I’ll lose weight.
I’ll stop smoking.
I’ll spend more time with my partner, or with my children.
I will save money.
I will be less stressed out.
Then, somewhere around the second week of January, those promises go the way of all the other promises. Some of us may not fall off the wagon until a few months later, but by year’s end most of us will not have made it through as we had indented. We start snacking, smoking, or spending more time at the office. We swipe the credit card impunitively. And most of us have found out the hard way that we cannot simply wish our stress away…
Mindfulness. It means living in the moment. By now, most of us are well aware of the great emotional and spiritual promises of living mindfully. It is believed to lower high blood pressure, heal trauma, and enhance our problem-solving abilities. Studies show that mindful people may be happier1.
Many traditional philosophies however, stress the importance of purposefully going back in time and exploring our past experiences. We revisit where we have been and how we have become the people we are. Those of us who are members of 12 Step recovery groups are asked to complete a comprehensive 4th Step inventory on all the hurtful memories we may have endured.
Some people think that these two philosophies are opposites. We are either focused on the past, they insist, or the present, but we cannot to both. We disagree. We believe that going back and exploring our past is a prerequisite for true mindfulness.
It is true that people can be hurtful and it is important to acknowledge when we are feeling that way. Denying our emotions will only make things worse, not better. But did someone really “make me angry” or are we feeling the anger in us getting kicked up in response to the way someone behaved towards us? The difference between the two is in who the responsible party is for the way we feel. If we blame others for our feelings we will eventually feel justified at whatever our retaliation may be, and we will rationalize that it was their fault, not ours. “They were driving me nuts!”
Still, many of us choose to hide behind a façade of who we aren’t because we are so afraid to let our partner know who we really are. We are sure that if he or she would get to know the real us, they would reject us.
What we have learned in our own relationship, and in the last few decades of providing relationship counseling to the couples we work with, is how damaging it is when a partner masquerades through the romance wearing an emotional suit of armor. It may feel safe to the partner locked up in there, but we cannot get in to love them, nor have we been able to figure out a way to receive any love from them either.
Have you ever been told to just “let it go”? Many of us hear that from well meaning friends or family members trying to calm us down when we are upset or concerned. Heck, they may even sing you a song about it! We have often wondered what “let it go” really means (yes, we were wondering about this expression even before the song came out).
In a romantic relationship, partners often interpret “letting go” to mean that they should ignore or avoid addressing the problems that they are seeing in each other. We think otherwise. We do not believe it is beneficial to our own emotional wellbeing, nor for the good of our relationship be turning a blind eye to the problems that we see loved ones struggling with.
Your loving care of each other can envelop and soothe your children. Alternatively, your arguing and discord will frighten and generate insecurity and instability for them. Your kids and family members can benefit from your happiness and they can be confused and hurt by the pain they see you endure or inflict on each other.
Many have suggested that this recovery slogan, Live and Let Live, seems to be advising romantic partners to stay on separate parallel tracks and avoid getting personally involved in each other’s recovery. We found out early in our own recovery how detrimental our separate recovery programs became for our own marriage. We became more emotionally and spiritually intimate with our respective sponsors and support groups than we were with each other! We have subsequently seen this identical disconnect occur in so many of the couples that we have had the opportunity to work with over the past 40 years.
Unfortunately, partners who are less emotionally and spiritually intimate with each other than they are with their respective sponsors or support groups are more likely to grow apart than they are to grow together. True intimacy and union is developed by becoming one with each other – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – without secrecy or deception.
You may remember growing up with clichés like “do not cry over spilled milk” or “the past is the past…you should not live in the past.” Those rules for coping with feelings were prominent when pop music discouraged “big boys” from crying and hit movies suggested “love meant never having to say you are sorry.” There were so many rules for how we should feel or act that it is no wonder so many of us found ways to dull the pain of living.
While the journey down memory lane may be nostalgic, those rules for coping with our emotions can cause many problems in our adult lives and in our romantic relationships.
We typically encourage people embarking on a new romance to make a decision of complete commitment to their partner, a decision that from here on in, this is all there is. But are there no exceptions?
Many couples have come to us for marriage counseling with the goal in mind to “save the relationship.” They are full of doubt and fear and are somewhat suspect about the path we will lead them on in therapy. They are certain, however, that they must do whatever is necessary to prevent the dissolution of the relationship.
In recent articles we have introduced the importance of maintaining authenticity in our romantic relationships. In this article we will expand on the theme by exploring some of the excuses we use for not being open and honest with our partners – but first we offer two important disclaimers:
First, openness and authenticity does not give us a right to hurt people in the name of transparency. We must think about what we are saying, why we are saying it, to whom, and when. When in doubt we can