When things get tough in relationships, the common response is often to hope and sometimes demand that the other person changes and does something different, often radically different.
If healthy relationship is a dance, a mutual sharing of, thoughts, feelings, and experiences, then indeed it is important that each person can express their needs and make requests of the other, “I’ve been feeling stressed recently and I’ve noticed that one thing that helps me feel relaxed and calm is when the lounge is tidy. Would you be able to help me keep the lounge tidy?”
This opening request may result in a simple “yes” from the other person, or lead to further dialogue about individual meanings attributed to tidiness and thresholds for this, or a thousand and one other possible responses. However, this open sharing of feelings and a subsequent request provides the possibility of a constructive discussion.
The cue for this article though lies in the “stress” for the person beset by the turbulence of untidiness. I’m suggesting that a key pillar in the quest for a better relationship or relationships, is what each of us can do for ourselves, I liken it to a reclaiming of our power, in a way that feels healthy and nourishing.
So, if I am stressed by untidiness, I might ask myself questions such as, what is the origin of this pattern of untidiness and stress? How and when does it manifest now? What helps me manage my stress? What do I need from others to help me with this? In asking these questions I begin to better understand and take control of my experience. I feel calmer. I have more agency.
I may then begin to consider what support I need to be how I wish to be in the world. What keeps me well? What enables me to feel calm, grounded, strong, vulnerable, assertive, accepting, or whatever it is that I need to feel to be at my best? This may include inner reflection and introspection, such as meditation, journaling; it may include physical exercise such as walking, cycling; it may include spiritual exercise such as praying, yoga; it may include socialising with friends, family, colleagues; it could well include creative pursuits such as drawing, cooking, carpentry.
In building this support I propose that there needs to be a balance of looking inwards and looking outwards. For example, when managing my well-being and sitting with the tensions I experience as I relate to others in the world, I notice a movement: I breathe in, look down at my chest, I notice the sensations in my body, I see the thoughts in my mind. I breathe out. I come to understand what is going on for me in this moment, I try to make sense of it, even if just a little. But if I stay here for a prolonged period, looking down at my chest, I become stuck, lost in my myriad of thoughts and feelings.
So instead I take a walk, perhaps in a local park, surrounding countryside, or other local natural landscape. I look up, I see the trees and the sky, I breathe in the air. I see the colours of nature, I feel my chest expand, my shoulders lighten and my head clear. In this place I pass someone on the path, make eye contact, nod, smile, and say “hello”. I exhale a breath from deeper within, I feel a tingling of happiness in my stomach.
Shortly after a thought enters my mind related to a difficulty I’m currently having in a relationship with a colleague and I feel anxiety in my stomach. I’m back looking inside myself, present now to the cyclical rhythm of looking within and looking outwards. I slowly tread my way along a rocky path aiming towards greater self-awareness and subsequent empowerment. In doing so I am, possibly, emancipated just a little from needing the other to change so that I may be O.K.