Taking inventory in relationships
I recently moved house. During the sorting, cleaning and packing I was struck by a few thoughts that seemed very linked to intimate relationships. I discovered food items that were long past their sell by date, objects hidden away that I have no more use for, other objects hidden away that now seem important and relevant and some amusing collections of things (namely pickled peppers) that I had bought, used some and then bought more, forgetting I already had some.
My experience of sorting through all these household items made me vow that twice a year I will go through every room in my home and take inventory, discard or donate unwanted items, perhaps rotate artwork, ornaments or furniture, and see what needs changing or moving around.
I think relationships need regular inventory-taking too.
Whatever stage of relationship you are in, we can safely say that neither party is the same person as they were when the relationship started. Every moment in your life, millions of little changes are taking place in your body and your environment. Add to this the changes that happen in your family, your jobs, your health, and then add on the changes in your neighbourhood, your community, your country and the world. Even when it seems not much is happening, things are changing all around us.
I have often worked with couples who say they want to recapture something that is lost in their relationships. The first thing I encourage them to do is to let go of that notion, and instead focus on de-cluttering and starting something new in their relationship. Take sex, for example. Many couples want to re-discover the passion they felt in the early days. But that's almost impossible because the relationship has evolved. Each person's thoughts, experiences, emotions, body-image, energy levels, confidence and hormone changes will be affecting this part of the relationship. But not every couple talks about these changes so they carry on as they always have, with neither person feeling particularly satisfied. The good news is that while recapturing the desire of a new relationship is very difficult, a different kind of intimacy can take its place and it can bring pleasure, excitement and fun. For more on this topic, I highly recommend Ester Perel's brilliant TED Talk on desire in long-term relationships.
As we develop deeper intimacy in our primary relationship, we can fall into the trap of assuming lots of things about each other. You may want to bring up a topic of conversation or change a pattern of behaviour but you decide that you know what the other person will think/say so you don't bother. This limits you, and also doesn't give your partner the opportunity to express an up to date response. The danger of assumptions over time is that they can make a relationship feel stuck or stagnant, with neither person feeling the capacity to express their needs, to grow or change. Like the metaphorical house, your relationship will have elements that were useful but now aren't, beautiful things that have remained hidden for years and can brought into the light, and needs/priorities that can be moved around a bit.
Remember that taking inventory is just as much about finding out what you already have plenty of, or what is going well, as it is about thinking about shifts you'd like to make. And the first step can often be a quick self-inventory. Consider these questions for yourself and contact me if you'd like to work on this enlightening and refreshing process:
- Think about who you were 5 years ago. What's different about you now (physically, emotionally, spiritually)? What activities have you dropped or started? Are there things you miss about yourself or are particularly proud of? What did you want in life back then? Has your vision for the future changed? What events (personal or professional) have had the most influence on you in the last few years?