Person meets person. They fall in love, get married. But down the road, the connection is strained to the max. The good fairy tale has gone bad.
How does this happen? How does something seemingly good and true go sideways?
I’ve done this good-going-sideways thing at least six solid times. Though it took me quite a few years, I learned from my troubles, and perhaps I can save you valuable time.
What follows is one pivotal piece that is the basis of how to pull any relationship out of a downward spiral. It is, in fact, the basis of how I pulled my relationship with my fourth husband out of (the dreaded) downward spiral.
The Pivotal Piece
Any relationship causes an unveiling. The unveiling happens in three main ways.
- Every relationship lifts the lid off something — beliefs, wounds, patterns.
- Every relationship accentuates something about you.
- Every relationship shows you the way to something you didn’t know about yourself, that if learned and understood, changes the quality of your life for the better.
First, a happy example of the idea of unveiling.
My 92 year old mother is visiting me for a couple months. She no longer has a home of her own to take care of, and she doesn’t drive. Mostly, she spends time with my sister (in another state) and occasionally comes to see me.
Mom says she likes “flitting about.”
Recently, I put her on a plane to visit relatives in Florida for six days. She loved her time there and returned home radiantly happy and warm from the Florida sunshine. The weather was perfect while she was there.
She’s delighted to be alive and well, making quilts for grandchildren, reading large print books from the Etowah library, and eating food we prepare together. She is happy — and able — to pitch in with dishes or sweeping. She loves being driven here and there.
We giggle together. She has gotten funnier with age, or I have, I’m not sure which. Maybe both of us have. Maybe life itself has gotten funnier.
What gets unveiled with us is delight. Humor. Appreciation. Gratitude. Oodles of love.
On the way home from a craft store, she thanked me for driving her, and for making things so easy for her.
Mom has a way of sending a thank you all the way into my heart. Her thank you took my breath away.
I’ve watched her do this same deep thank you with strangers. She relates to a store clerk as if that person is as dear as someone she’s known for many years. It always touches me.
She says something very personal to others, usually a compliment of some kind. When she reminds them to have a good day or evening, they get it. Their eyes light up as if Mary Poppins herself has landed in their store to wish them well.
What gets accentuated in my relationship with my mom is delight and appreciation. It’s how we roll.
But… it’s not always the easy stuff that comes up.
Relationships also reveal challenges. Discomfort. Problems.
Maybe it’s a rub, an annoyance, a small issue which grows. Maybe it’s a shocking event.
Sometimes what’s unveiled is a difference in thinking, an important way one partner doesn’t match the other, which was not visible at the beginning when happy feelings twinkled like night stars on a clear evening.
I was speaking with a young woman recently who was grappling with getting back together with her boyfriend. After their break-up, he slept with someone else. They are back together now, but she can’t get the haunting visuals of the other woman out of her mind.
Clearly, there’s her work, her challenge, her learning curve. Their relationship unveiled it. Can she open her heart under these circumstances? Will she eventually understand that the mind’s job is to add meaning, the kind of meaning which often complicates matters?
We shall see.
Maybe the pot-smoking son (who needs a job, but isn’t getting one) activates his mother’s worry-frustration-anger button. (There’s her work.)
A friend’s behavior offends us. (There’s our work.)
An interaction with a lover leaves us disappointed and confused. (There’s our field of exploration.)
Someone in our life reminds us the world is not always a kind and comfy nest of feathers. They force us to stand up, speak up, show up. (They help us rise up to be ourselves. If we’re willing.)
Stand Up, Speak Up, Show Up
This past Sunday at Unity of The Blue Ridge, Rev. Darlene told a story about Gandhi which illustrates this in a large and sweeping way.
Gandhi was a small man and struggled with his shyness, but to honor his father’s wishes, he became a lawyer. He was offered a job in South Africa and purchased a first class train ticket to travel to a trial. Those on the train were not pleased that a brown-skinned man was sitting in first class.
Because Gandhi refused to give up his seat and move to the rear car, he was thrown off the train into the cold night. Another train would not be along until morning.
Gandhi spent the night alone in the cold. Gandhi’s time alone on that cold night changed the course of history.
Upon learning this story, Albert Einstein wrote of Mahatma Gandhi, “From that night forward, the small, unassuming man would grow into a giant force for good, drawing national attention to acts of prejudice and injustice. Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
Gandhi almost single-handedly freed India and its five hundred million people from the British empire, and did so without raising an army, without firing a gun, without taking a hostage and without ever holding a political office.
Oh, Gosh. Always learning…
Daily learning can happen on a small scale, too.
Recently, I was asked for music feedback. I believed that those asking meant what they said — they wanted feedback.
So, in giving my response, I felt I was kind, direct and casual. To my way of thinking, I offered exactly what had been requested of me.
However, the feedback I gave was received with silence, the kind of silence that makes one wonder “what in the world did I just say that caused this response?”
For a moment, it felt terrible. It felt as if my hand had been slapped, and it stung.
After those first awkward seconds, I found out they wanted feedback, but not — that — feedback because they mentioned a reason why they’d reacted. The moment passed with no harm done.
However, I recalculated. Quickly. Because, to my complete surprise, they asked for feedback a second time.
Because I was more informed, though, I was smarter about what I said. To be clear, I was not less expressive or less truthful, just smarter. There’s a difference.
All of this was easier for me in that moment than even a few months ago. I’m always learning.
I figure that any learning curve is excellent practice for my future — practice for coming out of hibernation since Eric’s death, practice for future speaking engagements.
My learning curves are rehearsals for interacting with the public more, for growing my ability to hear and feel without taking things personally. For recovering from an uncomfortable moment, for understanding a temporary (slightly scary) mystery.
It’s good to know about the unveiling idea, isn’t it? That every unveiling points to our personal work?
In learning situations, there’s truly nothing (and nobody) wrong. Nothing is askew. Nobody’s making a mistake.
There’s only you and me in a world of innocent others.
It helps to think of all of us as five or six years old, doing our best to explore our personal playground.
We’re exploring the edges of our understanding. Our capacity to include. Our ability to grow open minds and big hearts.
To love anyway.
Terri’s first book of photography combined with poetry is here! 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish the Heart is available on Amazon.