I like men and I enjoy being in relationship. But I don’t need that be content. Ironically, I think this is a big reason why my relationships tend to last awhile.
I don’t look to a partner to provide my air, water, food, shelter, peace of mind. When I was married with small children, our cooperative arrangement was that my husband’s work take priority; he made more money and it seemed logical. But I never felt fear that if he couldn’t bring home the bacon than my children would starve. I knew if I chose to, I could make more money.
This is not because I’m special. It was a gift from growing up in a US middle class white household - true poverty was never a threat. We received good educations, our parents modeled a consistent work ethic, and we had healthy social connections.
After children grow and move on, relationships often face a big challenge. Even if children are not in the picture, its a time of change and both parties may not see eye to eye.
In an interview on NBCNews.com, Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says:
"The number one divorce rate in the country is among the 50-plus, mostly initiated by the woman.
When we talk to men about what they think retirement is going to be, it’s almost celebratory: If they’ve saved their money, they see it as a time to play golf, take that trip, buy that new car. And they often talk about spending time with their wives.
I can’t tell you how many women have told me, ‘I don’t know who this man is on my couch but I wish he would just go and get a job. I have routines, I have things to do and he’s always there and he’s always asking me what to do next.’
I have a friend with healthy self-confidence and boundaries. Her partner once said to her, “I’m just trying to figure out how to be with you”. Her independent mindset feels like distance to him.
On the other hand, I talked to another woman in her 50s who is scared to tell her husband she wants to go on a yoga retreat without him. She has never taken any trips apart from him, although he travels extensively for business. In her words, he has a “bit of a controlling personality”. A man accustomed to a routine may feel threatened by his wife’s desire for evolution in midlife.
Power struggles aside, I learned years ago that when I’m irritated by something in my partner, it’s a useful pointer to something I’m not happy with in myself. Not always, though.
I do have some baselines for relationship - should I call them needs? They are the non-negotiable elements I require to stay in a relationship, not because I need someone else to provide them, but because I expect them of myself, first.
I call it my soul-house. Its a place inside my soul, built from stones I’ve gathered outside of my comfort zone, placed one at a time as I earned them, like the houses in the Mexican pueblos.
If you have done the work to build a healthy, clutter free soul-house, prepare to be invaded. Do you know the story of Jesus’ panic attack when all the people crowded around for healing? Bingo.
I think this is a challenge for women particularly. We are home personified. Even if we haven’t had children, we still embody the nurturer.
I saw a post in a forum from a woman who had done the hard work of disentangling from a long term relationship with an alcoholic. Her ex refused to leave her alone and did not want to move on with his own life.
On a lighter note, I had a friend with 5 kids all in pre-teen to teenage stage. When she asked them to clean up, she got the predictable rolling of the eyes, the declarations that their messy rooms were “their space”, that they preferred living in squalor because they were not all uptight and controlling like her.
OK fine. The interesting thing was that when my friend reorganized her own room, creating some order, adding plants and candles to a newly decluttered space, guess where the kids all suddenly wanted to congregate and lay on the bed to chat?
My soul-house shelters these values: mutual respect, positivity, curiosity, bravery, an open mind, and taking risks in a continued engagement with life.
People may visit, I may make tea or coffee for them, share a story or two, but if they threaten or are threatened by the clarity in my house, they are not invited to stay.
If they start to bring in their unmet wants, asking me to carry that bag for them because they don’t want the responsibility, it causes stress because I don’t have room in my soul house for lots of baggage and clutter.
The soul-house is a great filter, too. Just today I looked at my values and compared it to why I’ve been annoyed recently with Sergio. Hmmm. I see that he actually continues to show up to the values that live in my soul-house.
So guess what? The stuff I’m annoyed about? It matches up with some stress and fear I’m feeling, some areas where I feel I am falling short right now. I’m projecting.
Everyone's soul-house looks different. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be, don’t you? Its part of the work and reward of partnership.
So what I’m doing now is being more curious about my partner’s soul house even as I continue to hold the ground on mine. I’m trying to remain aware of the times I want to pick up my ray gun and let loose.
I picture us building our shared Casa de Alma in the middle, where we spend more and more time together. For some people this shared house goes up quickly. Culturally for Sergio, it popped up 10 minutes after we met. He regularly refers to me as his wife, even though we are not married and have no plans to do so.
Its taking me longer to meet in the middle.
So in this month of hearts and arrows and too much candy - where are you on this spectrum? Are you feeling pressured by someone else’s perceived “needs”? Or are you feeling a lack of something from your partner - attention, affirmation, something else?
Try this - journal or draw your soul house. Is it pretty clear to you? If not, can you do some work to get clearer on the core values that you embody? If you are single, this is a golden opportunity to do this work free of distraction and strengthen your base.
If you are with someone, imagine your partner’s soul house. See where the floor plans match up and start having juicy conversations about how you can take mutual action around those values.
Big Love - Kala
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