Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Rhythms of Relationships

Relationships have rhythms which are a mystery to me. Sometimes you are in sync with people around you, and other times you are not on the same page, and it makes you feel disconnected and vulnerable. And it can change on a dime. We are creatures of habit, and tend to prefer things running smoothly and easily.

I think our expectations have a lot to do with how smooth or conflicted our relationship paths become. I almost always expect too much of the people around me. I recently understood in a completely new way how desperate I am to connect with my loved ones in a meaningful way, assuming that when the connection is temporarily broken or downsized for external reasons, it signals a huge problem in the relationship.

I slowly began to understand that the huge problem was on my end, and not residing with the other person. The other party was carrying along their merry way, thinking nothing was wrong, while I was stewing in my own hurt and fear, certain our relationship was on the rocks. It was a revelation to me to realize how different expectations and perceptions can affect the same relationship.

I was looking forward to Jason coming home a little bit early last night, and making his famously delicious pizza, and we were going to enjoy our usual tradition of family movie night which had been interrupted the last few Fridays. Our rhythms as a family have been disturbed for weeks now, between Jason's work travel and council commitments. We knew by looking at the calendar that November was going to be a bad month for him, which has a trickle-down effect for me and the kids.

I'm grateful that I had this flash of insight while we were in Canmore about my set of demands on my relationships, and how hyper-sensitive I can be to the smallest change in communication frequencies, because it helped me dial down my expectations on others. Sometimes I can't have what I want, and I can learn to fill that obsessive need with something healthier and better. That new set of eyes really helped me this week when Jason was not home for any evenings, and I could find ways to talk myself down from the ledge of panic and anxiety.

Last night began with that fuzzy glow that you would expect from a Hallmark commercial. We were watching The Empire Strikes Back, cuddled on the couch together munching on pizza, and a few times Jason and I shared a smile over the heads of our kids when they made a funny comment on the movie. I felt happy and settled, peaceful in the knowledge that we were all together, and it was alright.

William has an infection and is on strong antibiotics, so after dinner I poured his medicine and brought it down to him on the couch. He asked for chocolate milk to wash it down with. I knew as I poured the milk into a regular glass and carried it to the couch that three people in a small space with a glass of milk was likely a terrible idea. I proceeded anyway, pushing my reservations aside, and a chain of events occurred which ended up with a flying elbow knocking chocolate milk all over the couch and the wall.

There were tears (William), yelling about being more careful (me), and loud exclamations of innocence (Jason). I ran for a soapy cloth and began scrubbing, muttering under my breath about how milk stains and stinks and a host of other irritations, and the Hallmark mood was effectively ruined.

Our relationship rhythms can change in an instant, from happy to miserable and then back again. We can't prevent conflict. It comes, again and again, no matter what stage of the relationship cycle we are in. We have to adjust our expectations and our ideals, and be gentle with our loved ones and with ourselves, for none of us is perfect. It's so easy to lay blame, and so hard to extend grace and mercy.

Conflict sweeps through us like a sudden storm, disquieting and upsetting while it rages, and then calm and peaceful again when it's over. Resolving the conflict respectfully is the key to keeping our relationship waters smooth most of the time. Acknowledging where we screwed up, and meeting in the middle after an argument. We did that last night, and I know we'll have many more chances to practice our conflict resolution skills. It's good for us to talk about it as a family, and model how it's done, so our kids will have an example to follow for their own relationship conflicts.

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