True or False…
It’s healthy to have frequent conversations with your romantic partner that put the future of your relationship at risk.
I think most people would say false.
I would have said false for most of my life. In fact, not only did I think it was unhealthy, but I judged those couples as not right for each other, scared to separate and not knowing what they want.
Today I have a completely different story.
Before I tell you how that all changed, I’d like to tell you about the inscription inside my wedding ring.
Paula and I have never been shy when it comes to talking about death, so whether that’s our own physical deaths or the death of the relationship, we always welcome the conversation. We never really appreciate how sudden death can be until we experience it, and Paula brought that wisdom to our relationship after her first husband died in a car accident.
We believe that being present to the end of our relationship allows us to experience it more fully today.
When we considered what to inscribe in our rings, we chose a phrase inspired by a story in the 10-day Vipassana meditation course.
This will also change.
In one sense it’s a strange thing to put on a wedding ring, which to most people is a symbol of an unchanging bond, but to us it’s the perfect reminder of how to have a fulfilling relationship.
Allow for constant change.
We’re changing all the time anyway so our choice is to either resist that change or allow it. It’s because of this we often have conversations that put the future of our relationship at risk. We don’t do this from a place of manipulation or threat, we just honestly want to acknowledge when things really aren’t working, transitioning our relationship from primary romantic partners to something else might be what’s best for both of us.
We don’t know, but we talk about it.
In the four years we’ve been together we’ve had these types of conversations often, I’d say once or twice a year, and I’ve noticed something important.
Death and rebirth is essential.
So far we haven’t seen the literal death of our marriage, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t experienced death. The death of dreams, death of hopes, death of expectations, death of a proposed future, these are all deaths that we mourn together.
These conversations where we allow the old to die and the new to be reborn are essential, but they aren’t easy. We are human, we have attachments, and showing up fully for these difficult conversations means being willing to let everything die in service of what wants to be born.
Recently, Paula and I have experienced a death of the desire to have children. When we met neither of us were clear on wanting or not wanting kids and recently Paula got clear she did want kids and I got clear I didn’t.
We spent weeks in this process, including a few days doing nothing but being together and watching as old dreams died and new possibilities emerged.
As I write that I know it sounds beautiful and pretty but it didn’t feel that way at the time. It was messy, there were many many emotions, and we had to sit in the pain of confusion and disillusionment, until we didn’t.
And yet the other option is more painful.
The other option is to avoid difficult conversations and cling to the way things were, in hopes that feelings will just “pass”. We hope that if we just ignore the signs, they might go away, and sometimes they do, but not without a cost.
The cost of ignoring your truth is depression.
While I had many feelings in recent weeks when talking to Paula about our future without kids, I never felt depressed. In fact, I felt vividly alive, even if that aliveness manifested itself as pain and suffering.
When we avoid difficult conversations we’re only kicking the problem down the road, and it’s a habit that kills aliveness and passion in relationships. Often these difficult conversations don’t result in a break up, but we can’t avoid them because they might.
While it’s certainly been painful, having conversations that might break us up has been the best medicine for us maintaining a happy, vibrant and fulfilling relationship.
Has that been true for you?
This conversation was inspired by my good friend and incredible educator Reid Mihalko, who came up with a difficult conversation formula to help you say what’s not being said. I highly recommend it.