If loving someone is a journey then crossing the road together is part of the trip. We stand at the pedestrian crossing of life gazing into each other’s eyes. The traffic light changes and I begin to walk.
“What the hell are you doing?,” you roar.
I’m in the middle of the road, but you’re still on the pavement looking at me in horror.
“Are you crazy? The light was green.”
“I know the light was green,” I explain, returning to you. “That’s why I started walking.”
“Green means go for the cars. You could have been killed.”
“What are you talking about? Green means it’s safe to cross.”
I’m talking about the pedestrian light and you’re talking about the traffic light, but it doesn’t matter because the argument escalates and eventually we split up. Convinced we’re not being heard, we go our separate ways looking for someone who will agree with us about the meaning of the green light.
Silly, no? From the outside at least; from the inside it looks more like this.
“When he forgets our anniversary it means he doesn’t care.”
“When she flirts with a waiter it means I don’t satisfy her.”
“When he doesn’t listen to me it means he is taking me for granted.”
“When she makes suggestions about my clothes it means she wants to dominate me and take my power away.”
“When he leaves the toilet seat up it means he has no respect for me.”
It’s all love trying to express itself isn’t it? The torture of the heart, the stuff of a thousand pop songs and acres of bad poetry?
Well… no, actually.
When we talk about love in relationships what we’re often talking about is the meanings we attach to what we call love. It’s hard to spot because it happens so fast. Our partner will say or do the wrong thing and the sinking feeling comes instantly. It’s not like we hear ourselves on the inside saying, “That look means they’re going to leave me because they’ve figured out I’m unworthy and have no real value.”
No, it’s just straight to the sinking feeling.
To begin to see the meanings we attach at bullet speed we need to slow the process down.
A good time to start is just after a fight. Here’s what to do.
Take yourself away somewhere and start writing what happened. Not easy I know, because you will usually have two ends with nothing in the middle. At one end you’ll have what your partner said or did, and at the other end you’ll have the way you feel.
To help you get a different perspective turn the writing paper sideways. On the left write the event and on the right write the feeling. Leave enough space in the middle to fill in the gap. Start at the event end and work towards the feeling.
Let’s say you’ve written something like, “He/She said I’m predictable.”
See if you can slow down what happened next. Ask yourself what was it exactly that upset you. Was it the tone your partner said it in? Was it their body language as they said it? Or was it what they actually said? It may be one or all three of the above.
Whatever you get, ask yourself what your answer means. So if you wrote they said you were predictable in a tone of bored resignation, you could ask yourself what that tone meant to you? In response you might find yourself writing that it meant they were bored with you and were going to leave you.
If their body language said they were exasperated, you might find yourself writing that it meant they thought you were incapable of change, and were giving up on you.
If it was the actual words used, you may find yourself writing that it meant they were bored with you and the bad feeling amplified because you didn’t know how to make that stop.
Once you have a good idea of the meanings you are attaching you can begin to do something about it because the good news is that
meanings are not facts.
I know that can be a hard idea to come to terms with in a relationship because emotions run high, but if you think about our traffic lights again it’s easier to see how it works.
When the pedestrian light is red we know it means it’s not safe to walk. But does it always mean that? Is there a possibility that it could mean something else? What if the traffic lights are broken? Then it might be safe to walk but you wouldn’t know. You‘d just be stuck there, forever waiting. It’s unlikely I know, but you have to agree it’s a possibility, and a possibility is all we need to begin to attach new meanings.
Now, back to you and your partner.
First, write down three or more alternate meanings to your partner’s behavior.
Ask yourself if there’s a possibility, however slim, that your partner’s actions may not mean what you initially thought.
This will usually cause uproar on the inside. Parts of you will be very unwilling to allow even the possibility that your partner’s actions could mean something else. This has to do with our self protection mechanisms and is a whole other subject.
The important thing to remember is not to directly confront the meaning you want to change. Don’t try and tell yourself that you partner’s actions definitely mean something else. The uproar will die down if you gently persist.
Ask yourself why there’s no possibility that your partners actions could mean anything other than what you initially thought?
When you’ve written out all the reasons why your partner is a dirty rotten bitch/bastard, ask yourself is that is the reality you want.
If it’s not, ask yourself what reality you do want is and write it out in detail.
Ask yourself if allowing the possibility of an alternate meaning to your partner’s actions will bring you closer to or further away from the reality you want?
All you’re looking for is the possibility, however slim. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it is powerful. That possibility is the thin end of a wedge that, once inserted under a meaning, will dislodge it over time and allow it to change to a happier meaning.
Sorry, but this isn’t a one time deal, it’s something you need to do again and again, particularly with meanings that cause you a lot of pain. So next time it happens, start at step one again.
The good news is that once you start you will feel the effect immediately. Once you get that possibility allowed, the bad feeling will lose its edge.
Step . . . Out The Door
Lastly, if it turns out that your partner actually is a dirty rotten bitch bastard, will all this finding new meanings have just been an elaborate way of making excuses for them and a painful waste of time?
I don’t think so. Not to be too unromantic but relationships have a lot more to do with your relationship with yourself than the relationship you have with your partner. So any work you do to uncover the meanings you attach unconsciously will not be wasted and will help make your relationship all the better when you end up with the right person.
hot on elephant
The 4 Stages of a Good Divorce. A Letter to my Children: You do not come from a Broken Home. Mom, can I Call her Mom, Too? To the One Who Tried to Break Me. An Open Letter to the Fixers. How your Stored Memories in the Amygdala can lead to PTSD. Jon Stewart makes first appearance since retiring—”it’s not your country.” Waylon shares 10 transformingly beautiful Quotes about Love. These People are Rare Gems—Keep Them, Fight for Them, don’t Give Up on Them. 40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years.