Friday, February 1, 2013

Lion Taming in Relationship

Ma'ikwe and I are struggling with our partnership, to the point where she has one foot out the door. (The good news is that she still has one foot in the door.)

As I drove to Tennessee yesterday for two days of FIC Oversight Committee meetings I had several hours alone in the car to chew on what's happening and what I can do to help right the ship.

As part of my journey I first went through a stage of telling myself stories about how it's mainly Ma'ikwe's fault—none of which was helpful (except as a cheap salve for my bruised ego). Sigh. I'm glad I went through this part alone, where my flammable petulance was not available as an accelerant for our smoldering tension. The real work I need to do is understanding as much as possible about how I'm triggered, and how I can do a better job of sharing what's going on for me in ways that are less provoking for my partner.

Learning to avoid sharing is not likely to be helpful; I need to learn how to share in ways that are less threatening. That means learning more about what's problematic for Ma'ikwe about how I share, not what I share.

Why is this so hard? Why do I want to be right so much? Why do I insist on being understood as a precondition for listening closely to her observations? Why do I punish Ma'ikwe for giving me critical feedback (while that's not my strategy, it is nonetheless depressingly often the outcome of how I respond)?

While I'm skeptical about my chances of learning to be less reactive, I believe it's possible to learn to be more aware of my reactivity and to learn better how to be intentional about what I do with my reactions. (Hint: simply allowing my irritation to leak into my interactions, or worse—pretending that I'm fine when I'm not—are spectacularly ineffective choices.)

My challenge is: a) to fully experience my reactions (my desire to roar in pain or anguish); b)  to resist any urge to dampen my passion for the relationship (by walking on eggshells around what I share—there's an important distinction between being mindful and being cautious); and c) to use discernment (and no small amount of love) when choosing how to show up in difficult conversations.

The Lion in Winter
As an active guy with a strong sense of self, it's not much of a stretch to see myself as a lion. Given both my age (63) and the season, I'm a lion who can't count on seeing the spring of another intimate relationship. So I'm highly motivated to make the most of the one I have.

Though I try to keep my pride of pride under control, there's no doubt that I can roar. That said, I'm trying to digest that a desire to roar is not the same as a command to perform—that is, I have a choice. And just because I feel like roaring does not mean it's a good idea to give Ma'ikwe the sensation that her head is in my mouth.

While I'm not likely to ever be prrrfect, surely I can learn to keep my claws retracted… and my heart extended.

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