In romantic relationships, if we frame our conversations with our partner in a particular way, even the difficult conversations become a chance to deepen our connection. The key is turning toward one another, not away from one another. I’d like to share an example of this with you.
For the past week my wife, Hannah, and I have been in Hawaii on vacation. We met here on my return trip from Tokyo, where I had been working for a couple of weeks. We met at the airport and then traveled together to our beachfront getaway.
As thrilled as we were to reconnect after having been apart for two weeks, I quickly became aware of being half a step out of sync with Hannah. Little things. I would speak about something and when I was done, Hannah would say nothing. This seemed unusual to me. We would bump into each other, actually, my experience is that Hannah was bumping into me—but she may see this differently. These things occurred in ways that were slight and almost irrelevant, except that they weren’t customary for us. We normally move and relate in a smooth and seamless rhythm.
After a few days we discussed what was going on. We came to see that while I was away, Hannah spent a great deal of her time in silence. While I was away I was conducting a training for eight hours a day, highly engaged with people and more animated than when I’m home seeing clients in my private practice. And, in the evenings, I would have deeply stimulating conversations with my colleague—he and I only spend time together when we are both working in Tokyo.
I had arrived in Hawaii after having up shifted to a higher gear—a faster pace—and Hannah arrived in Hawaii having downshifted into a lower gear and slower pace. We felt off our normal ways of interacting. These kinds of transitions and disruptions are part of all romantic relationships. The question is, “how do we communicate about what’s going on?”
When we finally talked about our out-of-syncness, we started our conversation by putting the following frame around it. We reminded ourselves that we love each other; there is nothing serious going on—”is there?”—no there is not, we are best friends, and we don’t need to see or experience events in the exactly the same ways. Actually, accepting our differences deepens our intimacy.
Feeling hurt doesn’t have to cause us to disconnect
With this foundation we proceeded to explore the ways in which we were out of sync. Although parts of our conversation felt tender, like when I told Hannah that I felt I was more expressive of my love for her than she was of her love for me, we didn’t turn away from one another. Hannah said an interesting thing, “It’s when one of us feels hurt and turns away from the other that the hurt causes us to disconnect. When we feel hurt, if we just say so, we can stay connected.”
And that’s what we did. I talked about wanting more connection, more engagement, and more feedback. Hannah talked about not feeling like she needed anything more from me, but also expressed this in what I perceived as a more engaged way—which is all I wanted.
We concluded our conversation, which was about the ways in which we weren’t feeling connected, feeling more connected. Everything, even tension and feeling out-of-sync with our partners, is actually a chance to connect if we approach each other in a loving way.
Our romantic relationships are opportunities to transform our previous limitations, try turning toward your partner the next time you feel hurt.