he’s not a remodel

April 5, 2010 at 10:46 pm 3 comments

We watched a movie about relationships last night. An old movie, early nineties maybe?, starring a young Catherine Keener and Ben Stiller. Your neighbors and Friends. You could tell for sure it was an older movie because Ben Stiller didn’t have straight, pure white teeth like he does now, he had normal guy teeth. The couples in the movie weren’t doing well, the focus was on their sex lives, but that wasn’t the only part suffering, they seemed to be failing in every other possible way as well.

Afterward Nathan and I wondered if we should even attempt to make love or if we had been jinxed by all the horendous attempts at sex we’d just seen. The whole thing made me wonder about the “rubbing off” factor of all things. If we manifest everything in our lives through thought, then can’t we infect others every time we share and discuss anything negative with our friends?

And what are we doing in our modern relationships? There is the common thought that all relationships require work. But the more I look around, the more I think the “work” everyone is talking about is the struggle of trying to get your wife or husband to change to meet your changing needs. A quality that was once tolerable starts to grate and then the “work” begins, the ultimatums (This needs to change in order for me to be happy in this relationship!), the makeover projects (I‘m really trying to get Jim interested in my book club. He needs more social outlets besides golf, and we need something to share as a couple. Don’t you think?), and the supposedly mandatory compromises (Well, no, I don’t want to move to the Australian outback, but my husband does and you know, relationships require compromise.).

I think what really happens is that a couple actually stops working together, for long periods of time, letting their connection run fallow, leaving room for major breaches in trust, before any of the above “work” is necessary. Open communication, authentic interactions, feeling emotions and taking responsibility for them, empathy, refraining from blaming, loving without controlling, taking full notice of who your wife or husband actually is, honoring that person, letting them change and grow, this is the kind of daily work that makes the unpleasant “work” of ultimatums, makeover projects and unwelcome compromise unnecessary.

I guess even with this kind of care and attention a disagreeable issue might still come up. But, still, the campaign to demonize and force change upon the other person, is, in my opinion, stupid. These are the options I think make more sense.

1. Decide that  you really do want something else in a partner, that the current arrangement doesn’t work anymore and lovingly step away. Without punishing, without rehashing, without blaming, without revising history, without self-criticism for past choices. Just simply choose something else.

2. Identify the bothersome issue and let the other person know how you feel about that. Ex: I feel sad when I see other couples kissing and laughing. I want that kind of interaction with you. And instead of barging ahead with ideas of how they might change, ask them first if they are even interested in changing in this area. Are you interested in more connection with me in this way? Is this something you’d like to look at together?

3. Identify the bothersome issue, feel all your feelings about it, and still love your partner. Allow them to be who they are even if it brings up disagreeable emotions. See them as simply different than you, but not bad, broken, or malicious. Notice that you want them to change so that you don’t feel uncomfortable feelings, but do not ask that of them.

I am aware that these options require an enormous amount of self-esteem and emotional intelligence. I am also aware that these ways of responding to conflict are not modeled by our culture. But what if we did it anyway? In the movie we watched the characters traveled from bad relationship states to even worse relationship states. They were following the ultimatum/makeovers/compromise formula and it just doesn’t work. What if, instead, we were big and brave and honest?

I’d sure like to see it.


Entry filed under: empathy, life lessons. Tags: , , , , , .

m.i.a. sweet spot

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joanna Smetanka  |  April 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

    nice post Nat. I really appreciate it. And, I happen to think you are right on, i need to practice it…..

  • 2. Maryam  |  April 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    great post, fulla good things to think on.

  • 3. Isabelle  |  April 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    How i enjoyed this post, natalie!
    spot on… as always. thanks!


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