Working Too Hard: Content vs. Connection (part 3 of 3)
You have an instinct to move away from pain, so of course when you and your partner are facing a stressful event or reacting to something painful, you don't necessarily see it as opportunity to connect. But to create a relationship that is a refuge, it is important to go directly into feeling the stress and pain, rather than trying to get around it or rush through it.
Staying with something painful can be as simple as the following exchange:
Susie: "It really hurts to have this person in our community direct her anger and hate at me."
Tom: "I know. I just feel sick about it."
Susie and Tom sit quietly a moment being together with the pain.
In this simple exchange there are none of the typical movements away from the pain such as: giving advice, analyzing each other, criticizing the third person, consoling, looking at the bright side, changing the subject, or minimizing.
Susie could have held her pain inside with ideas about not burdening Tom or an idea that she should toughen up. But when she trusts her relationship as a refuge, she can share the naked truth of the hurt she carries without anything extra.
Tom could have heard Susie's expression as a cue to do something for her or somehow as a complaint about him. Instead he also chooses to trust their relationship by sharing his hurt around the same thing.
It's not "fun" to be still with yourself or your partner when you are feeling stress or reactivity, but the ability to express your experience directly and feel your partner being with you in it, is deeply satisfying.
Here are three practices that can help you deepen your connection in times of pain and stress.
1) Get Naked: That is, get emotionally naked. Practice just stating you naked feeling and/or need and let your partner know that you are just wanting her to sit there with you.
Can you name all the ways you dress up your emotions and needs? Here are a few: the detailed story around it, your justification for feeling as you do, your explanation of how you are learning and growing from it, reassurance that it will pass, minimizing, blaming others for your feelings, …what other ways do you dress up your feelings?
Practice recognizing the ways you dress up your feelings and needs and let go of those cloths. Offer your heart nakedly to your partner.
2) Relationship as Refuge: When you hold your partner as capable of receiving your vulnerability and honor his or her choice about when and where to do so, your relationship can become a refuge – a place where you consistently offer each other a safe and loving space to feel the pain, tenderness, and bliss of life.
Relationships can move away from being a refuge in many ways. A few are:
When you don't honor your partner's choice about when he or she is willing to hold space for you, relationship moves from refuge to crutch or worse, to dumping ground.
When you both habitually manage your pain outside the relationship, your relationship goes silently cold as you move from being lovers to housemates.
When neither of you prioritizes having the physical/emotional/mental energy and skills necessary to meet each other in pain or stress, it's impossible to create a sense of refuge.
3) Trust in the Healing Process
It's no accident that many people report that they begin a spiritual practice when life hands them a level of physical or emotional pain that they can no longer meet with the usual habits, distractions or coping mechanisms.
Spiritual practice reveals that when you sit still with something or make a space to invite something deeper than your ordinary mind, a natural healing process occurs.
Holding each other silently and feeling what's present allows space for a natural healing process.
I'm guessing that the more time you spend together being still in body and mind and feeling what's present, the more complex problems will unfold into creative resolutions.
This week experiment with offering one naked expression of a feeling or need to your partner and let him or her know that you are just wanting them to hear you and sit with you.
Power Over Your Partner