Stalled relationships, curiously enough, are a topic of conversation these days, especially among my peers. These are the relationships that don't quite seem to take off or relationships that have taken off and then stopped moving forward in the trajectory that we expected. A lot of what we focus on is relationships with our parents or our children. Being generations apart seem to be a common culprit for the relationship pause.
Some of us realize that we're having this discussion and many more of us are in those conversations without quite realizing it. We're fighting a battle that we don't recognize we're fighting or that we don't recognize as a battle at all. Today it's about battles and castles. Stay with me, I'll tie them together.
A stalled relationship, as I am defining it, is one where it's almost solely based on past experiences. Or even more specifically, a relationship based on previous encounters that now represent the entire relationship for you. A relationship that may have a foundation, a good strong, well-built and meant to last foundation. Yet, that relationship hasn't gone on to put in the sub-flooring or the studs or the walls and definitely hasn't gotten to a point of adding a ceiling and roof. We've got the beginning of the blueprint but haven't progressed and definitely have not created a structure that is weather resistant.
We need these foundations in our relationships. Good, strong and well built relationships usuall rely on trust, empathy and love. A good foundation can also include missteps, tearing it down or slowing down, needing to get it right more than needing to get it done and seeing that and being willing to put the work in. You know... the hard conversations that often begin with, "I love you. And I'm having a hard time when we.... " or "I can't do this anymore. Is there something else possible?" Those conversations, where we are able to tell each other the truth about our hurts and our insecurities.
Tearing out something is a lot harder than building it right, but it can be accomplished. Even when you've built a castle, if the foundation is off, you can make corrections. If that castle is built on a foundation that is so faulty that it will topple in three years, you're going to make those corrections, almost regardless of what it will take. On the other hand, (there's going to be quite a few hands in this conversation), if the foundation is correct enough to hold that castle strong for 300 years, you may well acknowledge it and leave it alone, managing the occasional or even constant repairs.
Moving over to the only relationship that we will have from birth to grave -- our relationships with ourselves. There are some things worth digging down deep into and setting right and there are some things impossible to correct but possible to improve.
As we grow, we learn. We know our most impressionable times are when we are young. What we learn about trust, we learn in the first several years. We learn more after that and then more still with each new experience. Our emotional foundation is as dense and heavy as stone and also as light as a beautifully placed window with light flooding in. Our ability to trust, to know that the world will take care of us, because our parents or caregivers did, is either something we believe and accept or will continue to battle with for the rest of our lives. When there was little trust established when we were young, we will keep coming back to that, with ourselves first and others second.
A favorite movie scene that exemplifies this point (spoiler alert!), is in A Beautiful Mind, at the very end when Russell Crowe, playing John Nash, sees the people that are so very real to him because of his schizophrenia. He's accepted the Noble Prize and on his way out of the event, he sees his extraordinarily complex people that are real and visible, but only to him. He sees them and he walks right by. He understands that he still sees people that others don't see. He understands that they are part of who he is and he continues on his path because he trusts that they are not real, but others are. He learned to discern even when his private people continue to follow him around for the rest of his life. He also asks for help, "do you see this person?" when he needs to determine the objective reality from his subjective vision.
Battling our basic and intrinsic beliefs about trust is a battle worth undertaking
Simple way of putting this? If we have been trained not to trust, if we were hurt in our formative trust building years, if it takes courage from within our very bone marrow to see that this moment is safe and stable-- that is a noble and worthy battle within ourselves to embark upon. In fact, it's what we must do.
That may be the first place that we stall. When our trust is broken so early, when we are so tender and so impressionable, we freeze. We see everything through those not-trustworthy glasses. We cannot and do not let things in. We cannot succeed in other relationships because we do not have a foundation within to sustain more than survival.
This is our battle. And it is a battle well worth taking on. This impulse will affect and stall every relationship, every encounter that we have because it is coming from within. If your belief is that we are hardwired this way, please know that doesn't mean that we can't be aware and still make changes. Small shifts and acute awareness can allow us to hit the pause button so that we don't just react, we respond. We lay the atom bomb aside when a fly swatter is more realistically called for. We see our demons, or our invisible to everyone else friends, and we know that they are not present in this moment. We see the people that are real and what they are offering and even if it feels scary, we evaluate. Is it really scary or is there a certain amount of trust that we can find to let float up and make us more buoyant?
It turns out that the stalled relationships with others are mainly based on our stalled relationships with ourselves.
We are capable of change. Even tiny, incremental changes can shift ways of seeing, smelling, tasting, breathing and being. As a dear friend reminds me, a butterfly flaps its wings in Paris and we have a sweet summer storm in New England.
Challenge yourself to examine what is there. Safe? Not safe? Worth taking a risk?
We have it in us, no matter how we are hard wired, no matter how much damage was done. We have it in us to grow and evolve. And in our most intimate relationship, the one with our self, is the first place to restart stalled relationships.