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Valentine’s Day was established by papal decree in 496AD as a day to celebrate our relationships with those we love most deeply. At that time it wasn’t connected with romantic love. In the high Middle Ages during the time of development of courtly love as a tradition Geoffrey Chaucer changed that. Since that time we see Valentine’s Day as a sort of one-day shorthand for what an intimate partner or marriage relationship should look like. Starry-eyed, blissful, sweet, easy, sexual, and everloving might describe what our expectation of intimate relationships are. But like most things in life, when we truly take a look, we see much more complexity than that…
This article will give you the opportunity to examine and learn to improve on the critical moods that make or break your intimate relationships. In every marriage and committed partnership there are moods that serve building the relationship and those that have a deleterious effect. Moods are not inherently good or bad, but they either serve or restrict us in a particular situation. Here are some that we can distinguish more clearly in the area of relationships:
Compassion vs. pity. Compassion means to be with another in their pain. To pity is to see the other as needing us to pull them up to our level of understanding. In compassion we place ourselves on the same human level as our partner while in pity we tend to look down on them and their plight. How many times in your relationship have you opted for pity rather than compassion? How often have you been tempted to believe that it was your job to somehow “fix” either your partner or their situation rather than simply stand with them and trust them to navigate life for themselves?
Service vs. sacrifice. Many of us grow up with the admonishment to help others. Some of us learn that the right way to be a partner is to take care of the other’s every wish and need. What we aren’t often taught is to pay attention to the point where those activities shift from service to sacrifice. In service we are attending to others’ needs, but also to our own. In sacrifice we drain ourselves, sometimes to the point of illness. I’m not saying that sacrifice is bad. Many heroic acts require sacrifice of all that we have, including life. In a relationship continual sacrifice is not sustainable.
Acceptance vs. tolerance. An interesting thing happens in many intimate relationships. We fall in love with exactly who the other is and over time we discover that there are aspects of them we would like to change. That moment defines the shift from acceptance to tolerance. Acceptance is seeing and understanding another as they are. It does not mean that we like or agree with all we see, but we are not trying to change them. Tolerance is that I will put up with the way you are until you see the light, which usually means seeing the world the way I see it. Tolerance may be a more helpful mood than intolerance, but it won’t be helpful if interchanged or confused with acceptance.
Courage vs. denial. Courage is required to act when we’re afraid. When we realize we need to make a request or have a conversation that may produce temporary upset in the relationship, we’ll either pluck up the courage for the conversation or we will deny that it is needed. Maybe it will go away. Most of us realize intuitively that the conversation won’t go away, but our naïve hope may move us in that direction.
Tenderness vs. meanness. I don’t know anyone who would describe themselves as mean. Yet the capacity lives in us all. When we are frustrated, tired, hungry, angry, we can bring it out. What makes tenderness so valuable in a relationship is that it is the mood that brings safety. Safety allows conversations which would otherwise be impossible. Safety allows intimacy. In a moment of strain will you choose tenderness or meanness?
Curiosity vs. righteousness. Curiosity = I acknowledge that there may be something of value for me in this area. When in conversation with your partner you may believe you understand his/her motivations and choices, but are you willing to get curious to check and deepen your understanding? Do you assume that you know and remain attached to what you think you know, or do you become flexible to listen and inquire?
Joy vs. excitement. Our contemporary view of intimate relationships has a strong basis in excitement. Excitement comes from Latin meaning “to set in motion outside of ourselves.” Excitement invites us to ever-increasing high points. Our nervous systems crave going just a little higher. By contrast, joy is a steady sense of wellbeing that is in itself satisfying. Excitement in a relationship is elemental, but it is easy to see that a relationship based on excitement will not sustain itself.
Commitment vs. expectation. Commitments are the promises we make explicitly, and we demonstrate commitment through action. Expectation comes from Latin meaning “await or hope”. Many of us live with the illusion that if our partner has made some explicit commitments to us, then whatever we expect will come to pass. An interesting exercise is to ask yourself what specifically you and your partner have promised in the relationship. You can rest assured that everything beyond that is your expectation, your story of what your partner will do or what will occur in your relationship. This exercise will make you realize the degree to which you live in expectation and often want to hold your partner accountable for your expectations rather than for the promises made.
Work and play. The question with these moods is one of balance. Work is activity with attachment to an outcome. Play is activity without the attachment. Play isn’t intended to produce anything except fun. An excess or deficit of either in your relationship can create either gravity and profound seriousness or triviality. Consider the balance.
If all these moods show up in our intimate relationships, it is obvious that the models we’ve had in contemporary music, Hallmark cards, and Walt Disney don’t begin to address the depth of the emotional field. There is no wonder that we meet, date, engage, marry, and then are disappointed that the moods of the relationship aren’t eternally sunny and light. That has been set up as an expectation, but it was never a promise. The word relationship comes from a root meaning to bring back, to reconnect, to retell. In this light, revisiting the moods of your intimate relationship provides fertile ground to produce much deeper satisfaction in a key area of your life.
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