Keeping Love Alive--A Lesson in Clearing for Couples
Say it early, say if often,
say it before it becomes impossible to say!
Most relationships crumble not under the weight of large events but under the rubble of the unspoken small things. Learning a good process for “clearing” the small rubble of day-to-day living prepares us to weather the larger events should they arise. Trust, intimacy, and growth flower when a space is prepared for this regular “clearing” of the small things. When Milt and I got married we discovered that both of our previous marriages had crumbled under just such a weight--the small things unspoken. Because we didn’t say the small things, they would all explode out destructively in an emotionally loaded moment.
When we married, Milt and I agreed to accept three guidelines for our marriage:
To check our progress on this we began to do a regular “Clearing Session” and to create a space for allowing information to flow in the relationship. The “signal” for the need for clearing is when one or the other of us is not feeling connected to the other. It is as if when things go unspoken, a balloon blows up between the two partners and rather than risk pricking the balloon and saying something wrong, both partners begin to drift away from one another. If there is no communication, the balloon just gets bigger and the risk greater. So, the solution is clear it before it becomes too big.
The only real parameter set for a good clearing is that either partner can say anything they need to say. Often, when we are doing this, we even begin by saying “this is hard to say, but….”. The underlying message in this is “Be gentle with me, I am about to take a risk and I need to feel safe with you.”
Be aware of any “Yeah buts” in the clearing. If you say what needs to be said and the partner automatically goes “Yeah but…you did or said…” then you know this is straying from the purpose of the clearing session. Score-keeping and “yeah buts” are not allowed. If these old, destructive measuring patterns are not allowed, then what is allowed?
The secondary goal of a clearing session is not just that the stuff get dumped but that it go somewhere different and lead toward a resolution. The common stance in relationships is “I am unhappy and it’s because of something YOU are doing or not doing.” This is a dead end. The clearing session gives us an opportunity to explore many of the following hidden premises for a relationship. Here are just the ones that come to mind for me.
When one of the partners says something that may be perceived as “hurtful”, be willing to take it in, turn it over, think of it in all of the above ways and even sleep on it for a few days before responding in kind.
A solid, trusting relationship makes it possible for us to risk new behaviors and to grow in other arenas. Taking the time and energy necessary to do these small clearing sessions can yield a big reward for both partners. Old, stale energy is released and new energy can come in. The frequency or length of the clearing sessions depends upon how often your ”balloon of the unspoken” blows up. Initially, you may need to do it daily or weekly. Eventually, a clearing session is needed only when the drifting signal comes.
Remember, the best gift we can give to our children is to show them intimacy and trust between two parents. Children thrive when the first priority in the family is the relationship of Mom and Dad.