Cynthia's Side The women in my family have a history of enduring trauma. In fact, five generations of women have experienced abuse such as rape, emotional abuse and abandonment. Growing up, it did not seem odd to me that marriages didn't last and relationships were always in some state of disaster. It never dawned on me to ask schoolmates or friends about their family dynamics because I was sure that we all lived the same life.
Men have always been attracted to me and so entering relationships was easy. Staying in them and feeling seen and connected was another matter. I emulated my childhood with one challenging relationship after another. I began to see that there were couples who were happy and I was confused. They were respectful and loving with each other. I thought that the answer must be marriage, so I married and the old patterns re-emerged. When we (inevitably) divorced, I still had no idea how to create loving relationships. I began to work on myself. I went to therapy, went back to school and began a deep spiritual practice.
Carl entered my life unexpectedly. It was a breath of fresh air. He was kind, loving and committed to his spiritual growth. As the relationship grew, we went to counseling to anchor our commitment. Every step of the way we were re-dedicated to our love.
Seven years into our relationship, we hit a wall. I had been noticing my feelings of intermittent unhappiness for a couple of years. It mostly stemmed from financial challenges. Carl is a photographer who has worked for himself his entire life. I have often held jobs in organizations. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with our financial instability, but I was acutely aware that I wasn't speaking my feelings. I pushed them down and rationalized why it wasn't the right time to talk. At the seven-year mark, I realized that my keeping quiet was toxic for us, and so I finally got the courage to share my feelings of discontent and anger. That opened a painful dialogue and made us question whether our relationship was over for good.
But on the bright side, we were both clear about how we were feeling. I was afraid of the lack of financial security (no doubt, leftover from my rocky childhood) and I was projecting that fear onto him. We spent the next year and a half working with a counselor, having moments of deep disconnect and intense introspection. For me, it became clear that I still loved the man I had married. It was my choice to open my heart and create a relationship more intense and real than any I had ever known. That choice shifted everything.
Carl's Side Before our critical conversation, I was working and doing the best I could to provide equal income to support our relationship. So when Cynthia spelled out her needs to me at a restaurant that one evening, I felt emotionally triggered and my inner dialogue was zooming a mile a minute with thoughts about how I never seemed to be able to please her or make her feel safe and fulfilled in our relationship. My sense of manhood felt deflated and I could feel myself shrinking to the size of my spoon.
In that moment, I was also aware that I had a choice in how I listened and responded to Cynthia's expression of her needs. I could remain absorbed in my own shrinking world or choose to bring my head above water and attempt to see things from her perspective. Fortunately, I was able to leave my spoon-size self and bring my mature adult-self back to the table and carry on a conversation that involved true listening, honoring and a recognition that I always had a choice.
I was able to recognize that ultimately, the most important thing in my life was to move beyond feeling stuck, and this conversation allowed me to take an even greater stand in my growth and evolution. Truthfully, I was feeling stuck in my career as I was clearly repeating old patterns that didn't support Cynthia, our relationship or me. It took this shake up for me to wake up and take a greater stand for my career, our relationship and myself.
As a result, I became more willing to stretch my boundaries and grow my business to make it more profitable. I was able to recognize that when Cynthia expresses her needs, it is always an opportunity for me to grow. To this day, aside from my spiritual practice, our relationship serves as the most powerful tool in my life for developing greater and richer insights. For this, I am deeply grateful.
My husband, Carl Studna and I are thrilled to be hosting a free online teleseries in mid-June entitled, "Bridging The Gender Gap - Developing Trust and Understanding Between Men and Women" and we'd love to have you join us. Visit www.bridgingthegendergap.net for information and to sign up.
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