Are you a risk taker? Are you a person who avoids taking risks at all costs? Risk is necessary if a relationship is going to thrive. Therefore each partner must grow in his/her ability to tolerate the anxiety that results from change. One of the huge lessons I have learned over forty-eight years of relationship is this one…
Lesson #4: Love requires that I step out of my comfort zone
As a marriage and family therapist I listen to the dreams of premarital and married couples. It is extremely rare to hear someone say, “I hope that marriage increases my anxiety.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard those words.
Instead what I hear is the expectation that this relationship will help me feel safe, secure and affirmed. The young couple imagines a relationship in which both partners are accommodating, compatible and agreeable. There is little upheaval in their fantasy world. They want to be a couple whose personal characteristics so closely mesh that they will remain on the same wavelength as long as they both shall live. I have a term for that fantasy…
Mating in Captivity!
A thriving marriage requires growth. Doing something different or learning something new always results in increased anxiety. It is guaranteed that the relationship will not feel quite so stable when one or both of you are in the process of change.
When a couple believes that a good relationship will always make them feel comfortable, the growth phase is perceived with fear as if everything they know and imagined is slipping through their fingers. “Maybe we’re falling out of love” Many at that point try to force their spouse back into “the way we were.” “Just accommodate me, please!”
“Keep the peace, don’t rock the boat and we’ll just forget that this little episode ever happened.”
Yet love and control are incompatible. Fear and control are soulmates.\
As David Schnarch, Ph.D. wrote,
“Perpetually adapting to each other’s limitations and insecurities means that the worst of both of you runs your relationship.”
When I was first married I, just like many of my present clients, believed that if David really loved me, he would help me to always feel comfortable. I had no idea how much growth would be required of me in our relationship. There were times I felt as if I was standing on a high diving board, my stomach churning with anxiety about to dive into unknown waters, foreign waters even.
If we are going to create WOW in our VOW, we have to
rather than expecting that our mate just accommodate to our world. We have to expect that anxiety is going to be an on-going companion if we are stretching ourselves or if our mate is moving into a new stage of growth.
I decided to write down ten opportunities for growth, (believe me I can think of many more), that have required me to tolerate anxiety, and calm myself down, so that our relationship becomes big enough for both of us. These opportunities can leave any of us feeling completely off-balance. Can you relate to these growth opportunities?
Can you feel your anxiety mounting even as you read this list?
- Making room for your partner’s interests? Interests that you don’t find particularly fascinating.
- Being willing to embrace your mate’s needs even if you don’t have the same needs at the same time.
- Welcoming people who are important to your spouse even if they wouldn’t necessarily be the kind of people you would have chosen to hang out with.
- Learning to speak your truth and to speak it in a way that increases the chance that your mate can hear it.
- Daring to raise an issue that is important to you even though you know it may well upset your mate in some way.
- Listening to your mate’s truth and being curious about his/her perspective rather than personalizing it and reacting. Doing this in such a way that your mate truly believes that their perspective is sought out and taken seriously by you even if it is entirely different than yours.
- Learning how to hear, “no” to something you have your heart set on.
- Hearing your mate call you out on your anti-love choices.
- Owning your own anti-love behaviors and expressing remorse for how your choices affect your partner.
- Tolerating the “agree to disagree” topics without seeing them as a lack of loyalty, lack of love, or lack of respect.
It’s funny, but often when we sit down to remember the interesting moments in our marriage journey, what first comes to mind are not the comfortable moments. Instead we laugh and groan over the challenging times of growth, especially the ones that after the crisis left us feeling good about ourselves, our partner, and the ability of our love to embrace the difficult. We remember the times when our anxiety was high but we tried it anyway. It may have felt like we were on the edge of a cliff, yet we felt totally alive!
Love has required us to step out of our comfort zone. If we say so ourselves, we’re far more authentic and interesting as a result! Our marriage has stretched so that there is room in it for both of us.
I guess the ultimate risk is to stay in your comfort zone. Avoiding risk guarantees deadness.
Until the next Conscious Lover’s Blog…