At the tender age of 36, I seem to have found what feels like the right relationship for me. This process has been intentional at times, unintentional at others. Sometimes graceful and thoughtful and sometimes flailing, groping, bumping into things in the dark. It happened when I least expected it, as I hear these things sometimes do.
I’ve heard men often joke that they wish women came with manuals. Of course this is too simplistic as every woman, man, and person of gender in-between, is different. But still. There is something to that idea. What if each of us created our own “manual of me”. An autobiography of sorts that provides some background of personal history, the important points that laid the foundation for what was to follow, and then gets to the juicy part, the details not just of who I am and what I am all about now, but of explicitly, exactly, what to do with me.
By details I mean the specifics. Something that follows more of a linear equation. If I feel “A”, and you respond “B”, the outcome will most likely be “C”. If I am acting “X”, it probably means “Y”, and you should do “Z”. Please don’t do THIS because it makes me feel THAT. Do THIS because it makes me feel THAT. Of course you can (and should) have these conversations out loud and in person. But the benefit of putting it in writing is that it can be referred back to. You can always revise and provide new editions following new information and experiences as well.
The thing is, we all make assumptions, it’s just part of being human. But we do it too often. We assume our partner can read our body language, know what we are thinking, what we need. Then we become angry or hurt, we harbor resentment, when they can’t and don’t. So why not train ourselves instead to assume and expect that they don’t and that we will need to express, convey, explain what we are thinking and what we need. Maybe add the why that is, just for good measure.
I can’t help but wonder just how effective such a system could be in terms of maintaining strong relationships. It contains in my opinion, two factors that are undeniably beneficial if not absolutely necessary; self awareness and communication. Throw a little compassion in the mix and you should be good to go.
Relationships and…, well, I… need daily care and maintenance. I don’t mean to imply that I am “high” maintenance because actually, I don’t think that I am. What I mean is that in your primary relationship, there are things you need to think about and pay attention to every day. Things that cannot be taken for granted no matter how tired, stressed, or grumpy, busy, or distracted you may be. Your child, pet, plants, work (especially if you run your own business as I do), you take care of these things, you nurture them, because you care about them and you want them to be happy and healthy. To flourish. If you start to let these things slip, you will quickly find yourself on a slippery slope that will have fewer and fewer footholds. The longer negative patterns go on, the harder it is to recover from them.
I think that each and every one of us ultimately wants to be known. Deeply known and even then, especially then, accepted. Yes, we all want other things too. We want intimacy, we want love, sex, respect, support. But more than anything, we want to be seen and heard because this is what makes us feel known. We find subtle ways of showing ourselves so that others might see. We write, we display pictures of us or by us, we update our status’ and say what’s on our mind. We broaden the radius to include more people who can see us, or parts of us. All of these things help us feel less alone, less lost and less invisible in this giant world. When we find a partner, someone that both observes us evolving over time and participates in the process of growth (independently and together) it makes us feel deeply known. When that person is loving about it all, it makes us feel safe and totally accepted.
I don’t advise that we all hang our self worth on external validation from others. That’s not what I am saying here. But I am saying that connection is a fundamental part of being human and that in order to feel connected, you need to know yourself (learn), educate and inform others about you (teach), and put the time and effort into knowing them in the same way (study). Ask questions. Check your answers to see if you understood correctly. You will not be tested in the pen and paper sense of the word. But believe you me, you will be tested.
Alyssa K. Siegel, MS, LPC, CGAC II, The Dance of Therapy
First published on Alyssa’s counseling blog on January 14, 2012.