The other night my sweetheart Bruce and I had a fight. It wasn’t a knock down drag out fight – in fact in the grand scheme of things many mightn’t have even noticed the disturbance. But as someone committed to Realizing RICH Relationships with myself, others and life, it was a fight.
One of the qualities of RICH Relationships is honouring our H-umanity, so I certainly don’t expect us to be perfectly in synch or at ease 100% of the time, but this was a pattern we seem to often fall into. I wonder if you recognize it?
We’re sitting together exploring a topic. The conversation is respectful and we’re even being pretty vulnerable, so there’s intimacy as well. My heart is open, and I’m loving this experience. It’s one of the expressions of our partnership that I treasure. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, one of us (the other night it was Bruce) gets upset and defensive. What’s this about I wonder? What’s happening here?!
By now we’ve been here so often we’ve learned how to navigate this kind of situation better – I’m more brave, I don’t get as scared as I used to! This time I was clear there was something going on for Bruce that I wasn’t seeing, and I gently asked if he knew what it was.
Rather than being helpful, this triggered him even more. He reacted with frustration, telling me I was being judgmental (making him wrong) and patronizing (feeling superior to him). And in a raised voice he went into one of his familiar speeches that to my mind had no connection with the conversation we’d been having.
At this point I said “Stop. Is this the way you want to relate to me, because it’s not the way I want to relate to you.” We both recognized it wasn’t, and paused. Truth is, in my curiosity, I might well have tried to continue to explore what was going on for Bruce – definitely not a wise choice right then! But, in one of those examples of the inter-connectedness of us all, the phone rang – it was my friend Aline wanting to chat.
“Why don’t you take it? I need some time here.” Bruce said. So I did, and in our own ways, each of us did what we needed to come back home to ourselves.
In reconnecting with each other a bit later, we were able to honour our shared H-umanity, and the R-espectful I-ntimacy with which we live much of our lives was again present.
But there was a part of me still feeling some combination of slightly at risk, confused and curious. What was all that upset really about?! We’d resolved that upset, but I still couldn’t name the underlying dynamic.
Have you seen the wonderful cartoon by Sidney Harris titled “Then a miracle occurs” ? Two people are standing in front of a chalkboard filled with a bunch of scientific equations. In the middle of the series of equations there are the words “THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS”. The caption below the cartoon reads “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.” This is how our familiar and uncomfortable dynamic was showing up for me.
We’d be having a conversation that was respectful and intimate, and in the end we’d come back to ourselves and each other – honouring the humanity in each of us. But in the middle of those two interactions seemingly out of nowhere “A ‘FIGHT’ WOULD OCCUR!” What the heck was happening there in our ‘step two’?! I figured if we could identify more explicitly the underlying dynamic then in the future, whatever the content of the interaction, we’d have greater power and more access to choice. What were we missing? What was missing here?!
These questions were percolating in me as I went to sleep that night. And in the remarkable way our unconscious mind can give us access to wisdom we can’t think our way into, the next morning as I woke what was missing became crystal clear – woohoo! What a relief! While not always easy to enact, once it was clear, the ‘answer’ was simple!
Those of you who’ve been following my work and writing will be familiar with the four qualities of RICHRelationships – even in this note I’ve referred to three of them (Respect, Intimacy and honouring our Humanity). But the one I’ve not mentioned here – and the thing that’s often missing when we find ourselves in this uncomfortable dynamic – is one of the facets of that C in the middle of RICH … Courage!
The whole gestalt of RICH is important, but when things get heated, for many of us it’s often courage to truly stay present (or quickly return to that grounded presence!) that eludes us.
Perhaps it’s the courage to anchor our actions or speech in those RICH qualities and way of being we say we’re committed to. It could be the courage to be present right now in this moment, rather than living out some painful old story or pattern of ours. Or maybe, what’s missing is the courage or capacity to tap into the felt sense of being curious about what else is possible for us to co-create.
And this isn’t just a myopic practice limited to our private relationships. Wherever we meet challenging situations, expanding our capacity for open-hearted presence makes possible a diffusion of tension and the opportunity for the co-creation of a different reality.
So next time you’re feeling disturbed – whether reflecting on a previous disagreement, experiencing a current interaction where the tension is rising, or finding yourself in the midst of a full on fight – first, pause and take a breath. Remember, we’re human and one way to honour that humanity is by not making ourselves or anyone else wrong for being human!!
How might life be different if instead of judging ourselves or others we became curious about what was missing? What would it take for us to be courageously, open-heartedly present in that moment?
To the extent we expand our capacity and are able to do this, I think there IS plenty of potential for everyday ‘miracles’ to occur – in our private lives and in our world.