“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” -Anonymous
Relationships require stretching. In fact there may be no more important place in life to practice and improve our flexibility than in our hearts. Getting over the belief that our own desires are the most important consideration at any given moment is a lifelong practice in flexibility. Realizing that our relationship is our most gentle and perfect teacher to get beyond our own individual desires is at once its purpose and its gift. Learning to show up for the people we love in ways that are meaningful is how you build safety into your loving relationships.
Flexibility and the ability to stretch beyond our comfort zones are in many circumstances how we learn to feel and express our love. Participating in any intimate relationship, whether it is as a partner, parent, friend or sibling is nothing if not a juggling act. Holding our own needs and desires in one hand while recognizing and responding to the needs of our loved ones is an imperfect equation on most days. Success comes in small moments of reaching beyond where we thought we could go in both letting go and taking on new ways of interacting.
In the following story we see how showing up well or not happens in a myriad of ways in daily life. Notice how each partner stretches in ways that are not comfortable but are worth the effort…
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Janine was getting ready to leave for book group when her husband, Thomas, called from work. “I have to finish this project,” he said. “I’m really sorry, Jan.” She knew how much he wanted to be promoted, and how much was riding on his performance at the office. But in truth, she was growing weary of calls like this, which meant she would either scramble to find a sitter, which they could ill afford, or cancel her plans—again. “Not tonight,” she barked into the phone. “I canceled last time, and if I’m not there it means I’ll have read the book for nothing. Again. Can’t you just bring the work home with you?”
“I’ll see,” was all he said. “Let me call you back.” After she hung up the phone and wiped away the tears that were rising to the surface, she headed for the phone to call a sitter. On the way, she passed the shelving unit for her son’s room sitting in the hallway. It was almost complete— Thomas had stayed up late the night before to assemble it, stopping only when he realized he was missing an essential part. She stepped into her son’s room with a different thought. “Let’s go,” she said. “We’ll get Thai takeout and visit your dad at work.”
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Close your eyes and remember a time in your own relationship where your partner didn’t show up the way you had hoped for. Then remember a time when stretching your boundaries and letting go of expectations actually made you feel better about yourself or your partner/child/parent. What opened in you that allowed you to find space that you didn’t know you had? Is there a place in your body that you can sense when you stretch or relax into a challenging situation?
Try this practice. Every day commit to working on a physical stretch that is challenging for you, like bending forward and touching your toes or sitting down with legs outstretched and reaching for your ankles. Give yourself ten breaths to move deeper into the stretch and with each breath imagine how you can open up to your relationship.
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It is easy to confuse our capacity to show up for each other with the more passive tendency we slip into of coexisting. They resemble each other when we grow accustomed to not allowing ourselves to need or be needed. But coexisting doesn’t have the stickiness factor that showing up and being flexible does, because it happens as a matter of course, not a matter of choice.
Choosing your relationship health and finding the flexibility to feed it translates into all the dynamics that make a relationship great. Communications get easier and softer, passion gets ignited and your thoughts about your life improve. So stretch a little and call itself love.