In the wake of the renegotiation of my sacred contract with a friend, I had an epiphany. In my close relationships, I have two opposing desires:
-the desire for intimacy and security
-the desire for freedom and autonomy
Every relationship is a dance of these two desires. So in one of my relationships, I feel a bit insecure, and our communication challenges leave me feeling distant, so I crave more intimacy and security. In another one of my relationships, I feel a little smothered sometimes, like we’re so codependent and enmeshed that I crave more freedom and autonomy.
I am neither a needy person nor a stand-offish person. But finding that perfect balance of closeness and space is a dance that has to be customized to the needs of each relationship. My easiest, most comfortable relationships flow effortlessly because we seem to have similar needs for intimacy/security and freedom/autonomy. When it gets challenging is when someone needs way more space than I do- so I wind up getting all clingy and insecure- or when someone has such an intense need for intimacy and security that I wind up feeling like I can’t breathe. My healthiest relationships sometimes need tinkering, but we don’t wind up with one person always getting hurt feelings or the other always jockeying for space.
When Things Get Out Of Balance
So what can we do when the dance gets awkward?
1. Meet your own needs first.
If you’re giving someone else responsibility for your happiness, you’ll wind up being a bottomless pit of need. I’m not suggesting relationships don’t feed us. They do. In fact, they’re arguably the most important part of our health. But healthy relationship occur between two sovereign individuals who take responsibility for their own happiness and then amplify that joy by sharing intimacy.
2. Ask for what you desire.
I know it’s uncomfortable to express your desires. If you’re feeling the need for closeness, you may be afraid of coming across as needy. If you’re feeling the need for space, you may fear hurting someone’s feelings. But what’s the alternative- letting resentment build up?
3. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable.
Rather than showing up with your armor on because you’re feeling hurt or smothered, be brave enough to be vulnerable. I know it can be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but if the relationship is worth nurturing, it will bring you closer and help your loved one understand what you need.
4. Learn to enjoy your own company.
As I headed to Albany, New York last week to film a 90 minute public television special, as well as 6 hours of additional DVD content that would be included as part of the PBS fundraising pledge package, I knew I was walking into a situation that was completely out of my comfort zone. I so wanted to feel like I was going to just nail it on that television set, that I would get it all perfectly right on my first try, that I would wow everyone with my professionalism and TV chops, that everyone would come to me later and say, “Lissa, you’re a natural!”
So I loaded myself up with expectations, hoping I’d get it right, wanting to impress my producers and please my publisher and all that jazz. Naturally, heaping myself with expectations of perfection only left me feeling stressed and overwhelmed in the months before the film date. And then, suddenly, I was backstage, about to appear before a live studio audience to deliver what I hoped would be a perfect performance. (No biggie.)
Permission To Be Imperfect
Suddenly, inside my head, I heard the soothing voice of Brené Brown (with whom I just did a free teleclass - you can listen to us here). When Brené was about to appear on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, she wrote herself a permission slip, which she hid in her pocket. The permission slip said, “Permission to be imperfect.” So right there, back in the wings, I wrote myself the same permission slip, and when I stood in front of that studio audience, I told everyone to bear with me because I was about to give an imperfect performance.
I then proceeded to royally flub up several times, stuttering over my words and misreading the teleprompter. Fortunately, the special was prerecorded! All I had to do when I screwed up was stop, admit my mistake, and try again. The audience had even been prepped so that if I said the same thing twice, they were supposed to pretend they were hearing my hopefully wise words for the very first time!
What If Life Had “Do Overs?”
After a few mistakes and do overs, I said to the audience, “Wouldn’t life be great if we were allowed to just pause and get a ‘Do over’ in other aspects of our life?” And then I realized I’ve done just that. I married imperfectly - twice - and I’ve now been with husband #3 for almost eleven years. (Do over! Do over!) I wound up unhappy in my job as a practicing physician, so I went through a massive career change. (Do over!) My health broke down because I wasn’t caring for my body or my mind, but I was blessed to get a do over in my health and am now down to half the dose of one of the seven medications I was once taking.
I have been pausing, admitting my mistakes, and doing life over again time after time! And this, I’m realizing, is one of the essential keys to a happy life.