Acceptance of another doesn’t require agreement with …
and difference between us doesn’t mean we need to be against each other.
These are principles I’ve shared, taught, and attempted to live by for years. And it continues to be a journey. My commitment to this way of being has invited me (sometimes driven me) into having conversations and exploring situations that have been really uncomfortable (and sometimes scary). The scariest moments are the ones where the stakes are highest.
For many these high stakes moments can literally be life and death.
Those of us who like me are part of the dominant culture – white, English speaking, well educated, cis etc. – rarely have to encounter these high stakes moments in out in the world. We have the privilege of most frequently experiencing these uncomfortable conversations within the relationships that are precious to us. I’m very familiar with this one, and while the stakes are not so often literally life and death, I don’t want to minimize the challenge here either.
This month, Bruce and I celebrate our 7th Wedding Anniversary. We love each other deeply. We are very skilled communicators. We are thoughtful people. AND we have very different perspectives in a number of significant arenas. Here’s what my experience – even with him – has shown me.
When our ancient human fight or flight responses are triggered, even
people we love can look and feel like sabre toothed tigers –
the danger feels very real!
It’s taken us a while for us to come to the place where we can even begin to have these kinds of difficult conversations.
Bruce has his own experience through this journey, and I won’t try to speak for him here. I do know that for me, after experiencing what felt like his sabre toothed tiger ‘roar’ anytime I stepped into one of those touchy arenas, for a long time I simply avoided going there. I wanted to keep the peace.
Turned out though, this wasn’t satisfying for either of us.
What it can look like to be in the pain of not being able to have these conversations …
Tip toeing around things isn’t my forte, so I often stepped on his toes. This would trigger another round of ‘roar’ of pain from Bruce, and in turn, scare in me.
Though it was uncomfortable, and I’d have loved for him to not ‘roar’ at me, the wiser part of me knew that every time I felt the scare was another opportunity to first soothe the parts of me that felt scared. I needed to take my focus off him, and attend to me first. And once those scared parts had been soothed, I could begin to mentor them into what was really happening in him – the man I love.
I was learning how to dance in this scary space. To acknowledge and allow the difference in our internal realities to be there. And instead of trying to force him to see things from my perspective right in that moment, honour the pace and rhythm that was his. The invitation for me was to look beneath the ‘roar’ and see the pain that was there for him.
His ‘roaring’ was the way Bruce (and many) have learned to keep others away in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt. And though it may not be true of everyone, I also knew that his ‘roaring’ was a way of his caring. Part of him was saying “I don’t like me when I’m like this and I don’t want to hurt you more. Right now I need you to give me some space so I can come back home to me.”
It was a signal that we both needed to step away and attend to ourselves. I needed to expand my capacity to be present to the tension of not having the immediate resolution I so wanted, instead to follow the deepest value I hold – that of realizing RICH relationships.
For me here, this meant being respectful of us both. Even though this wasn’t easy, honouring his need for space also honoured my need for safety. While I really wanted more closeness right away, that wasn’t the degree of intimacy that was appropriate for us then. Having the courage to be present to the reality as it was in that moment, while keeping my focus on caring for the parts of me longing for nurturing presence, was key. This allowed all of me to breathe, and relax. And as I felt the love flow through me, I was in a space to honour our humanity, and, (once he’d come back to himself and was open) allow the love to flow from my open heart into his.
I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve practiced this over the years – as I often say …
“Life is abundant, and sometimes this abundance doesn’t come
in the form we’d like it to!”
What’s true is that it’s taken as long as it has, with both of us extending ourselves in the best way we can. And though I’ve written this from my perspective, I know Bruce could speak to occasions where the roles have been reversed.One of our agreements is – whoever has the more grounded adult present is the one who will hold the space. Of course things are even more challenging when we’re both triggered big time! Those are the occasions when we’ve reached to our community of support.
But I want to share with you a powerful experience we had recently. This was BIG, and it didn’t start out brilliantly. But – even in our differences around this high stakes topic – we both hung in there, and ended up in a place of care and much deeper understanding of each other.
The topic was guns and gun control – a big conversation we’d danced around, and on a number of occasions, started and aborted.
This time, I had shared my heart around my experience with guns as a girl. As I did that I could feel Bruce’s body stiffen. Though he didn’t interrupt me (he’s much better at that than me) literally the distance between us grew. Once I was complete and he started to speak, the first declarative statement he made shocked me. It was hard for me to believe he’d actually said what I’d heard.
Instantly, I had a million questions popping in my head, and some of them also popped out my mouth! Sigh … how many times had we been here? Once again we’d stumbled into a familiar pattern of tension between us.
He’s recovering from the pain of not being given enough space to speak until he feels what he’s said has been heard. And despite knowing this, I was in that moment unable to stop myself from interupting him.
Another experience of expanding our consciousness, dwelling in possibility,
and victory through the courage to love …
Truth is, I’ve stumbled in this way so many times that I’m now pretty practiced at recovering from it quickly and without shaming myself – one of the gifts of uncomfortable abundance! So it didn’t take long for me to notice. After quickly whispering to those parts of me that were some combination of incredulous and apoplectic, “you know it goes better when you let him finish, so let’s try that here”, I apologized to him. And (with a wry smile) literally covered my mouth with my hand, making it less likely for those questions and comments to just pop out. Sometimes pragmatism wins out over looking good!
Something big shifted in me. I had connected with the part of me that was calmer, more caring, and courageous, and was committed to doing all I could to stay present and connected with my heart open and curious.
From there, we went on. As the conversation continued, I heard Bruce speak from a depth I’d never heard before, and in feeling heard, he was able to stay present with his heart more open. We could hear and acknowledge the differences between our perspectives, without the need to have that mean we were against each other.
As the magnets on my filing cabinet say, we continue to dwell in possibility, and in the clear knowledge that in the space of difference, the courage to love IS victory.
As a couple, and as a culture, Life continues to call us all – as we can, and each at our own pace – into finding ways of expanding our capacity to treat each other with respect, to stay in connection, to be courageous, and to honour our own and each other’s humanity.
Doing so frees up energy to make our unique contributions in the arenas in which we long for change, and came here intending to make a difference. Realizing RICH Relationships within ourselves, and between each other is where I’m called to focus my attention. I’m deeply grateful for those whose call, and areas of passion and focus are different from mine. Together we can co-create the world of our best imagining.
There is, of course, SO much more to explore here, and if you’re looking for a community of support within which to nurture the capacity for this kind of powerful, open-hearted presence to difference, please be in touch – you can simply click here, or on the Contact tab above. I’d love to hear from you.
Image of couple courtesy of marcolm – FreeDigitalPhotos.net