Did you spend time with family and friends over the holidays?
For many of us, reunions with relatives can stir up mixed feelings, depending on our expectations of togetherness. A mother recently told me she was very happy when her son returned from college. But after a few days, she started feeling lonely when he was spending most of his time with friends. On the other hand, a grandmother admitted that she felt exhausted when her house was filled with children and grandchildren. So she looked forward to getting back to the routine of peace and quiet of an empty nest.
I certainly had more ups and downs when my grandchildren are in town. That's normal when living under the same roof with someone you care about. It's a very common experience among couples!
The story goes like this: Two people fall in love and from that moment on, they go everywhere and do everything together. They are, of course, a perfect match, and their interests and values coincide in every respect. In fact, if they spend much time apart or socialize separately, people might wonder if there is trouble in the relationship.
This is the myth of togetherness: two lives merge into one melded front.
But it's a story fraught with perils, for it most often leads to exactly the opposite of togetherness: one partner feels smothered and withdraws. The other feels rejected and abandoned. This push-pull dance of too much closeness or too much distance sets up a high level of anxiety for both partners and too often ends in heartache and separation.
It's possible, however, to rewrite this story of togetherness in a way that makes a better ending possible. Instead of togetherness being a merging of two people in which two halves make a whole, what if togetherness meant a deep commitment to supporting each other's fulfillment as an individual and as a member of the couple?
"A co-creative relationship is one in which two people access more of their creativity as a result of their loving interaction," write Drs. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks in Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment. "Out of the harmony of a co-committed relationship springs an enhanced energy that enables both partners to make a greater contribution than either one could have made alone."
In this kind of togetherness, there is deep, mutual support for cultivating the unique gifts that each partner brings to the other and the world. Needs for both closeness and space apart are honored, and the communication channels are open to express each person's feelings, thoughts, needs and desires. Greater individual fulfillment enables each to contribute more richly to the relationship, and growing feelings of aliveness spark the relationship itself, infusing it with greater passion and energy.
Here are some suggestions to help you move toward this different model of togetherness:
Pursue your own interests. Take a class or work on a project because it interests YOU. When you are fed creatively, intellectually or emotionally, you'll contribute more aliveness to the relationship.
Cultivate friendships outside of your relationship. Your partner cannot meet all of your relational needs. Besides, it's fun and enlivening to experience different facets of yourself through contact with others, including Jesus Christ who is our most loving and faithful friend.
Take time alone. Whatever helps you connect with yourself and God can bring a sense of rejuvenation. You might: spend time in nature, enjoy a hot bath, sing, read, journal, garden, meditate, and the list goes on.
Create special time with your partner. Relationships flourish with open, loving communication. Make time to share with your partner, to nourish the bond of intimacy. That loving bond will support you both in powerfully contributing to the world outside your relationship, as well as within it.
"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24, NIV)
What's your idea of togetherness and a strong relationship? Please share with me!
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications