Staying connected with my partner
As a question to reflect on (not a test) . . . over the holidays, did you manage to connect and stay connected with the people who are MOST important to you? Read on to learn how I figured out a way for staying connected with my partner, and how you can, too.
I find it so very intriguing. Over the course of my partnership (20+ years), and now that I work with couples in their efforts to (re-)connect, I’ve seen how very, very challenging it can be to accomplish the very thing we most want, especially during the holidays. Perhaps the pressure we experience to make it special and meaningful, isn’t at all helpful. So the essential question, I believe is . . .
This past Fall, I set out to put into practice what I teach, namely Nonviolent Communication skills. The time had come for me and my partner to make decisions about how and where we would spend our two-week holiday break. We start thinking about it in the Fall, because sometime plane tickets are involved. I’ll start with an exaggerated worse-case scenario, which might look familiar to some:
A disconnecting conversation:
me: “We have to decide if and who is flying to the U.S.”
him: “Isn’t this the off-year when we’re not expected to go?”
me: “You mean you don’t want to go?”
him: “No, I didn’t say that. It would just be a big financial break if we didn’t have to buy plane tickets.”[At this point, the conversation could turn into an argument if I continue to believe my interpretation/story that he doesn’t enjoy my family, etc. But I move on to other issues on my mind.]
me: “O.K. well then we have to get started right away buying presents and writing our Christmas cards.”
me: “What does that mean? I guess you don’t want to do that either?”
him: “I didn’t say that. I just think it’s awfully early to have to think about this stuff. And well, I do always dread the amount of work that goes into the cards – I don’t get that much out of it.”
me: “Well if we’re going to get everything off in time for it to arrive by Christmas, then we do have to start now.”
me: “Well, do you agree or not? And what about our plans to celebrate Christmas? Do we have to spend both the 25th and 26th with your family, or can we go somewhere different this year?”
him: “What do you mean . . . would you rather not be with my folks?”
A connecting conversation:
This year, we avoided the pain and agony of such a disconnecting conversation where strategy and interpretations play the leading roles. Instead, we focused first and foremost on what’s most important for each of us, our underlying dreams, or visions for the holidays.
me: “So now that we know we’re not going to fly to the U.S., can we talk about our two-week holiday? ”
me: “Let’s make a list of what we most want out of our holidays if boiled down to its very essence. For example, the first thing that comes to my mind is togetherness, quality time together.”
him: “Yeah, that sounds good. I’d also like to give some special attention and care to some people in our lives we haven’t seen in a while.”
me: “O.K. I imagine that’s possible. I notice I want to do something different, adventurous this year.”
him: “Great, and hopefully we can be a bit creative with that, like start a new fun tradition that doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.”
me: “Agreed. Shall we now brainstorm ideas, and then eventually make a plan for our two weeks?”
him: “Yes, just one more thing. I would like nothing more than to enjoy our time together. And do that much easier if I could reduce some of my work load in the very beginning of the break. Maybe I take 1-2 days to knock it out?”
me: “Well, I prefer you to really be present with us than having your mind on your work, so let’s see which days work out best.”
him: “Cool, I was dreading asking you that. I’m glad you understand.”
While talking, we came up with a simple matrix and posted it above our family calendar:
Slowly, the calendar was filled in with the majority of our action ideas. The point is not so much if this approach worked regarding our strategies. Most importantly, doing this exercise was very connecting! We started off on the same page–feeling compassion for what’s really important for us both–were motivated and encouraged to support each other in achieving our visions (finding strategies that worked for everyone), AND WE STAYED IN CONNECTION!
Needless to say perhaps, it was by far one of the most satisfying holiday breaks I’ve had in a very long time (despite missing my American family like crazy).