Christmas has touched our heart as it does every year. It is the season when people show the best of humanity. During this season we step up to the plate. At no other time are we so compelled to make donations, adopt a pet, tip the waiter and let others change lanes. We are ready to connect and share our love. Christmas is the season of relationships and a time when we take stock. For singles, having no "significant other" with whom to share Christmas can be a paramount concern. This year again, many couples that have lived in emotional distance were trying to bridge the gap. However, their efforts to re-connect competed with the material and social distractions of the holidays. Before they knew it, they "toasted-in" the New Year and got back to their old ways. Let's make Christmas count and carry our love and compassion forward. Let's give of ourselves, instead of giving things. Let's care about others, instead of ourselves. Let's give our hearts to those we love.
Love is always right in front of us and it is up to us to embrace it. How do we prevent ourselves from getting back to our old ways? How do we stop resentment and anger from sneaking into our relationships again? Many couples need to overcome the vicious cycle of unresolved conflict and rekindle the flame. Regardless of who we are, most of us are yearning for more respect, compassion, closeness, intimacy and sex.
Many are familiar with this scenario: after two years of dating Andy and Silvia moved in together. The initial excitement soon became overshadowed by arguments and resentment. It also became unusually quiet in the bedroom. What extinguished their flame? Surprisingly, they each have a different perspective of what went wrong:
Andy: When I come home I want to relax. It irritates me when Silvia chats on the phone with her friends. I can't cook and take-out is fine. Silvia is into health food, exercise and conscious living. She wants to discuss politics, social issues and our relationship. Nothing is good enough for her anymore including me. We used to have fun, but now everything is an effort.
Silvia: I want to do things and experience life. I want to grow with my partner. Andy wants to hang out and unless Andy opens his mind, our life will consist of work, TV, take-out and silence. No wonder I talk to my friends or go to the gym by myself. I feel distant from Andy and have lost the connection.
Andy and Silvia seem to have different expectations, values and goals. This is common after the initial excitement has worn off. Andy is tired of talking and Silvia is exhausted from trying. Blame has taken the place of communication. They need to talk about to what extent they are both willing to change. What are they willing to do for their relationship? Along the same line is a phenomenon involving baby boomer couples. After 20 years of marriage with children gone, women seek more emotional connection and romance with their husbands. The debate goes something like this:
Barbara: I work part time. Our son studies in Australia and most of my family live in Holland. My husband Mark works long hours and most weekends. He comes home exhausted and wants to be left alone. I wonder why I am married?
Mark: Why is she complaining? Can't she appreciate that I am doing the best I can? I am not sure what all this relationship talk will do, except make me angry and frustrated.
In our examples, both women are missing a vital part in their relationships and both men feel criticized. Both couples are frustrated and unable to foster positive change. It is all about change! We need to change and become better people for each other. Relationships change and we need to change because of them! In the movie, Notebook, Noah said: "If it is love, it weakens your soul and you grow stronger in love." A great line for a movie, but in real life, it scares us! In our relationships we need to be vulnerable and emotionally available to each other. In our restless and distracting lives, we view our relationships as a static fixture. It should just be there! In truth, we cannot be in a relationship and simply ask: Take me as I am!
Relationships require us to change. Here are some fundamentals about change:
If we are unwilling to change, we will be left out of the world, life, relationships or all three together. Every time things change, our soul is weakened, allowing us to adjust. We need to be consciously aware of these changes. Unfortunately most of us ignore changes hoping that they go away. This is particularly dangerous in relationships. We take positive changes for granted and hope that negative changes will disappear. When they don't, resentment and anger grow.
For Andy and Silvia dating was a lot more fun. When their lives changed they didn't adjust. Instead of dealing with these changes, they both blame each other. For Barbara and Mark life has changed and so have they. Their relationship needs to be tuned-up to reflect these changes. We maintain our cars, appliances and computers, because they have to function. Yet, we expect our relationships to function without maintenance. The reasons are simple: relationship maintenance requires vulnerability and the willingness to change. When we expect our relationship to function, like a computer, we missing the point. In relationships we do one of two things: we either grow closer together or further apart. But never do we stay the same. Ideally, we grow closer, but the opposite happens. We get busy, distracted, stressed and are no longer in tune with each other. The emotional bond is replaced with emptiness. Resentment and anger grow and we feel lonely. This is the prefect breeding ground for affairs, divorces and loss of respect.
The secret lies in the emotional connection. Emotionally connected partners solve problems, have better sex more often, argue fairly and respect and trust each other. Yes, we need to change for our relationships and be emotionally vulnerable. We need to let the other in all the way, not just to the front door. If we don't, we will never know the power of emotional closeness. This year lets be emotionally close, really close, sharing our fears, dreams and hopes. Lets show our real self, the only person our partner can ever truly love. We will be richly rewarded, but we must take the first step, even if we can't see the whole stairway.