Updated: Feb 17
A couple weeks ago my husband and I had an argument.
He knew that it was going nowhere for the moment, we’d just gotten the kids in bed, so he excused himself to brush his teeth while I stood at my dresser, overly focused on my breathing and aimlessly fussing with how my earrings and necklaces were laid out.
I knew he was partly right, but that I was partly right, and both of us, well, let’s just say, like all couples probably, we can both be stubborn.
Here’s the thing.
We have a good, solid, positive and growth oriented relationship.
And to break it down quickly for you, this is how it rolled out: he wasn’t responding to me the way I wanted him to, and he felt like no matter what he did I wasn’t going to hear him.
(Who else has this argument? Raise your hand.)
Here’s what happened next.
He came back into the room and he told me how my statements made him feel (for real!), and also how he could see it from my perspective (whoa!), and then, what he thought what was really happening (bingo, let's do this).
We sat down and through the ensuing conversation, we realized that the argument was a variation of the same dumb argument we always have.
More importantly, we suddenly saw the thing for what it was, for the pattern it represented.
We saw that while usually our emotions and feelings trigger us into fight or flight, (we were nearly there) but this time, it didn’t.
Props to him for going to brush his teeth and taking a beat.
His break helped pull us out of the emotion and place us into pattern recognition.
Anyone love puzzles? This is like a macro level puzzle here. My favorite kind.
And as a brief note - ya’ll - if you haven't dabbled yet with a practice in mindfulness, start one.
He and I both have one, and I believe that it’s seriously what helped us discern what was happening in our argument, we were able to see the emotions for what they were, just big feelings passing through, and they weren’t personal.
Now - let's unpack the pattern.
To understand our story, you need to know that we have had two relationships with each other.
One that was before 2010, and one that was after 2010.
What happened in between was an energetic shift. (And yea, a break-up was a part of that).
As a person, I identify most strongly with issues of control, and being in control. (Anyone else?)
A major component of my personal, professional and spiritual growth in my life is letting go of the need to be in control of all the things. Because, you know, I’m not.
I intellectually know this, and I energetically have been stepping into surrender more and more.
(Goodness gracious it’s liberating!)
I can only control myself, and how I show up. When I seek to control others I limit them AND myself. UGH.
In our first relationship together, pre-2010, I was very inside this pattern and it was dominant in my life (sometimes I want to send mass apologies to like, everyone I went to graduate school with, which was also this era). #owningmyfailures
And at the other end of a control story is the “not enough” story. This is where my husband was then.
It existed between us in the relationship, but he’ll also say that this was a confusing time for him, as he was frustrated and seeking his way post-college, and not too sure how to go about it.
Now, about us. My husband approaches things like an athlete (which he is), steady, focused, training, practice, eye on the prize kind of thing, then the big game. Very hands on and practical, tangible. Then he does it all over again. You know, like, chop wood, carry water.
If you’re not familiar with this as a Buddhist concept, it’s basically that even after enlightenment, you still chop wood and carry water. You still must tend to that which is of the earth and the body, even once you understand the nature of the spirit, so that you may understand and experience all of it, again.
The thing about an athlete approach, is that it can be a great thing at it’s highest and best good, but if you constantly feel that you’ve got to improve and that you are not hitting a mark, or you’re not sure what the mark is, but you feel you’re falling short anyway, what are you really doing? Wearing yourself down into a disheartened, exhausted, and possibly depressed person.
I, on the other hand, tend to approach life like a coach (fitting, isn’t it).
I’m looking constantly at perspective, strategy, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and analyzing well, everything. Yes, more than necessary at times.
I want to understand and learn what makes people tick, what makes people change, and what creates the new behavior so that we improve or make things as we wish, rather than how they are.
While these traits overall are positive, it can take a turn for the worse when it’s also about using those skills to then control and dictate the people around you, to control what others see and know and how you can hold the power position.
During our first relationship together, pre-2010, the less healthy coaching approach was what I had adopted almost 100%, and he was living the constantly striving, but to what end, athlete role in our relationship.
We were young, and running the many patterns and stories from our upbringing as well as earlier lived experiences, and those were running our lives. We hadn't yet questioned our "why" for how we were showing up, we just thought it's how it was.
We were totally unconscious to what we really wanted and needed, and how to even bring that out.
The patterns and limiting beliefs were imposing on our ability to be full individual people.
The dynamic of our relationship reinforced the unhealthy patterns more strongly. While we could survive with these patterns on our own, as a couple it eventually suffocated us and we realized we had to break the relationship to free ourselves (!).
Both of us still remember a flash of light in the room we were in when we said that we needed to separate. It felt like an energetic bond had been broken.
But it was more, too. It was almost like an awakening. A slow one, but an awakening all the same.
We went our separate ways for a time.
And while we didn’t figure it all out in one go, a fundamental component of us recommitting when we came back to one another months later, was the explicit agreement that we would both now do our own work.
We framed it simply back then.
I said I wouldn’t act as a coach anymore in the relationship, but I would go to the game.
He committed to his practice, but in efforts and arenas that would serve him, and us, as we thought about creating a family. And today, well, we’ve pretty much stuck to it. As well as two imperfect people can do things, we have held up our ends of the bargain.
So alas, here we are 10 years hence, and there it is, hanging out in front of us, disguised as a dumb argument after the kids are in bed.
My husband just turned 40, and I’m rounding out my last years in my 30’s. This little ghost of a pattern, we realized, is still softly hanging out, taunting us, throwing us for a loop. I was trying to control how he showed up for me, he felt like he couldn't meet my expectation despite doing his best. Whatever it was we were actually arguing about was pretty irrelevant.
And this time, we caught the sucker, recognized it, named it, and assessed it. And while we may not have quite tossed it out into the cold rain outside, we’re aware of its presence, and our responsibility to dismantle it best we can.
Our dumb argument turned into a very engaging reflective conversation of how these things still show up for us, but differently, and how we now have an opportunity to do our work from a more discerning place, with a bit more intention and grace than we had 10 years ago.
At the end of it, we literally high-fived (not even kidding, this is how we roll.)
The next few days were ripe with more learning from this conversation. I had a talk with a woman the next day who was telling me briefly about her own relationship with her husband. She's in her 70’s and had some excellent wisdom to bestow on me.
I had told her about my conversation and experience with my husband the evening before, and she said the next time anything like this comes up - to take away the roles of husband and wife completely.
She highlighted that what we really are, are fellow travelers.
Take away the roles, and the expectations fall away.
What gifts do we offer each other on this journey? How do we help one another if there’s a rain storm, or if we need to rest? (Or the kids are tired, hangry, and bored all at once.)
Boiled down to this simplicity, I laugh to think of trying to control a fellow free-born traveler. We both share the charge and responsibility of the little ones, but to one another? We freely choose each other, day in and out. Not literally in a morning conversation, but it sure feels great to write out the energy of what it feels like.
I’ve chosen a fantastic fellow traveler, and that he’s chosen me in return makes me immeasurably happy.
The analogy will stay with me, and the knowledge that I am still running, albeit a far less intense "control" pattern, will really help me. I count on my discernment and being mindful to remind me if I start to have a less than enlightening thought about him or something he’s doing in the moment, and give me the inspiration to see it in a different way if needed. And if something truly needs to be addressed, that I hold him in the light as my fellow traveler, rather than whatever baggage the term "husband" might have with it, that unconsciously colors expectations that may not really be necessary. I'll allow that to set the tone of the conversation.
As people, we are all deeply connected and intertwined, regardless if we are at the moment in more negative or positive aspects of a relationship.
What is important is to recognize and become self-aware of our patterns and limiting beliefs or perceptions, and how they may be running our lives for better or worse. And while we're at it, it's also incredibly refreshing to put an entirely new spin on how we see each other. Any relationship can benefit from pattern recognition, and shining a different light on it.
There are many ways to build beauty, craft discernment, and discover brightness in something that at times may seem to have lost its luster.
You just have to recognize the pattern, change the view, and maybe apply a bit of polish to bring the shine back out.
The other day I came home after running a few errands. About three hours earlier I had brought home some items from the grocery store and set them on the counter. In my rush to finish what I needed, I left the house without putting things away. When I came home, I already knew I was a bit hungry, and of course, the kids were excited and they leapt at me before I could set down my bag.
I asked for a bit of space and told the kids I needed a second to eat before I could connect, and then I saw the food, still on the counter, unmoved. My immediate reaction was to be upset and to ask my husband why he didn't put the items that clearly needed to be in the fridge, in the fridge while I was gone.
But before I opened my mouth, I looked around, first to consider myself, I already knew I was in a bit of a hangry (hungry/angry) state, and then I looked past the kitchen to the dining room table, where I could see materials for teaching math concepts out on the table. My husband had been teaching my older kiddo simple multiplication, and doing other activities with both kids while I was gone, among them playing games, reading books, and making them their own snacks. He was probably just as annoyed at me for not putting away what I'd brought home before I left again. It was also like, all of three things, he may not have even noticed it while focusing on the kids.
Instead, I put away the food, I ate a snack, and exactly nothing came of that whole experience. If my husband is reading this, it's the first he's heard of it. (Thanks for being awesome, babe.) That was my learning in action and practice.
What are some ways you approach new points of view? What’s helped you in a relationship in the past? What’s helped you for your own self-awareness?
I’d love to know - share in the comments below or send me a note.
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Thanks for reading, and remember, sharing is caring. If you know someone who could glean a tip or two from this, pass it on.