I remember it like it was yesterday – The Blindside.
I was putting away groceries in the kitchen and my husband was standing beside me. I don’t actually remember the pre-amble of our conversation, I but I sure remember the punch line:
“It feels like you and I are circling the drain here.”
And the bottom fell out of everything I knew.
I thought we had been doing okay; making the ends meet, managing to find some time together, making sure we had sex on some sort of regular basis…what more could we be doing?
We had what I call a “Durable Marriage.” We’d been through a lot in our 10+ years together; infertility, pets coming and going, job and career changes, the loss of a parent to cancer, owning several revenue properties and building a life together. Yes, there were bumps, and it wasn’t always a bloody greeting card, but we were okay. We were always okay.
If I heard that phrase now, that flushing-down-the-toilet phrase, I would react very differently. With the benefit of more than 700 hours of coaching under my belt, some enhanced communication skills, and a big dose of curiosity, I would calmly ask questions and address the issue head-on. But back then, I started with a dismissive assurance that him we were okay and went into a mad scramble of shit-show damage control to make myself be more loveable (this meant running more half-marathons and resuming the long-dropped diet) and to be better at being his wife. After sitting with it awhile, I finally approached him and we talked about some solutions and looked at what was really going on.
Have you ever gotten The Blindside? Maybe it was a direct conversation where your partner simply asked, as you were planning a vacation many months into the future, if you think you’ll actually BE together to go on said trip. Or maybe it’s been more subtle; the slow creep of contempt and sarcasm has moved into your home and your conversations.
Here’s what I know for sure:
We get busy. We take our relationships for granted with kids, and jobs, and all the other shit we throw in the way and you do the best you can. AND. Sometimes your relationship doesn’t survive all the looking down and being abandoned.
Relationships shift. As they should. And we get scared, we change our minds, we lose sight. None of it’s wrong, but it can take some adjusting.
These conversations get to be a wake-the-hell-up conversations and a call to action. Despite my fling-into-action defence, my partner and I went on to be a pretty happy pair for a long time after that discussion. That phrase remains etched into my memory as the catalyst for bravely looking at how we could be more effective together.
We should regularly be taking the pulse of our relationships. If we make a habit of checking in and seeing how the relationship (as in: the stuff that exists between us) fine-tuning and designing as we go, we can avoid these unpleasant surprises that plant us in the defensive.
Sometimes it’s scary to to ask. Sure, back then I could have tuned into the signs and noticed that some shitty stuff had moved into our home and sat in the corner as we numbly watched TV every night and shuffled through week after week of life. Part of me didn’t want to know that there was something to look at, because then I would have to address the soft, shameful part of me that felt like we were in big trouble and that I wasn’t enough. If I was, my marriage, my sex life, my career (and all the things I heaped with it) would actually be functioning and feeding me.
There’s help. I’m not new to this. I know there can be shame, and the big, fat story that bringing in a stranger to help won’t help. The opposite is true. If your car was making a funny noise and threatening to make a family trip quite tenuous, you would go to a mechanic and get it looked at. This is what I do for couples in relationship; no shame, no judging, I just look under the hood, point out that maybe some of the oils (or whatever…I don’t speak “Car”) need changing, and then it all gets to be a little clearer. Conversations are easier when I am there to referee and “Fairy Godmother” them, and I am there to make you a Super Couple – not just a durable one, but a shiny, sparkly one.