Thursday, January 21, 2010

Falling Short as a Partner

Two days ago, Ma'ikwe told me, “I want to talk about what marriage means to each of us.”

OK, I thought. That sounded like a good subject. It turned out, however, that when we got into it, that she first wanted to address a different topic, "Ways in which I’m frustrated with you as my partner.” While this wasn't exactly bait-and-switch—I believe that Ma’ikwe is genuinely interested in the first topic—it’s just that we never got there because the surprise topic was on top, and not simple to navigate.

Here's a summary of her critical feedback:

I’m not with her enough. In particular, I don’t spend enough time at her home, Dancing Rabbit. With her current health challenges (see my blog of Dec 29, 2009) it appears that the stress of travel may be too much and she’ll have limited energy for working with me, which chokes a significant part of how we’ve been together during our 4+ years as a couple (either through participating in FIC meetings/events, or through delivering group process consulting and/or training together. For the immediate future it appears that this pathway to time together will be more of a gravel road than a four-lane highway.
Jibran, Ma’ikwe’s 12-year-old son, much prefers being at DR to being at Sandhill (where I live), and it’s awkward for her to come over to Sandhill without him. So it’s much easier for her if I come over to DR. And I haven’t been doing that enough to suit her.
I’ve committed to too many things and/or not prioritizing time with her high enough. If I took on less, there’d be more of me to go around.
My major commitments include:
o My partnership with Ma’ikwe
o My home community, Sandhill Farm
o My two kids (and their partners and my granddaughter)
o Process work
o Friendships (far and wide)
o Writing (mainly for Communities magazine, this blog, and the book in me trying to be born—see my blog of Sept 25, 2009)
While I’m reluctant to take anything off this list, or even to shrink my current level of commitment to any of these (magnificent?) seven, Ma’ikwe has urged me to look more closely at this, as well as the possibility that I might cut loose some lesser planets of connection circling around me in deeper orbit. Her sense, at least part of the time, is that she’s dead last when it comes to how I parse out my time among the Big Seven. Ouch! While I don't share her assessment of how I prioritize my time, it's sobering to know her view and feel her hurt.
I’m not consulting with her enough before making commitments with my time. When I countered that it was my sense that she did the same, she had a different story. Ma'ikwe felt that I turned down her invitations to be more involved in her choices about where to commit, whereas she never got invited to offer input on my choices.
In the past year, I stepped down from administering a health care fund for the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and became a founding member of Green Eggs (see my blog of July 26, 2009), a consortium of cooperative business consultants. While each of these involvements represent a similar minor time commitment, Ma’ikwe was totally supportive of my passing on the FEC responsibilities, yet upset that I jumped into Green Eggs without first discussing with her whether that made sense in terms of everything currently on my plate (I had been discussing with her all along my growing interest in cooperative economics; yet she felt left out of the decision-making).
How It Looks from My End of the Kaleidoscope
I like how I apportion my life, and I value all of the commitments I have. Still, I want to honor Ma’ikwe’s requests. When I suggested that I might be able make more time available for her if I cut back on down time, she was dismayed. She wants me to offload significant chunks of commitments (though not to her, of course) so that there’d be fewer periods of squeeze, where too many things are clamoring for my attention at the same time.
While I can’t be sure she’s wrong, I am highly reluctant to attempt less. I feel that many people have supported my getting to where I am today and that I have service obligations to do what I can to repay that investment. Though Ma’ikwe’s is arguing that the quality of my service will be enhanced by accepting fewer commitments, I don’t think this is her call to make.
Unfortunately, her upset raises the ante, as what's at stake now is not just what I can deliver, it's how well I'm perceived as a responsive (as distinct from a responsible) partner. This is tricky stuff, and I'm not at all confident I'll get it right. Fortunately, however—and I truly mean this—Ma'ikwe will be a faithful barometer, and won't hold back on letting me know how well I'm doing. It's what good partners do for each other.


Anonymous said...

What a squeeze you must be feeling. It's a challenging dilemma to have important elements of your life seemingly in conflict with one another.

Considering the shift Ma'ikwe is going through as a result of her health challenges, it's not surprising to hear that she may be feeling a greater need for support and companionship and looking for ways for that to happen. Understandably, she may be inclined to shift what may have only been concerns into poignant issues.

I'm remembering your recognition at your wedding ceremony that the whole community is the nest in which your relationship is nurtured, available for you to nestle in, and rely upon their support through challenging times.

May you both find peace and a sense of balance through this, with each other and within each of you.

Love, Robert

Elke said...

C'mon now Laird, don't act surprised. This has been a major issue for almost every woman you've been with. Honestly, I hope you don't narrow your interests now, considering all you've been through to keep your lifestyle and commitments.

Anonymous said...


I don't know you. Ended up on Sandhyill Website looking for a summer get-away. Dude, this is easy...if you're in, you're in. If you're not, let it go and don't play part time partner. There's tons of studies, failed relationships and divorce to say your position is not effective. Be with her or not. Don't make her the thing that fills in your free time (what little there is). Geez is this evem something to blog about?

Lotus Allen said...

While it may appear to be a new dilemma, managing your time and commitments has been an aspect of your life I've seen your struggling with for much of the time I've known you. I've heard this feedback to you before from other sources. That said, I believe Ma'ikwe is on target with wanting you to work less (you work more than just about anyone I know, with perhaps the exception of Geoph) and to spend more time just "being" with her.

Perhaps in continuing to pursue this, you will find that your work gets done with more ease and less effort? Or perhaps you just won't work as much? Do you think there is an aspect of workaholism in you? If so, what does that mean for you? Perhaps it's just fine, perhaps not?

I truly believe everyone gets to choose, and it sounds like your wrestling with some fruitful choices. Good luck and all the best with working out this interesting dilemma, Laird (and Ma'ikwe). I appreciate your transparent sharing quite a lot.