Sunday, February 10, 2013

On Being a Poor Partner

I. Embracing the Past 
We come together both wounded and wise, tentative and sure, enriched by the Fool's taste for the fullness of Life. We offer each other the salt of our tears, the song in our throats, the wrinkles of experience, & an exuberance for Life.

II. Embracing Who We Are

We stretch to see each other as we are, without the illusions of who we'd like the other to be. Our marriage is marked by the passionate and reverent care that comes from loving deeply, not backing away from struggles, and enjoying each other, faults and all.

III. Embracing Community

Our union is rooted in community. We are nurtured by these connections, and commit to nurturing them in return. We commit our marriage to a path of Service in the world and intend our circles of community to be the well from which our work will spring.

IV. Embracing the Magic

We commit to giving our lives to each other, with respect and humor; with curiosity and steadfastness. We commit to living an examined life, working with our bellies and our hands; our heads and our hearts. We draw strength from Spirit and Mystery in times of need. We commit to acting for Good, and believe that we are better together than apart. Above all, we commit to showing up—to being courageous & joyous in the face of the Unknown.

—Ma'ikwe and Laird's Wedding Vows • April 21, 2007

Ma'ikwe and I made these promises to each other in front of 175 friends and family almost 70 months ago in the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque. It was one of the happiest moments in my life.

Now Ma'ikwe is feeling heart-weary and worn down by the attempt to intertwine her life with mine and she is on the verge of breaking her commitment to the marriage. Standing on this precipice, my heart is on the verge of breaking as well, and I am in anguish. This is a blog I'd hoped to never write.

Tomorrow we are going to see a couples counselor—someone new to us who has been recommended by friends—to try even at this eleventh hour to find hope and reason to continue working on our relationship. If something significant and positive doesn't happen in that hour, I believe Ma'ikwe is ready to end the marriage.

Standing on the edge, looking at the abyss, it seems appropriate to outline what I understand about why Ma'ikwe despairs that I can be a good partner for her. While we've unquestionably both played a role in getting to this unwanted place, and Ma'ikwe has her own culpability for how we got here, in this blog I'm only exploring my side of it; the ways in which Ma'ikwe has helped me to see my shortcomings as an intimate partner…
o  I don't work with feelings the same way she does, and some significant fraction of the time when I'm try to connect with her emotionally she feels pushed away—the exact opposite of what I'm intending. Ma'ikwe has reported that when she's in a state of heightened emotional energy, she prefers to experience it as purely as possible, without contamination of thought. In trying to bridge to her in those moments, I have either made statements or asked questions that have drawn her back into thinking mode and she's repeatedly been frustrated by my lack of sensitivity in this regard. While this articulation is only a week old, it's nonetheless a powerful deterrent for Ma'ikwe when she thinks about staying with me.

o  Our rhythms for sharing are different. Where I can often jump right into intimate sharing (downloading what's been happening for me since we were last together, and my reflections about it) as soon as we're together, Ma'ikwe needs a day or two to synchronize orbits well enough to dock with me. When our visits are less than 48 hours, there's a risk that she won't be ready to share before it's time for the next separation. Not good.

Thus, when we're both in Missouri and alternating between our homes three miles apart, she's come to prefer fewer, larger chunks of time together, in contrast with our typical pattern of my coming over to spend the night at Moon Lodge (her house at Dancing Rabbit) two or three times a week. We have recently been trying to work on this pattern (which was first articulated in December), but hadn't gotten too far along in our experiments before being overtaken by our current crisis.

o  Ma'ikwe feels worn down by my criticalness—not just of her, of everyone, including myself. I have high standards for how things should go and can be outspoken about it when actions fall short of ideals. By virtue of my being largely unguarded with Ma'ikwe—both a blessing and curse in intimacy—she tends to hear more of my frustrations and criticisms than most, and she's tired of it. She often catches me muttering under my breath and wonders if I'm being critical of her. It's been exhausting, even to the point of making her feel unsafe from judgment in her own home.

While I make no apology for having high standards, It's abhorrent to me that I'm driving away the person I love above all others by indulging in an unmindful pattern of speaking critically, a bad habit I picked up unwittingly at my father's knee. I certainly witnessed how hard it was for my mother, and now I've recapitulated my father's error. What a disaster!

o  Ma'ikwe has lost sexual interest in me. To be sure, some of this—perhaps even all of it—may be the debilitating effects of her battle with chronic Lyme disease, but as Ma'ikwe succinctly put it last night, it doesn't matter why, only that it's true. The point is that she's rarely interested in sex any more. Something that once had been vibrant and bonding for us has disappeared.

She trusts her body knowing more than her mind knowing, and her body is telling her that I'm no longer the guy. As I've not lost any ardor for her, this is a poignant point of imbalance.

o  My life is too booked for her. With my marriage as one leg of the table upon which my life is supported, the other three are: a) my home community (Sandhill Farm); b) my work as FIC's main administrator; and c) my group process consulting work. Ma'ikwe finds it too crowded sharing access to me with my other three commitments. The sense I have is that Ma'ikwe wants a partnership where the couple maps out their time together and the rest each partner's interests divvy up what's left—not the other way around.

A couple months ago Ma'ikwe asked me to give up one of the other three legs (probably Sandhill) in order to manifest greater room on my dance card for our marriage. I balked at a "legectomy" without first getting a chance to try meeting her needs without losing a leg. Two weeks ago Ma'ikwe realized her frustrations had grown to the point where she wasn't at all sure that having more time would be enough, and that she was effectively asking me to leave my home of 39 years for the chance to save the marriage, which was an especially heavy card to play.

o  Similar to this last point, yet not the same, is how Ma'ikwe sees my life as too rigid. My commitment to the other three legs predates the marriage and are too longstanding and too immutable for her to feel hope of meaningful shifts in priorities. She wants a life where she can change directions when it suits her (an Enneagram 7) but mine is not set up that way (as an Enneagram 1)—so how can we partner? What might be viewed as bedrock by some—a stable partner with reliable, value-based work—has become a sea anchor for her, tethering her to outmoded interests.

Ma'ikwe is ready to try some new directions in her life and doesn't see where that will leave room for her and I to connect enough to maintain a viable partnership. She no longer wants to travel as much as we did before chronic Lyme started to flare up in fall 2009, and time together on the road had been an important element in our relationship. While she hasn't recovered enough from Lyme to test yet what she'd like her new direction to be and its consequences on our marriage, she's concerned enough about it going poorly that it's another nail in the coffin.

• • •
Despite all of this, I emphatically do not want to lose Ma'ikwe. That said, it makes no sense to try to hold her against her will and if the fire for our marriage goes out in her, then we are done. Fool that I am, I hold out hope that after tomorrow's counseling session there will yet remain a glow in the embers of Spirit and Mystery sufficient for us to blow on and requicken the pulse of our Love. For ours is a partnership worth drinking of down to the bitter dregs, and I'll not count on having another chance this good again.


Susan said...

I will hold both of you close today.

Lotus Allen said...

Hi Laird, Wishing you and Ma'ikwe the happiness and connection of remembering and dancing upon your common ground once again. What would happen if you took a year off from your other obligations (or some of them... like the bulk of Sandhill and FIC work) and chose to devote most of that year to nurturing your relationship, your partner, the planet, and your Self? If this were the last year of your life, what would you do with it?

Anonymous said...

Lyme disease may play a major roll in this for some people- I have a friend that has lyme disease and she has moments of severe emotional turmoil that I strongly feel is caused by lyme disease since this is a change in prior behavior- this may not be the case with all people with lyme disease- not sure if medical science understands this disease fully