A Stable Sense of Support in Economic Instability
In the last few years many of the couples I have worked with reported struggling with employment and financial stability. If you have found yourself in this position you may have experienced conflicts around taking jobs you don't really want, pressuring your partner to look harder for a job, questioning your worthiness as a supportive partner, what to spend money on, and how to save money.
These are all important topics. In the stress of facing these issues it's easy to get caught in defining support by how much money either of you is bringing home. Of course, money helps to meet all kinds of needs. However, income, jobs, and the economy will likely change a lot over your lifetime.
My dream for you and your partner is that you can cultivate a sense of support that does not waiver with the financial weather of the moment.
Collaboration is the key to creating this kind of support. I am not talking about the divide and conquer approach to responsibilities (e.g., you pick up the kids and I'll cook dinner). This has its merit, but when it is too heavily relied on you and your partner become line workers in the routine of daily life.
The kind of collaboration I am talking about is a consciousness in which you trust that together you can find ways to meet both your needs. This is different from compromise - you both have to give up some needs and unhappily meet in the middle.
In the consciousness of collaboration you consider if a decision you make will affect your partner. If you think it might, you open a dialogue about that decision in which you both express your needs and offer listening and then brainstorm strategies that would work for both of you. This kind of consideration and willingness to work to meet both your needs creates a deep sense of support in your relationship.
There are all kinds of reasons that can make this difficult. (See last week's article http://wiseheartpdx.org/blog/) You might be afraid your partner will react and you'll react and give up your needs, your autonomy, to keep the peace. You might not be able to see a way that would work for both of you and so feel hopeless about starting a dialogue. You might notice your partner often gives up her or his needs and so don't trust that s/he will be honest about what would really work.
When these things stop you from attempting to collaborate with your partner you miss out on an incredible opportunity to synergize with the creativity and insight you could both bring to a decision.
What does it take to create a stable sense of support in your relationship through collaboration? Well, it takes a lot, but let's start with three things - mindfulness, courage, and skill.
First, mindfulness, you have awareness about when you are making a decision that could affect your partner.
Second, courage, you have a willingness to feel nervous about conflict and jump in anyway. You're not letting fear make your decisions for you.
Third, skills, you are learning and practicing a vocabulary of needs and how to get connected to needs. These are the skills that a lot of you have practiced in workshops with me and other NVC trainers. It takes this kind of focused practice for you to trust a new way of relating and taking care of yourself and others.
For now take a moment to reflect on decisions you made last week. Is there one you made on your own that affected your partner? If you did start a dialogue to collaborate, make a note of where you got stuck and what worked. If you made the decision without attempting collaboration, notice what beliefs got in your way (maybe something listed above). Are you willing to revisit this decision with your partner and connect with needs up for both of you and what you might do in a future similar situation? You could also start by reading this article with your partner and setting an intention together.