Remember when you knew which color popsicle to choose, just because red felt better than green? Remember when you knew what your best friend was thinking before he told you? When the suppressed shock on his face said it all and you two burst out laughing in class? Remember when you were newly in love and in perfect sync with your mate? When you just knew what that special person wanted from you?
Gridlock happens in every long-term love relationship. According to intimacy expert David Schnarch, this is part of the natural evolution of committed coupleship. We hit walls of conflict and stress and can’t resolve them. Over time, these unresolved conflicts turn into an emotional resin that seeps into the partnership and makes us wary of each other. We seek the old closeness we had, but our partner has changed – and we’ve changed – in response to the thousands of everyday hassles and major traumas we’ve faced over the years. Grief and anxiety stiffens between us and starts to calcify. It feels like stone. We can’t see how to pierce the buildup without losing our selfhood or compromising our values. We miss each other but we stay on separate ends of the couch, separate sides of the bed.
Somebody has to soften and give. But we don’t want to be that person. We want our partner to change – stop drinking, become more responsible with money, have sex with us, be more sensitive, stop undercutting our parenting. We’re scared.
It seems like we have a lot to lose here. On the one hand, if we make ourselves vulnerable and reach out to our partner, we could get rejected, we could do it wrong, we could be more obviously alone than we feel now. But on the other hand, if we keep up our end of the stalemate, we risk more distance, and ultimately, we could lose our partner altogether.
I want to suggest something you may not have considered. Here’s an exercise that will get you started in a different direction.
1. Start by getting comfortable in a chair or at your desk. Light a candle. Get some tea. Get your notebook and pen ready.
2. Take several long, slow breaths. Make your exhale longer than your inhale.
3. Write to your higher self, your conscience, or your higher power. Start a letter that sounds like this: “Dear Creative Force” . . . (this one is suggested by Julia Cameron, for people who have trouble with traditional prayer).
4. Ask a question, like, “How do I reach out to Jennifer?” or “What can I do to help us get closer?” or “What does my partner need from me right now?”
5. Close your eyes and take several more deep breaths. Listen. It’s okay if you don’t hear anything right away. This process may take a bit of practice.
6. Start writing again. This time, let yourself write about the relationship – no holds barred. Just let it rip. Be as brutally honest as you can.
What do you notice? What messages do you get when you sit very still with this question on the page? What changes do you notice in how you feel? How your body feels?
Next, write a few opening lines for yourself. These will be how you start a new conversation with your loved one. They might sound like this:
“I’ve been thinking about us, as a couple. Can we talk about us?”
“I’ve been thinking about you – and what you need to feel better about our relationship.”
“When would be a good time to talk about you and me, reconnecting?”
Scary? Yes, that’s normal. Remember to breathe. Remember that your partner craves this conversation and may be just as scared as you. Your reaching out probably comes as a huge relief to her/him. However, they may seem to push away at first. They may seem put off by your suggestions. That’s normal too. Keep breathing and press on.
Have faith that you’re doing the right thing.
Have faith that you are good.
Have faith that your higher power is watching over you, understanding your anxiety, understanding your loneliness, wanting good things for you.
It’s going to be okay.