I’m head over heels in love. We’re newly engaged. We’re past the total insanity phase. We’ve swooshed beyond the ravenous giggle-swoon-love-bath-hang-off-every-word-and-hold-our-farts-in phase. We’ve exited best behaviour. We no longer pick up our dirty socks or wait patiently for the other one to finish speaking before interjecting our opinion. We’re comfortable and gross and funny. But it’s still the beginning.
It’s been just over a year since the moment I was like oh-my-god-this-man-might-be-my-person. Fast forward through one helluva year and we’re (he’s) sanding hardwood floors in our new place, both work from home together and have just started on some work projects together (eep!). He’s actively engaged with my son, been embraced by family and community, and has the most hilarious email exchanges with my boy’s daddy. I adore his family, his brilliant mind, and the way he takes care of me and puts me in my place all at the same time.
We move well together. Sometimes I’m like ‘holy hell, we’re so good at this ‘being partners’ gig, we should totally share what’s working with the world.’ Two things have stopped me. First, that he’s an introvert and when he edits this he’ll be like ‘seriously, Che?’ Also, there’s a snide voice in my head says ‘It’s still the beginning, don’t be smug. Let’s see how you’re doing in seven years and two kids.’ But you know what? Just like beginners mind opens us to new perspectives and possibilities, beginners love has got some good, clean wisdom to share. Much of this is automatic at the beginning, but all of it is useful any time. And if not for you, then this is for us to look back on when we’re steeped in the insanity of wedding planning or finding ourselves bored or trapped or resentful down the road. How we make it great:
Being Curious: At the beginning you’re still getting to know each other so it’s all ‘really? wow! what else?! Me too!’ Really genuinely being curious about who each other is and what’s alive for them and what’s under the surface is a true gift. The gift of attention and wonder. As time goes on in any relationship, we can start to relate to someone as ‘how we know them to be’. Not only can this reinforce challenging patterns that no one wants, it also closes down possibilities for our individual and collective evolution. Being curious allows new or deeper parts of who we are to bubble to the surface and emerge more fully.
Genuine care and concern for each other’s well being: This one might be my favourite. Our desire to know and meet each other’s needs is equally strong. There isn’t a sense that one person is doing all the work or attending to the relationship more than the other. When we have our attention on each other’s well being and are curious about the most supportive ways to respond to what’s going on for the other, it creates a strong container of support. I can hold a little more and handle a little more because I have someone at my back and somewhere safe to land. So does he. There’s an interdependent rhythm that’s created and for two very independent people, it’s an incredible balm.
Mutual respect and belief in each other: We’re in awe of each other’s strengths. We hold each other’s weaknesses with compassion and tenderness. Well, actually we make fun of each other’s weaknesses all the time but that only works and is hilarious because we have such respect and admiration for who the other is. When we don’t believe in ourselves, or feel wobbly in new places in life, it sure is stabilizing to have someone else say ‘you’ve got this’ and then point out all the reasons why you’re awesome.
We know each other’s ways of being: We’re both trained in the Integral Coaching method and love studying different models for development. This is very supportive for both seeing and accepting where we are and also holding where we’re both committed to going. We’re intimate with each other’s ways and types and tendencies but instead of using those to define or box in, we work with it to balance each other out in building the relationship and life we want. I can be idealistic, he invites me to deal with reality and come to ground which saves me from exhaustion and disappointment. He can be pessimistic so I throw rainbows at him and expand what’s possible and bring more light.
We affectionately speak each other’s love languages: I’m ‘acts of service’, he’s ‘words of affirmation’. He does the dishes and puts water by my side of the bed and I tell him that I appreciate the shit out of him. We both express and receive love through physical touch as well. I read in one of those ‘top tips to sustaining love articles’ (I wish I had the reference for you, it was one of the good ones,) that partners should hug for at least 20 seconds every day. That staying for twenty seconds releases oxytocin, the love hormone. We do this multiple times a day. The best is when one of us is distracted or agitated or in ‘work mode’. I’ll thrash and he’ll laugh as I stand on his feet and he’ll say ‘feel it? Feel the hormone?’ and I’ll say ‘no!’ like a petulant child. And then, there it is. Works every time.
We prioritize and co-create activities that build connection and express our values: Sometimes it takes effort to fit in the fun and play and down time. I’m happiest amongst trees. So we find them. He loves road trips and the farmer’s markets (okay, it might be about the food trucks) so we create our lifestyle to get us out in the world doing things that nourish us and light us up. The shared experience creates a strong relational container that we can rely on.
We discuss and challenge gender roles: What does it mean to be a man? A woman? A husband or wife? At the outset I was like- ps: Not really into housework. I’ll do it, but not more than half. Turns out he’s a champ in the kitchen. How we make, manage and share money is an ongoing conversation. We talk about children and careers and don’t assume that mine will go on hold or that he’ll provide for the family. We question deeper feelings of identity around providing, care taking, vulnerability and directionality. It’s all a soup that we’re finding our own expression within rather than conforming to or rebelling against convention and that has how we do this man/woman thing feel very co-created and generative.
We attend to our personal development: When I start getting anxious and he starts closing up, we know it’s time to sit our asses down on the meditation cushion and then go for a bike ride. We take courses together, practice together, push our edges and encourage each other to grow in the ways we’re most called to grow.
We recognize and support survival mode: We’re compassionate when the other turns selfish or gets lost in their own rhythm and drama. We’re learning right timing with when to challenge each other and when to just support a storm. When one of us is in a deep stress week, the other picks up the housework slack. We order pizza when we need to. We understand that things change and we’re attentive to what helps to gently change things in more sustainable and supportive directions.
What about you? What are your love and partnership practices? What works to keep you connected and on the same team? I’d love to hear from you.
May this love list serve you in some way, be it to confirm or expand on your loving practices, to reawaken ways of relating that have gotten stifled or perhaps to kick up truth and longing for what deeply matters to you.