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October 3, 2015

When Love is Frozen—Can We Sort it Out?

Karsten Bitter/Flickr

Have you ever been in that place with someone where you really want them to know how you feel, but you can’t tell them because the hurt is so acute?

Or maybe you think they should already know how you’re feeling, and it’s up to them to act and make it right. But they don’t.

So the relationship sits on ice.

The dense slab of what’s left unsaid can pull us apart.

It can sit for days, months or even years. It hurts because we love that person. Sh*t happens in relationships and we don’t sort it out. We choose not to say what’s painful, and we distance ourselves.

And the distance grows. But does that hurt just dissipate?

I’d like it to. When that slab of hurt is sitting in me I’d like it to just disintegrate and leave in the busy slipstream of my life. I’d like that heart-heavy feeling to lift, so when I think about you I don’t feel upset. I’d like the tight-chest-thing not to happen if I talk about you.

But sometimes it doesn’t, until I give it my voice.

In my younger years I kept much of what I felt my own secret. In friendships, I’d often try to shrug it away if I was hurt. That was hard, but speaking up was harder. My throat would dry up, my heart would crash in my chest and my hands got clammy.

Sometimes I’d sink a barrel of booze to get my feelings out, then explode like an inebriated volcano. That’s not the best way. Trust me, I’ve road-tested it. But nobody taught me how to talk about really tough emotional stuff. I wish they had. Before learning French or German I wish I’d learnt to communicate really well in my first language.

Back in my late 20s, I fell out with my friend. We were friends for years then we hit a tricky time. She split up with her partner, who was also my good friend (in that he was homeless and slept on my sofa), she became my boss and then she went out with a guy she met via me.

Turned out he was a serial liar and a player. It all got really complicated and we both ended up feeling betrayed. The love was still there, but we just didn’t have the skills to sort out the intensity of the feelings.

Love. Honesty. Risk.

Relationships with family, friends and (of course) partners require honest communication if they are to be real and fulfilling and thrive. The longer the relationship, the more likely it is to hit the skids.

Long-term, anything can break down.

The question is more: Are we able to resolve stuff when it comes up? ‘Cause it will. Relationships are lush soil for misunderstandings, disappointments, road bumps, communication glitches and (trickier still) projections. And it’s the same fertile land that offers us growth.

So can we sort it out?

If nobody teaches us to communicate emotionally, then how do we speak up for ourselves so that we don’t end up sparring with each other? How do we reveal our soft little underbellies and express hurt or other tender feelings without me triggering someone’s defense system and them agitating ours?

It takes great strength to be vulnerable. It’s brave to let down your guard. And really, this is the only true way of me meeting you.

It takes guts to initiate a heart-to-heart. Guts and risk. It may not go well. Forget extreme sports and elite athletes, this is more courageous. However good our intentions or however gently we communicate, things can still go to sh*t.

Discernment is required, of course. Not all relationships and friendships are worth perusing or trying to reclaim and resurrect. Clinging onto a friendship that seems to want to die is not wisdom, but sharing our truth can be a way to truly decide.

When I’m working out if I want to try and melt a relationship on ice, I ask these questions:

What’s at stake? Has there been love, trust, friendship, safety?

If it’s yes then I’ll eat my big, fat pride, and go in armed with my non-battle plan:

I’ll try to start what I want to say to you with, “I feel… “

(Not, “You make me feel.” How can you make me feel? I’m responsible for my feelings, not you. At times this seems to suck when someone has been truly horrible, but it’s still true.)

I will do my best to speak to you in the gentlest possible way.

I will pay attention to my heart—my feeling space. I will try and remember to breathe, and to look in your eyes.

I hope when I’m talking you will listen with your heart, and make the effort to understand. Then you can hold it or drop it. Hear it or dismiss it. I cannot be responsible for how you react; I’m only responsible for me.

I will do my best to hear you without reacting, and I will try not to interrupt. I will allow your feelings, even if that really challenges me because they seem unfair or unforgiving.

I will do my best not to make your feelings wrong and mine right. If I get defensive please try not to be defensive back—I’ll try too. If I get really rude or abusive, please leave.

I will try not to be attached to outcomes. Even if I want our relationship to revive, I’m going to detach from that as best I can.

I will try to be humble and remember to thank you for hearing me.

Maybe we will rekindle. Maybe we will die. But it takes two to bring it back: me and you. Hurt is part of life; let’s talk about it and try to drop our defenses. Maybe we’ll teach each other something and be wiser for it.

Often with truth love comes back. That’s because it never went—it just got stuck.

I sorted out that stuff with my friend. It took two decades, but we’re friends again.

I love that woman—so glad she’s back in my life. It’s never too late.

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Relephant Read:

Mindful Communication: 3 Tips for Writing Someone a Letter about How You Feel.

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Author: Dettra Rose

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Karsten Bitter/Flickr

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Dettra Rose