Have you ever sat across from the table from your partner and wondered who on earth this person is? And what happened to the person you were so attracted to all that time ago?
It’s a pretty common occurrence in long-term relationships.
Somehow over the days, weeks, months and years the familiarity, the day to day tedium, the challenges of life and the changes you both have gone through- all of these can conspire to make the distance between you feel wider than the grand canyon.
I was reminded of this the other day when a new client described her situation.
She loves her husband, has a grown up child (is that a thing?) and yet feels deeply unfulfilled and unable to connect to her husband in a real way.
She doesn’t want to leave -- there are a lot of good things going on -- but she just feels deeply unsatisfied in her own life, and stressed by his stress.
~ Working on your cause beats finding the cause ~
One of the main problems with trying to resolve this is knowing what the cause is.
Has the relationship run its course? Painful as it is, sometimes couples no longer have anything to offer each other.
Has one of you changed in ways that are too difficult to bear? Or refuses to take things on board that could make a real difference to the other?
These are all possible reasons but so often we can get caught up in circular thinking trying to work these out.
A better way is to find your cause.
I prefer to focus on this because no matter how bad the situation, it always helps take us to a better place -- whether that means staying in the relationship and making it work or leaving.
It starts with the question -- where have I given away my power?
For any relationship to work (whether intimate relationship or otherwise), we have to enter into a state where we can have shared communication.
What this means is that every relationship has its own rules, laws, customs and ways of doing things.
Some of these we agree consciously, some just take shape because we follow our habitual unconscious patterns.
These patterns are essential because they enable us to feel safe, manage practicalities and have a ready made way to connect.
But if we don’t attend to them, these patterns become dead and out of touch with the current situation and people we have become. They no longer serve us and the relationship crystalises into something frozen and dead.
~ Unconsciously projecting onto our partner deprives us of our power ~
When this happens we have given away our power. We are no longer in a creative relationship with ourselves or our partner.
We have placed our projections (both light and dark) onto our partner.
We are no longer able to relate to them as a separate person, instead we have dumped all our stuff into them.
And of course there is no room to breathe.
They are in all likelihood doing the same thing which is what makes those long drawn out discussions (if you’re lucky enough to be having them) so torturous.
Discussions where it’s like you're both talking a different language and unable to see the importance of what the other person is trying to say.
There are all sorts of solutions that we can try but the one I prefer is the following. As I mention above you can use this in any situation (intimate or otherwise) where you feel trapped.
~ Be both sides of the coin ~
Find yourself a bit of quiet space.
You can either do this exercise out loud or on a piece of paper.
Just thinking it doesn’t work -- if you try and do it in your head you’ll end up going round in circles. You need the physical act of writing or speaking to allow something to happen.
Decide how long you’re going to do it for (5-20 minutes -- start small so you can get a feel for it) and put a timer on. The timer helps you stay focused.
If you’re writing take two pieces of paper and put them side by side. Decide which one is you and which one is your partner (you can make some kind of mark, drawing, or write your names).
Then make a conscious decision to be true to how you feel. And write a sentence or two or three.
Now put yourself in the place of your partner. This is not an intellectual exercise. You are not trying to work out what they think or feel, you are literally trying to see the situation through their eyes and feel it. It takes a little imagination but is so so worth it.
~ Be true to how you feel in the moment ~
Then be true to how you feel in the moment.
Don’t try and answer what you have written from your perspective, just be true to the feeling state that is coming up in you. Write one or two sentences. And then swap back.
Move between these two positions -- yours and your partners -- as many times as you can until the timer goes.
If you decided to try it speaking, the process is the same except that you can either use two chairs or you can turn your body 45 degrees to one side to speak from one perspective and 45 degrees to the other.
The key is to speak or write the truth of the moment as you feel it, both from your perspective and your partner's.
The reason this works so well is because it makes us aware of how invested we are in the status quo.
As our awareness of our own projections increases so does our awareness that there are many possibilities available to us and that there may be very different choices that we could make.
This can dramatically change and improve communication and the relationship or make us realise that it is time to go.
~ Taking responsibility for our projections is taking back our power ~
If we decide to take responsibility for our projections and take them back, we start to create more space in ourselves.
This allows our creative impulse to start moving and this is the place where our best ideas, impulses and creative acts come from.
We are quite literally taking our power back from this stuck relationship dynamic and allowing ourselves to be more in touch with our own inner strength.
This is a much healthier and satisfying place for it to be for us and much more likely to support a healthy relationship.
Because we’re now more in touch with our own power we are more able to see clearly the actions we need to take.
And because we are more in touch with ourselves, we are able to know and communicate more effectively what we need.
When a relationship has gone cold, it is all too easy to blame the other person.
While other people do have responsibility for what they do, trying to change them doesn’t work.
But finding a way to change ourselves does.
And hopefully that change will bring enough life and energy to bring back some real connection.