Charlie and I have been together 14 years. We’ve had some significant ups and downs, weird zig-zags and more moments I’d care to admit where we thought “is this the end?”
This coming year will be our 10th wedding anniversary, still relative newbies to the marriage game, but when (some stats say) the average marriage in America lasts just 8 years… I’m left feeling pretty optimistic about sharing what works/has worked for us so far.
I have a hundred anecdotal pieces of advice that have helped once, or maybe in that specific situation, but what they all come back to time and time again is a piece of advice I read somewhere out there on the internet about 5 years ago.
Eliza was a baby, we were both exhausted with our new situation. A tiny house, a very low paying job, a 2.5 year old and a baby in my care all day, and the reality that this would be how it was for the foreseeable future. Our conversations were brief, and our ability to meet each others needs (or our own) was at an all time low.
It was right around then that I came across an article (I wish I could find it now!) about always Turning Towards your partner. And I felt it. Deep in me. I still do.
I notice it when I’m annoyed. I can keep turning away, frustrated, dumbfounded that “here we are again!” or I can turn towards. “Why are we here again? How can we talk about this in a better way?”
I notice it popping into my head in hardest moments. The ones where I want to pull the covers up and ignore this fight. The times where I can feel how petty our fight is. . .and how much I want to “win” something that is wholly un-win-able. And I close my eyes, breath deep, and Turn Towards.
Often that just means saying “I’m still here to talk.” or voicing what my real need is; “I need to feel angry, alone.” “I need time.” “I need a walk. Alone.” “I need change.” whatever it is, it’s me owning my feelings and telling him that the door is still open, I want to keep figuring this out… together. Even when I’m mad. Even when I realize _______ (that I was wrong, that he is wrong, that there is no answer, that this has to do with something else, fill in the blank.)
The mindset of turn-towards is one that we have both fully adopted. And that makes all the difference. The power dynamic is balanced when both partners are wanting to turn towards the other to have The Talk.
Bring this idea up! Not in the moment. Not in a fight. Not when anything is on the table. Bring this up on a date night, over dinner, via text, at a time where you feel capable and ready to have a conversation about how hard this can be, and how dedicated you want to be to this, and you want them to be.
Brainstorm ways that you can do this. For me, I often need to point the WHOLE thing out to feel capable.
For example, when I’m really angry, but I know I am facing that time where I can shut down, or I can turn towards, I verbalize that whole she-bang. I tell Charlie; I’m frustrated, I don’t feel ______, but I don’t want this to get bigger. Or drive a deeper wedge. How can we talk about it? How can we talk about this DIFFERENTLY than we have been?
Find what your words will be, what script you will follow, it’ll make it easier to have those conversations when emotions are running higher. It can seem trite to talk about any kind of “script” or coping ideas. But when things are rough, and fights feels too frequent, having an already (in a calmer time) decided on course of action can be so helpful.
This is what is working in my healthy marriage, with someone who equally wants to be having these conversations. Our power dynamics are a common conversation, part of our marriage verbiage, and discussing how to handle conflict is something we talk about often. ONE person turning towards again and again to an unloving or unhealthy partner will not help a relationship and can further manipulation, abuse, and inequity in a relationship.
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