One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

June 8, 2012


One of the narratives of my relationship with Ian is about making sure our relationship is expansive rather than restrictive.

I say “making sure” because it’s not something that’s just come naturally and it’s a conversation we’ve had many times as we refine what that means or catch things we didn’t think of. But it’s pretty much my favourite thing about our relationship. Actually, it’s really come to be how I define our relationship to myself: that thing that makes my life bigger.

During the early stages of our relationship, when I was having commitment crises (eg, “I want this to be over. I don’t even WANT another relationship. They are so goddamn hard. And dangerous,”) Ian would do this amazing thing of acting very unconcerned about my crisis and saying, “but we’re still hanging out right? Because I’m pretty sure that all I have to do is keep hanging out with you and showing you that your life will be easier with me around, not harder and you’ll keep letting me hang around.” At the time, that attitude boggled my mind.

But as that’s pretty much how I was sold on the relationship, the concept clearly stuck with me.

Later, when we were living together and I was setting up for some project, Ian started trying to talk me into relaxing instead. And I stopped him to have this conversation that went something like, “If what you want is to relax right now and you’re worried that you can’t if I’m working, don’t – because I know how hard you work other times so I won’t judge you for relaxing today. And if you’re just trying to be nice to me, then don’t because working up motivation to start something is hard, and if I have it, I don’t want it sabotaged right when I’m about to get somewhere. Having you in the household should increase what gets done for the household – it should mean double the efforts, not double the excuses. That doesn’t mean you always have to be doing, but let’s agree that it means if I’m working on something that I would have done with or without you, you won’t reduce my momentum in any way.”

And he totally got it. And agreed.

There were additional conversations where we added expectations and clarified things. Like one breakthrough conversation about parenting and fights with the kids – where I realized that when I was fighting with Ethan, Ian was jumping in to try to be helpful, but it usually escalated the fight horribly. And going back to that original concept, we were able to figure out that if his presence is supposed to help us accomplish more of the good stuff, then what he should be adding to those conversations isn’t more sternness and clout, but more calmness and resources. Once we’d phrased it like that, then we were able to make some plans like, “we should only tag each other out of the argument if we think we can bring it down a notch instead of up.” Or, “if you’re jumping in because you see I’m stressed and you want to fix that stress, maybe a calming hand on my back will do more for the situation than you saying or adding anything to the argument.”

We’ve even tackled the more difficult application of that concept to saving money. “If we’ve agreed to be frugal and save money, how do we make sure that a two person team means more efforts to save money and not more moments of weakness?”

They’re all good conversations to have. If your team is going to have its good impulses amplified and not its bad ones – then you have to have an agreement that no one hesitates to speak up on the good impulses and where good impulses, as soon as they’re voiced, will be honoured (and thus trump bad impulses). That’s an agreement that hardly ever just comes naturally. It helps to verbalize why it’s important.

We talk, too, about being better people because we’re together.

In a lot of my past relationships, it felt like I was watching my partner’s and my behaviour devolve in a downward spiral. Either we were charitable to each-other, making excuses forĀ  the other to behave badly with regards to the rest of the world, or we each behaved badly in response to the others’ bad behaviour in a kind of “oh yeah? Well then I’ll…” cold war of toddler-proportions.

But the form of emotional charity Ian and I give to each-other isn’t about excusing behaviour, it’s about assuming the best of each-others’ intentions. Which means that when we disagree with something the other person has done, we pretty much always bring it up, but try to do so without accusations. I think it’s something that builds on itself. For example, because I have high expectations of Ian’s morals and behaviour, when he calls me out on something I’ve done, I’m quicker to admit fault and look for ways to fix it, because I don’t want someone whom I hold in high regard to see me as morally lazy. As a result, he sees me as a moral person and how I might see him influences his behaviour.

This sounds like I’m patting us both on the back for our fantastic morals, but it’s not like that at all. The point is that there are a lot of slips, but there are also a lot of conversations. And lots of progress.

For example, last weekend we had another debate because he was telling me not to do something and that I should go relax instead (because I was sick at the time). I made an exasperated case for why it was just necessary that I do the thing (because he was going to be out for the afternoon and it needed doing). And in passing I said something about how instead of telling me to not do it at all, he could have just reminded me to pace myself according to my body’s needs, or could even have volunteered to help with whatever is left when he got home. I was aware, as I said it, that it was a little bit dangerous, because it’s hard for people to separate their efforts from themselves and if you’re telling them their efforts have fallen short, then if they’re not completely assured that you still understand and approve of their intentions, they’ll defend the adequacy of those efforts as if they’re defending themselves. To them, they are.

It would have been very easy for Ian to say, “don’t pick on me for acting concerned about you.” (Glorifying his efforts and villifying me for not feeling feeling appropriately cared for.)

But instead he said, “Oh! That’s exactly what I should have said! Why didn’t I say that?”

It was such a tiny, nit-picky exchange. But this is kind of what I mean, about expanding things. Feeling like as time passes, we spot and adopt improvements all the time, waste less time on defending old ways of doing things and become better at getting things done, working in tandem, interacting with the world and taking care of each-other.

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