No matter how you slice it relationships take work. They take attention, care and the willingness to continue to show up in the sticky moments and tell the truth. Naturally once the truth is spoken an outer structure may need to change or you may realize that nothing on the outside needs to change and that it’s an inside job.
Agreeing to be in a relationship means that you have signed up to play your role on the team even when it is uncomfortable. What amazes me is that when you are in a committed relationship with someone and there is enough trust and love everything you have been avoiding arises to be seen and felt and eventually...if no one bolts or completely shuts down, healing is possible.
Intimate relationships are like a garden and in the garden Doc Weed or Thistle may sprout up alongside your Dino Kale and your delicious sun gold tomatoes and basil. What do you do when weeds pop up? You have choices. You can react by clamming up or slinging insults at your partner which is much like pouring pesticides on your plants or you can put your gloves on, grab your tools from the shed, get down on your hands and knees and gently pull the weeds out one by one noticing how they grow and doing your best to pull up the roots. The latter approach takes more time than blasting the weeds or walking away and letting them take over. When you take the time to weed the garden grows; it becomes healthy and abundant.
Why do weeds grow in relationships? They grow because we are human and though we know that clearly communicating our needs and making requests is useful— it is not always possible. Our wounds, fears, all the times that we weren’t seen or heard and the times we felt rejected can get in the way of our being able to speak up and stay current in our communication. Simply put our “stuff” has a tendency to derail us from our ability to respond with maturity and instead we react and may speak from a young place deep inside.
Think about how little children respond. Imagine a child who has been raised in a loving environment, one who has been listened to and respected tends to let their feelings out without worrying about how they will land. They know they are loved and for the most part are unafraid of speaking up (and at a certain developmental stage they don’t have much impulse control either). We accept this kind of behavior from young children and when they have calmed down we may hold them close teaching them to be gentle and kind without making them feel like they are bad or wrong. This kind of learning happens organically in a functional family system and for many of us as adults this emotional learning continues in the context of loving relationship.
What I see in my own life is that when I hold back, when I take care of someone else’s needs while betraying my own by saying, “well, now’s not a good time because he is so busy at work or he’s dealing with...” (you fill in the blank) what often results is an accumulation of pent up feelings which eventually must come out.
I cannot emphasize enough how essential “staying current” is in relationship. What I mean by this is to share honestly what is happening for you when it’s not a big deal; just like a weed in the garden is much easier to deal with before it reaches for the sky and competes with your beautiful roses for the sunlight and nutrients in the soil. I recently had an experience in relationship of not speaking up and the cost was high. Staying on top of the weeds— even the really prickly ones is totally worth it because they are so much tougher to handle once their roots have grown deep and their spiky thorns become formidable opponents.
It takes courage to tell the truth and maybe even a deeper flavor of courage to speak up in relationship where the stakes are higher; yet when you speak up you are tending to the garden of your relationship because you are tending to the needs of your own heart. The practice is to take care of your heart first and then see what is needed for the relationship.
The process of discerning what your heart is saying and the ability to skillfully communicate its’ message takes effort. A gift that we can offer to one another is honest and forthright communication.
Get real. Listen to your heart. Listen in silence.
This takes consistent practice because the mind wants to jump in and take control; it wants to justify, to find a reason to be right or simply to cling to the habit patterns that have become ingrained over time. How about taking a fresh approach? Just as in a garden we give our sugar snap peas a structure to climb— so too must we give the mind a place to focus. All of this takes work and you will find that interrupting old habit patterns and being at choice gives rise to freedom.
Be courageous. Take risks. You will fumble and find yourself tongue-tied or perhaps with your foot in your mouth. So what? Try again. Be fearless even as your body trembles, your jaw clenches and the sweat pours down over your brow. Nourish the garden of your relationships with the truth of your own heart and eventually you will be dining out of your garden — each morsel delicious and tender. You may even find yourself saying, “ Did this incredible meal come from our garden? Wow!” At times your back may ache from being bent over pulling weeds and somehow it will be worth it as you harvest the fruits of love.