Not long ago, I just knew my relationship with my fiancé was over.
I saw it so clearly driving home one cloudy morning after having my Kia hybrid serviced. The night before, we’d descended into a painfully familiar argument we’d already had too many times before, though the specific details were often different.
Indeed, coaching couples for the last 5 years has taught me that while the details of disagreements and arguments will often change, the fears at their core rarely do.
As I drove home to where she awaited, crystalline meditation music gently whispered through my car’s new speakers, wrapping tightly around my heavy heart as my mind laid out its case:
“Bryan, the gap between her sensitivities and yours is too great to bridge. This keeps coming up. It’s not going away. You’ll only keep tormenting each other, even if innocently so, for as long as you stay. The kindest, most loving choice is to end things. Now.”
Fragile tears began to pool in my eyes, blurring the road before me.
The conclusion was clear: We can’t stay together.
The beautiful futures we had both envisioned flashed and crashed before me: our upcoming trip home to my family; our big, spacious someday-fantasy house with a big, stupid-friendly dog and a couple mini-me rugrats; our inspired visions to create relationship coaching programs, workshops and retreats to serve humanity’s awakening to love … hell, how can I even be a relationship coach anymore!?
How can I possibly help others create thriving relationships when I can’t even keep alive my most important relationship with the extraordinary woman I’ve waited a lifetime for?!
The highway between me and the home we shared grew mercilessly shorter as everything I had built and dreamed of building imploded in my mind’s eye.
Then this thought floated into my consciousness:
“Don’t believe your conclusions.”
I recalled “A Course in Miracles,” a mystical book I tried reading 10 years ago with a previous girlfriend. That relationship was so persistently chaotic that we started fighting exactly halfway through the first sentence we read together, and so I quickly gave up reading it. That relationship was lost, too, though I did save the book.
“You are not afraid or worried for the reasons you think.”
That’s the fifth daily lesson in A Course in Miracles, which has 365 daily lessons.
On this fateful day, those enigmatic words would save my relationship from death by logical conclusion.
For I saw that our relationship would indeed be over if I kept choosing to believe in my brain’s logic – but that our relationship did not have to be over if I could simply stop believing in the imagined future my brain had me fearing.
One of the most common (and agonizing) dilemmas I see in my relationship coaching clients’ lives is this: “I’m damned if I do … and damned if I don’t.”
In other words, no matter what I do now … I’m screwed!
If I choose to accept and live with what I think is happening, life will suck because I don’t like it, yet if I choose NOT to accept and live with what is happening, life will also suck because it means I’ll lose something important (this person’s love, presence, validation, joy, etc.) … Damned if I do, damned if I don’t!
Here I was now facing that devil’s choice: two impossible paths before me, each promising to devastate our lives.
“Don’t believe your conclusions. Instead, feel what you’re feeling.”
We men don’t feel our feelings nearly enough. We surely don’t embrace them. Instead we usually act out our mental logic with little consideration for how anyone feels about our actions, thus damaging the emotional connection with our partners (and ourselves) over and over.
After all, if we can’t connect to our own feelings, how can we possibly connect to anyone else’s feelings?
Thus we destroy love in the name of logic (our own) and outcome (the one we want).
Essentially, we destroy love to avoid feeling discomfort.
As I watched my windshield wipers rapidly whisking away the outdoor mist obscuring my drive, I resolved in that moment not to destroy our beautiful relationship, and our dreams, merely to avoid feeling the discomforting sadness and anger then arising in me.
I refused to accept that “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” was the best life could offer me.
After 20 minutes of eternity, I arrived home, sat her on the couch and said,
“I’m going to let myself be sad, even angry for now. Not with you, but with life. Because if I believe my conclusions, our relationship is over. I really don’t want that. I love you, and I’m going to trust there must be bigger possibilities than what I can see. So for now, I’m just going to feel what I feel.”
She agreed and mostly understood, though her own fear tried for a few minutes to pry my thoughts from my mouth. I knew that wouldn’t be fruitful, so I demurred, knowing we had a session with a brilliant therapist later that evening.
My fiancé and I are relationship coaches (she’s also a Marriage and Family Therapist), and we regularly get support with other therapists and coaches.
We know it’s damn difficult even for the most aware and well-intentioned to create truly thriving, sustainable relationships when left to our own devices. We humans all have unhealed wounds, well-guarded blind spots, and clever egos all too eager to judge, conclude, and insist they know how things should be. When unchecked, all that can cause humans to make a damn fine mess out of love.
The road to hell is indeed paved with the best of intentions, and working with well-meaning couples who’ve made awful messes out of love has proved that to be true countless times over.
That evening, as our therapist helped guide us through that same argument, I held Silvy’s hands, looked into her eyes, and reassured her we’re in this together.
He then quietly whispered to us both:
“Always remember: You are never upset for the reasons you think are.”
Silvy’s face lit up in surprise and my eyes bulged in disbelief.
He pointed out, almost as an aside, that we were both arguing about two very different things – we weren’t even having the same argument the other was having! (We were not angry for the reasons we thought we were.)
After our session, Silvy and I felt deeply reconnected. Though our “sensitivity gap” remained, our hope for the future was restored because we now had new tools to restore connection between us whenever this frightening gap reasserted itself.
And this gap does still reassert itself from time to time.
Every relationship is the merging of two very different universes.
Two people who have lived often vastly different lives, both fueled by ancient, primal masculine and feminine energies that can appear to completely oppose each other at times. We each bring an array of old wounds and persisting insecurities into the dance.
Sensitivity gaps can abound!
The challenge isn’t to get rid of those gaps, for they may never fully go away.
Rather, the challenge – the opportunity – is to bridge those gaps when they arise, to maintain loving connection even when both of you are afraid and worried sometimes about two completely different things.
When couples fight, men tend to fear their freedom being constrained, even just their freedom to think whatever they want. Women tend to fear being abandoned, even if only emotionally. (*this is clearly not the rule for everyone)
Which perpetuates a nasty cycle: Man perceives a woman’s upset to be a constraint on what he can and can’t do; Woman then experiences that man’s arguing for his freedom as emotionally abandoning; which makes her more upset; which makes him fight ever harder for his freedom, even if that just be from her growing upset. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Breakup.
This cycle contributes to the “Crisis of Connection” I wrote about recently.
The essential key to relationship success is learning how to connect in the moment.
To create connection, we must be able to suspend our own logical conclusions, at least for a moment.
It requires us to connect with our own hearts, feel our own feelings, whenever the sensitivity gap shows up.
So long as you and your partner are committed to growing – me and my partner are – then your relationship will be the most powerful transformational container for your growth. Sometimes growing will be downright fucking painful. But often to grow, you only need stay in the room and feel what is there to be felt, even if what you feel is agonizing.
You might be surprised what arises underneath your judgments and conclusions.
Silvy and I still regularly discover old wounds at the core of our disagreements, that have nothing to do with each other: childhood abuses and neglects, past intimate betrayals, even ancestral wounds and tragedies we somehow carry in our own bodies.
We once believed these wounds arising meant we must not be right for each other. We were wrong.
It means we finally found someone with whom we feel “safe enough” to let our guard down, and all those unhealed wounds we’d both kept long hidden away from untrusted hearts are now free to show their gargoyle faces.
Our work now isn’t to shove them back down again where they’ll only lurk in our shadows and silently sabotage our hearts’ deepest desires.
Our work now is to feel everything – and keep our hearts open to bigger possibilities for our life together that our single-self-survival-minded brains can’t possibly come up with if they only accept what they already believe.
Sometimes we must choose to end a relationship.
When you’re ready to grow and your partner refuses to join you. Or you no longer share the same purpose for the relationship. Or boundaries have been so blatantly violated you don’t feel safe – whether mentally, emotionally, or physically – to continue.
Sometimes we must choose to simply not accept our conclusions, and instead, perhaps, seek help outside our own brains to see what we cannot (yet) see.
Silvy and I continue to choose this second way together. To feel all that we feel beneath our upsets. To not believe every conclusion we make, but instead be willing to see what we cannot yet see.
We’re now four years into the most exquisite intimate relationship either of us has ever known. That choice has made all the difference.
P.S. Are you ready to (finally) learn how to create the loving, harmonious, peace-filled relationship you’ve always wanted … and deserve? Experience The “Conflict to Connection” 90-Day Program.