A GPS for Relationships

With our modern technology, there really is no excuse to being lost. Just type or speak where you are and where you want to be, and boom … all systems are pointing to your final destination. It is as if we now live with a magic Genie in our pockets instead of an antiquated compass.   If only this ease and convenience were available for life’s more complicated nuances. Like relationships.

Far be it from me to offer something like Suri to guide our relational ways, but I do have a few suggestions. All of which just might make a relational undertaking a bit less frightening and a bit more normal. The following phases just might give you a rough estimate of where you actually are in relationship when you feel hopelessly lost with no apparent way out. And don’t just think about these junctures in relationship to your romantic relationships. My tween daughter uses these terms. I can hear her now – “Mom, we still have to repair.” God, what have I created? I digress. Here we go …

Harmony. Ah, we love being here. The living is good. Both parties in the relationship are feeling content and safe. The atmosphere in the relationship is one of connection, warmth and love. Brains are regulated. Waters are calm. We are kicking back enjoying the free flow of positive energy that exists between us. Like two kids skipping through a field of daisies, time stops and we are fully alive in the contentment of our space. However, life is not meant to be – or able to be – a state of continuous pleasure and gratification. Harmony dissipates and we move to …

Disharmony. Uh-oh. The calm has been disrupted as turbulent waters surface – at times, seeming out of nowhere. One party of the partnership has been triggered into a dysregulated state.  In other words, he or she is now upset. Frustration, annoyance, anger, rage, disappointment, fear or any semblance of feeling other than satisfaction becomes the current emotional state. If one or both partners are in disharmony, the relationship or the “we” of the shared space is also in disharmony. In fact, our relationship might be in disharmony and I may not know it because you are in disharmony. Furthermore, when the mess of disharmony comes (and it always does as a natural and normal part of relationship), it cannot be denied. We might try our hand at fooling ourselves with all sorts of avoidant blinders, but if the reality says it, so it is. We are in disharmony. The rational and reasoning part of our brains has given way to the more primitive, reptilian section which is hell-bent on protection and survival, even at the expense of the relationship. Thus, as feelings dispel, the relationship needs to move into a conscious and active state of …

Repair. The success of any relationship is based on intention plus process. In other words, our ability to stay in the process of showing up with relational skill and compassionate generosity lays the groundwork of moving effectively through conflict back into harmony. Relational living is a learned art. “Falling in love” is the easy part, but the maturity needed to sustain the adventure – none of us were born knowing how to do that. And yet without learning this necessary skillset and applying it with consciousness, we are doomed toward either a failed relationship or one that is limited by superficiality. As partners reach across the divide of the disconnected space with understanding, empathy, humility and ownership, repair begins and the couple warms to a harmonious state once again. Brains become regulated and calm. Safety and trust are reestablished. Play and delight can be reengaged.

If a relationship survives the round and round of this cycle, over and over again, it moves into the beautiful state of being …

Vintage. Don’t you love how that sounds? I want to die being in one of those. When you accept the totality of the journey with total abandon – both its inevitable multiple ruptures and then its sure-fire repair – a thousand times over. A wonderful example of this type of vintage love comes from the 1981 movie, On Golden Pond. An older married couple has the following conversation:

Norman: You want to know why I came back so fast? I got to the end of our lane. I couldn’t remember where the old town road was. I went a little ways in the woods. There was nothing familiar. Not one damn tree. Scared me half to death. That’s why I came running back here to you. So I could see your pretty face and I could feel safe and that I was still me.

Ethel: You’re safe, you old poop. After lunch, after we’ve gobbled up all those silly strawberries, we’ll take ourselves to the old town road. We’ve been there a thousand times. A thousand. And you’ll remember it all. Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re gonna get back up on that horse and I’m gonna be right behind you holding on tight and away we’re gonna go, go, go.

Norman: I don’t like horses. You are a pretty old dame, aren’t you? What are you doing with a dotty old son of a bitch like me?

Ethel: Well, I haven’t the vaguest idea.

So, there you have it – the simplicity of a relational compass. Where are you with your partner, your child, your family and friends? Acknowledge what you need to add to your emotional repertoire as to increase your mobility through the phases. You deserve that as do your loved ones. Hopefully, I will see you on the road. For, if you are like me, we both have a few laps to go.

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