Here’s the thing about my long term relationship that I adore – the highs and lows plateau out. I’m not saying that there aren’t highs and lows anymore, I’m just saying that we’ve got a relatively high cruising altitude with occasional turbulence.
And sometimes, I admit, that can seem rather extraordinary. Because the same issues that cause us minor turbulence can be the very issues that crash other planes. So how is it done, healthily? Because you do not keep a plane cruising that high by ignoring boundaries, not communicating, and distancing yourself from intimacy and vulnerability.
I’ve sat and thought about it for more hours than I can count – and there is going to be a separate post about repetitive work and why its so important for our brains – but it boils down to two key factors.
The first is experience. I am coming up on 8 years into this relationship. We have only been at cruising altitude for the past 2-ish. Before we hit this plateau our plane looked like one of those NASA prep flights where it was literally nothing but steep ups and plummeting downs. And not to mince words, we almost crashed that jet into the ground at least twice.
This ‘grounding’ that others see is not some type of achieved zen, if anything, it is pure exhaustion from having lived through a vomit comet. I have smashed things. I have yelled in the front yard. I have had meltdowns, breakdowns, and spent days sobbing. Some of them were appropriate responses – others were not. (Did I break down sobbing in tears and declare “Why do you hate me? I can never live up to your standards!” after being asked if he could help me get caught up on laundry? Why yes, yes I did.) Here’s the thing, though. I got those emotions out. I felt them. I lived them. I reasoned through them. And our relationship survived every single one.
So now, when something happens that would have sent us plunging before I have the ability to look back and see all of the other things we have survived and really, truly ask myself – is this going to crash us? Or do we just need a conversation and a course correct?
This also affords me the perspective to see how many things we have survived from me that might have crashed us, and how my partner handled those things. Did he stand by me when I made mistakes? Did he create distance and give me a hefty penance? Or did he come close and reassure me and help me do better? And at every instance asking myself this vitally important question, “What kind of partner do I want to be?”
The second is the single most important lesson I have learned about life.
Other people’s choices are not about me.
Including my partners. Especially my partners.
Do their choices sometimes affect me? Absolutely. Can I be justifiably hurt by them? You bet. Was hurting me the reason they made those choices? 110% No.
In this way, we are often living out subconscious inner childhood issues. When our kids are giving us a hard time, they are often having a hard time. This is not a full pass for an endless stream of selfish choices from adults, this is an insight into healing for both parties.
When I was overwhelmed and turned to alcohol, was I trying to hurt my partners? Not even a little. Were they hurt by it? Yes. Did I need to consciously choose to stop, permanently, and take their feelings into consideration while doing so? Also, yes. But it was very important that they understood my destructive choices, while hurting them, were not aimed at them. It helped me heal by being able to focus on myself and where the overwhelm was originating from. It helped our relationship heal by moving the focus from the hurt to the root. It helped them because they were able to understand that I wasn’t trying to hurt them, even though I did.
When these two lessons are taken hand in hand, it takes A LOT to tank that plane. It takes deliberate, planned actions to take that bad boy down. And that’s not the kind of relationship we have, that’s not who we are, that’s not who we have worked to become.
How do I stay grounded? I have complete and utter trust that while I might not agree with every decision my co-pilot makes, he is never going to try and crash the plane.