Cracking the door to a “we” relationship

In Relationship By Design, we assert that mastering relationships has a lot to do with moving a relationship from being about “I” to being about “we,” without leaving “I” out.

Let’s try to bring that elusive idea down to earth by talking about bathrobes left on the bed.

We’re talking about Paul’s bathrobe laying on our bed after he has dressed and left the room.  Sometimes when I see the robe, I make it mean all kinds of things – like, he doesn’t respect my efforts to create a serene bedroom for us; he is rebelling, like a teenager, against my desire for a tidy bedroom; he thinks I’m his maid (my personal favorite!)

One day, I realized that all my reactions were simply made-up interpretations; and really, the only thing going on was a bathrobe laying on the bed.  I could just hang it up if I didn’t want it there.  End of issue. That worked well.

But still, sometimes I felt twinges of annoyance and resentment.  I’ve handled them various ways.  Complaining in a teasing tone is one way.  More often, I talk myself out of my feelings by appreciating the things Paul does around our house that make my life work – isn’t hanging up his bathrobe simply reciprocating his generosity and care?  That strategy works to avoid sounding like a nag (a big fear of mine – so unattractive!) as well as to moderate my resentment.  And I don’t bother Paul.

But wait!  As a Relationship By Design workshop leader, I’ve seen our participants time and again notice that strategies for “managing” relationships undermine and diminish the experience of being related.  Yet here I am with a strategy for managing my feelings about the bathrobe on the bed. And it isn’t creating relationship! I’m managing myself, by myself. It’s a solo effort.  There is no “we” here, just one individual over here, and another over there.

So I asked:  What if I extend my view of “our” household to include Paul’s personal things as well as things we share? What if Paul’s bathrobe is “our” bathrobe, and my hanging it up is for “us,” not for me or for Paul?

When I do the laundry, it’s “our” laundry, and includes clothes we both wear, sheets and towels we both use.  I wash “our” dishes, not mine or Paul’s.  When Paul works on the plumbing or the lights, it is not for him or me, but for us. And he tends to “our” yard for our shared enjoyment.

This opens the door a crack to living a relationship as “we,” not just as “me” and “you.”  The two individuals in any relationship aren’t going to disappear.

Shifting my view from “mine” and “his” to “ours” makes a lot more room for the experience of being related. The outcome has been the disappearance of my resentment at hanging up Paul’s bathrobe – it’s just one of our bathrobes.  The emotional space once occupied by resentment is now available for joy, freedom, and ease. And for love! It’s still the same bathrobe, but if it is on the bed from time to time it no longer obscures the love between us. That seems obvious now, but it took us years to get it at the “of course this is the way it is” level.

Is there anywhere in your life that you might experiment with shifting your perspective in this way?  We invite you to take it on!

Carol (and Paul)

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