Just like the circle of life, a relationship between two people is cyclical. Since I discovered this, I’ve found that I have more courage to stand strong and compassionate when the other is going off the rails. Here’s what it looks like:
The Auspicious Cycle
When my relationship with Mari is in harmony, I feel a deep sense of peace, abundant joy, and safety. This is the normal state of affairs these days. Then the stresses of life kick in and tickle us in just the right way that there’s a rupture. Now I experience a variety of hurt feelings, and maybe even some distrust creeps in. Once things have calmed down and we both are back (somewhat) from being triggered, one of us will initiate repair.
If the repair is delivered skillfully and received skillfully, both of us feel heard and understood, and, while we may not get all that we want, we return to harmony again.
If the repair is either not delivered or received skillfully, we will develop resentment for the other. In the early days of our relationship it was more likely that we’d simply put on a happy face, pretend we are okay, and move on, burying the hurt. This is what it used to look like for us (and I think this is the norm in many relationships):
The Vicious Cycle
3. Bury the hurt
A mentor of mine once shared with me the phrase, “Tolerably intolerable”, and I think most of us live in that space in many of our relationships, because we aren’t good at repair (many people have no clue what harmony looks like, because they’ve so rarely experienced it).
These really aren’t just cycles, but rather spirals, because with each pass, the relationship is either strengthened or weakened. The auspicious cycle spirals up: with each successful repair we develop more trust and repair becomes easier next time, while the vicious cycle spirals down: with each hurt we bury, we add another brick of resentment to the wall that we are slowly erecting between each other.
These cycles apply in any relationship, not just intimate ones, so even if you’re not married, you’ll find that a study of relationship skills can go a long way toward helping you develop long lasting relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Next up, an article dedicated to relational repair.