Habits, Expectations, Disappointments, and Power in Relationship

I’ve been exploring a new relationship in the last year. As a serial monogamist, it started out of nowhere on what boiled down to a leap of faith as I suddenly ended a nine year relationship that never really matured into anything notable.

The first few times on the trail together were amazing. She was the perfect Colorado girl, far exceeding my initial expectations. But the honeymoon wore off quickly. She simply didn’t respond the way I wanted. As I tried to maneuver the relationship one way or another, she fought back against my exertion of control. Frustrated with her lack of responsiveness, ,my mind slipped into all sorts of stories. “I jumped into this relationship too fast. I should have taking things more slowly.” “She’s not right for me. But I’m committed now. Compromise. Make it work.” “There’s better out there, I just didn’t take the time to find them.” “I keep making and regretting these hasty decisions. But last time I took my time and shopped around and still regretted it.” “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.”

I am not one to make hasty decisions, much less two in a row, so I stuck with her. Then just the other day on the Colorado Trail, everything shifted and we suddenly fell into a flow together. My perceptions expanded as we synced up and feel into a groove with the trail and the surrounding forest.

However, despite the flow we experienced together, my stories were still percolating – “I had to make a compromise to experience this.” Fortunately I noticed that I was still stuck in story and I dropped it and tuned back into the flow. Eventually I came to realize that I simply had to make some slight adjustments in order to find the response I wanted. My judgmental mind label this as compromise and assigned a negative connotation to it.

But the truth is that I was simply bringing old habits into a new relationship and expecting my partner to conform to my own tendencies. Once I got to know her natural tendencies and learned to work with them instead of fighting against them, we fell into sync. In short, I started listening. I noticed how she responded when I behaved in different ways and I got to know her natural tendencies. I adjusted my tendencies to better match hers, and it all opened up.

But before that could happen I had to drop my stories. The stories of victimization (“poor me”) and blame (“it’s their fault”) that arose out of my frustration only served to numb my discomfort and while absolving me from responsibility for the situation.

Even when things start clicking, my stories still wanted to run the show. Despite the results, one of my initial thoughts was that I had to compromise. That was nonsense. I brought old ways of relating into a new relationship and it didn’t work. But when I showed up more open and receptive, I easily connected with my partner. It wasn’t a compromise, it was a dance – a give and take between two partners that paid off 10x what I put into it.

The difference boils town to “power in relationship” instead of “power over relationship.” When I tried to dominate and control and impose my will on the relationship, things went off the rails. But when I slowed down, listened, responded appropriately, and engaged in the dance of give and take, everything opened up.

Now, in this example, I’m talking about my relationship to my new mountain bike. That relationship is interesting to me because it’s ultimately foolish to blame the other part of the relationship – a bicycle. I can blame myself or the bike shop or whatever, but ultimately I made a commitment to this relationship (a purchase) and the impersonal nature of a bike exposed my stories for what they were – stories.

Relationships with human beings, particularly romantic partners, are inherently messy and obviously more complicated that one with a bike, but the pattern is often the same – we bring old habits and expectations into new situations and we inevitably end up disappointed. But with a little awareness, some compassion toward the other, and an openness to give and take, the relationship will pay off in spades.