping to a negative conclusion about something Amy had done, not listening when she tried to explain herself, and pressuring her to agree with his version of events. Amy was guilty of shutting down. She was shocked by Dillon’s harshness and stunned into silence.
Dillon could have won an academy award for best actor playing Amy’s father. Amy could have won an academy award for best actress playing Dillon’s mother. These two young adults triggered an emotional regression in each other that had them operating on the level of about age five.
But guess what! As adults they have more resources than they did when they were five. Sure, they never learned to handle those behaviors with their parents, and it’s a bit embarrassing to be five years old with your sweetheart when you’re in your late twenties. But when an adult walks through a fire they were not equipped to handle as a child, they come out stronger for it.
After all, Amy loves her father and Dillon loves her mother, and Amy and Dillon love each other. They love each other enough to admit what’s happening for them.
And that’s why their relationship will continue to work beautifully.
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February 2, 2009
An important awareness
My father married my step mother when I was 15. I was completely supportive, but I remember feeling a sting the first time I became aware that he was now loyal to her first. Even then, however, I knew it was appropriate, and I also felt freed by the order of his priorities. I credit his loyalty to his new bride as one of the reasons my father and step mom have been married over 40 years. Many parents never make that loyalty shift when they remarry.
Being a mom, forgetting to be a wife
Even in a nuclear family, priorities get can skewed when a baby is born. I remember my (late) husband telling me he missed me after we had a child. I’m sure he did. I was so busy being a mother; I forgot to be a wife. Many women displace their husbands. Men to it too – although they are more likely to place their careers over their intimate partners.
Everything we do signals the person who gave everything to be with us where they stand in our pecking order. It’s whether we consider our partner when we dress in the morning. Or whether we take the call from a friend when our partner is initiating a sensitive discussion. It’s whether we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones for them. It’s whether we act like it’s a pleasure or a burden to do things for them. It’s how forgiving we are when they make mistakes.
This is not to suggest that spousal whims should be prioritized over children’s needs. Love doesn’t ask partners to betray their principles or forgo legitimate concerns. It is to say that no matter what else is going on in life, we find the time or we make the time to send the message to our intimate partner that we have placed them on top in the throne of our hearts.
The true measure of your priorities
Take a look at what you say and do in the course of an average day. If you were an outside observer, what message would you get about your priorities, loyalties and commitments? I can tell what you’re really committed to if I look at your calendar and your checkbook. I can tell where your heart is by seeing where you spend your time and your money.
Where do your priorities lie? And how’s that working for you?
It’s working great for my father and my step mom.