Observing the suffering of other couples that are struggling in their marriages, it’s easy to presume that things inevitably break down sooner or later and that for most couples, the breakdown is permanent. It’s easy to wonder, “Who’se next? Is it us?” The tendency to feel resignation and hopelessness in the face of fear is a choice, often made out of a desire to avoid looking more directly at some of the more difficult questions, such as
“How might I have contributed to the current situation?” “What beliefs about myself or others might I be validating by holding on to my position?”
“What is it that I’m so attached to being right about and why?”
What, if anything, might I have done that I need to reveal to my partner?”
“What fear is underneath my fear of losing (or staying in) this relationship?”
“What unfulfilled needs or desires have I failed to disclose to my partner, and why?”
“What forms of manipulation (examples: intimidation, nagging, fault-finding, guilt-tripping, shaming, raging, withdrawing) have I used to try to coerce my partner into accommodating my desires?”
“Am I making my partner responsible for fulfilling needs within myself that are my responsibility, and not theirs?”
The common thread that runs through all of these questions is that they are all self-referential. They require us to redirect the focus of our attention away from our partner and look instead at ourselves, to look at our part in the chain of events that led us to the point where we currently stand. Doing so does not absolve them of their responsibility in the breakdown, but it empowers us to focus our energies on the only person that we have the power to influence in this scenario, and that is ourselves.
Taking our attention off of our partner will enable us to embody a higher level of vulnerability and encourage them to them to feel less defensive and consequently more inclined to listen to our concerns and needs with a more conciliatory attitude. Such openness is likely to promote a greater likelihood that he or she will be more willing to reciprocate by responding more non-adversarially themselves, thus interrupting the cycle of defensiveness that turns ordinary differences into destructive conflict.
There is of course, no guarantee that their response will be reciprocal. Our vulnerability is merely an invitation to respond with vulnerability. It is not assurance that such a response will be forthcoming. There is, however no better way to find out how willing your partner is to undefend themselves than by providing an example for what this can look like by disarming yourself of your own defenses.
When we can interrupt these patterns, we can move beyond the concerns of day-to-day survival, and raise new questions having to do with greater possibilities such as “How great could our relationship really be?” Once we understand that there is so much more that is possible than we may have previously realized, old dreams are reawakened and new ones come into being along with a newfound confidence to implement them.
Paradoxically, it only when we accept that there is no magic involved in the process of relationship-building, and no perfect partner with whom we can effortlessly co-create the partnership of our dreams, that we begin to experience the degree of ease and joy that we had previously hoped for. But first we need to free ourselves of our limiting beliefs and expectations. Like the saying goes, to find the partner of your dreams you must first become the partner of your dreams. In so doing you will become irresistible to that person that you have been waiting for, whether you haven’t met them yet or whether you’ve been married to them for thirty years!