Personally, I almost always bumble my words in real time. They don’t come out nearly as coherently or smoothly as they sounded in my head when I am face to face with this person with whom I’m having some kind of struggle. I didn’t grow up learning how to express my anger or hurt or how to ask for what I need.
I grew up hiding from conflict, avoiding it like the plague. Love and anger did not compute – in my mind they negated one another. I couldn’t be angry with someone I loved. If they were angry with me, that must mean our relationship is over. Anger has always been a little scary for me – mine as well as others. The silent treatment riles me up - I sometimes provoke just to get some kind of interaction going, even if it isn’t pretty.
Love, my friends, is tough. It’s so much easier (in some ways) to ice someone out, cut them off, be “done” with them. Walk away and stop trying to mend what’s been damaged or heal the hurt.
It takes effort to be willing to muddle through a conversation when both of you are hurting and/or upset. As we learn to take good care of ourselves it can be hard to figure out how to do that AND stay in relationship, honoring that we both have needs and at times those needs might be in conflict.
It takes learning new ways to wait and new ways to communicate in order to reconnect after there’s been a mishap. It’s painful. It’s often ugly, and may involve some tissues, some big sighs, some exasperated gestures or voices. It’s tricky to stay out of defensive posture, hear the other person, while also sharing our thoughts and feelings.
Self-compassion is also critical, as I tend to beat myself up, imagining what a terrible person I must be if this person I love is so upset. I hate hurting people and would far rather blame myself than someone I love. Self-love can be tough.
If we are wise, we allow time and space for each person to think things through, to look at our own stuff, to feel what’s bubbling within us, before we try to come together. However, in the silence, alone with our thoughts, we conjure up stories that may be far worse than what’s really going on. Someone avoids us or doesn’t take our calls, and we give it all sorts of meanings. How quickly we go from sadness and hurt to fear to “F@#& you!” depends on our own personal boiling point or how often we’ve been abandoned before.
I do not believe in “tough love” as too often prescribed for families and friends of loved ones who struggle with mental health issues like substance use, eating disorders, or other problematic behaviors. No, I don’t. These people are already hurting and misunderstood enough. Trust me, they pile onto their own suffering and adding to it is not going to help them heal or change. Just, no.
But I do know love is tough. Hanging in there in a way that works for you as well as the other person is tough. We fall in love with our babies and our partners so easily, we may not grasp the reality of the work and care required to stay in relationship with these people as we all grow and change.
I am discovering the gift in the relationships that require extensive work. Each time we make it through another round or problem, we deepen our connection. We add to the evidence that we will last. We learn to trust the relationship, and we remember (at least for a minute) not to take it or this person for granted.
Love is tough. It requires a willingness to be clumsy, a commitment to be honest, an ability to show up and speak up, even when it’s uncomfortable. The ability to take a risk because the relationship matters. It requires that we show up fully and authentically – not pretending that all is ok until we somehow get beyond whatever happened. True friendships and deep relationships require honesty and for each of us to be true to ourselves. I am not interested in superficial connections. I want to dive deep with my people. Diving deep is going to get messy at times.
It's tough. And in the end, it is so worth it. As we grow together, we learn more about one another. If I can begin to look at you and really know and accept that your behaviors make sense (based on your history, your personality, your style, your way of thinking and being), I can more easily accept you and make room for our differences. I can appreciate that we are not the same, and that’s ok. Hopefully you will learn a bit about my wounds, my triggers, my reactions, and my messed-up thinking as we talk things out. We will both realize that everyone acts like an ass at times… including me and including you.
I don’t have to take it all on. Relationships are made up of people. Whatever is going on here, we’ve created it together. We may not have meant to – things are often not personal or intentional, but here we are.
How do we find our way back to the surface to begin again? Together. One moment and one breath at a time. Through reaching out and asking or inviting a conversation. Through allowing space and time for that green light moment to reveal itself. Through finding “our way,” which may not be entirely yours or entirely mine. Getting beyond a need to blame or punish – ourself or the other. Remembering our heart connection and coming with deep compassion and an open heart so that we can reconnect.
Love is tough. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. It requires deep vulnerability, the courage to say “I am sorry. I was wrong. I wish that hadn’t happened. I don’t ever want to hurt you" (but I likely will if you stick around long enough, because, hey… I’m human and so are you).
Love is not always laughter and joy, even when we think it should be. Life is always happening, and in the end, love is tough...so it endures. Love is the way.
**PLEASE NOTE: Not all relationships are healthy or worth fighting for - if you are being abused in any way, please get the help and support you need to take care of yourself and keep yourself safe.**