Has there ever been a more perfect quote on the challenge of communicating with a romantic partner?
I like to think nuclear physicists working on particle theory still go home and wonder why they can’t discuss money with their spouses without it leading to a fight.
Part of the problem is that interactions play out with all the weight of upbringing, expectations, unmet needs, communication styles and personal blind spots. We drag this baggage into conversations, each one a filter through which our partners statements are evaluated. It’s often murky business.
I’ve gotten to the point in arguments where I have no idea what is happening. I am genuinely trying to understand, but I suspect I’m missing some crucial information the other person can’t yet articulate.
Which is why it’s no surprise what holds most relationships together isn’t perfect communication, but patience with our partners more off-putting sides.
We love the frictionless part of new romances. In my experience, the desire to be validated by on-going, glowing reviews (and hinge participation in romance on getting them) makes one brittle and unable to hear important truths.
It might be more useful if we could let go of needing our idealized selves reflected back, so when our less-great selves are revealed, we don’t turn into a puddle of despair and recrimination.
It’s important to know we are fundamentally liked, but not require our partners be delusional cheerleaders, propping us up at their expense. On the other hand, it’s a bummer to be subjected to a steady stream of criticisms.
If romance is so fraught, why bother at all?
Good relationships sustain and nurture us, and when they go wrong it’s what we regret the most.
It behooves us to do the work. Even if that means being quiet when we want to be angry, or setting a subject aside for a more receptive time. Sometimes it’s listening carefully when our partner tells us what they need. Important things can show up in quiet ways.
Just like bad acts can pile up and undermine a relationship, so can good acts shore it up. We can’t avoid the inevitable differences and difficulties, but we can learn to handle one another with care.
I don’t need to get old to understand how important good relationships are. My reaction to my first cancer diagnosis was sadness at never having the opportunity to find a loving partnership.
Yes, travel is great. I love being outside, being healthy enough to sweat, beautiful things to eat, great prose. But, I know what matters most.
It’s love. Love matters most.