When a couple is faced with conflict they have a choice; they can seek deeper intimacy or personal satisfaction. Personal satisfaction is right and wrong territory. If you dig a little deeper you will find a deeper truth, the one that shows you where you are similar. A couple searches for personal satisfaction as opponents, they search for deeper intimacy as partners.
Kevin and Samantha had been helping out a family in crisis for a good part of the last decade. Kevin’s most recent struggle was with how his wife, Sam, was still bending over backwards for her brother. It was at the expense of her own husband and daughter, or so it felt to Kevin. Samantha had heeded Kevin’s concern. She felt it too, and had been making headway with her boundary issues.
On this one day, Kevin arrived home from work to find Sam’s brother and his girlfriend cozy on the couch while Samantha was at the pediatrician with his daughter. Kevin thought, “I should be the one on the couch with my wife, not Jeffrey!”
By the time Sam got home Kevin was supercharged. He shamed Samantha for doing her brother’s job, again! Sam defended her decision. She explained how the day before, Jeffrey’s daughter, Casey, had a tick behind her ear. It had just so happened that Sam was the one home so she had removed it. This morning Casey awoke with a stiff neck. Sam wanted to be the one to take her to the pediatrician to be sure they weren’t related. She wanted to be certain that she had gotten the whole tick out, as well as, she was the most informed.
On hearing Sam’s explanation Kevin admitted to feeling embarrassed. He immediately backed off. Sam felt justified—she felt a sense of personal satisfaction for being in the ‘right’ this time. The story was still a little charged when Sam shared but overall they thought they handled it better than in the past and I agreed but…
I suggested that there was a deeper truth and invited them to explore it with me. We went into meditation where I had them share the play by play of what had happened. They both admitted to their feelings around the encounter. It was supercharged for Kevin, at least in part, because this boundary issue wasn’t new.
Then we explored how Kevin may have acted similarly to Sam and how Sam may have acted similarly to Kevin in the past. Sam had an epiphany. She revealed that when they had taken in Kevin’s teenage nephew for a period that Kevin hadn’t been able to confront his sister (his nephew’s mom) on some issues and it had adversely affected their family.
Wow! Kevin agreed! He had struggled with asking for what he needed from his sister in a way that was similar to how Sam had struggled with asking for what she needed from her brother. The atmosphere in the room shifted from tension to tenderness with the emerging of this deeper truth—they were seeing themselves in each other. The last thing Kevin needed when he was having trouble setting boundaries with his sister was to be shamed by Sam and the last thing Sam needed when she had trouble setting boundaries with her brother was Kevin’s shaming.
This particular time Sam’s choice may not have been wrought with fear of setting a boundary with her brother, but by digging deeper it healed all the other times it had been and for Kevin too. Kevin had been asking Sam to do something that he wasn’t even capable of doing yet. That awareness was humbling for Kevin and for Sam too. After seeing themselves in each other we discussed how support would be appreciated.
In the future if either of them is having trouble setting a boundary, I’m pretty confident that they will see a struggling partner rather than a bad boundary setter and offer support rather than shaming for at least these 3 reasons:
- Because shaming only adds insult to injury.
- Because that is what they would want for themselves.
- Providing support will make them feel better about the person they are at the end of the day.
I think it’s the coolest when a couple is willing to go all the way with each other in this way—to go from shaming, which leads to separation (from self and others) to understanding, which leads to deeper intimacy (with self and others).
Removing a barrier like this to love is cause for celebration! As you can see, it takes courage, willingness, humility and sometimes the assistance of a third party facilitator to deepen intimacy but the rewards are far-reaching—especially if Kevin and Sam address their fear of boundary setting and overcome it together.
Can you think of a time when you chose personal satisfaction over deeper intimacy?
It’s never too late to dig deeper. There is hope for reconciliation when the other party is willing to go to the depths with you, but the benefits are just as delicious to heart and soul and valuable to your future relationships if you must go there on your own.
When you look at someone as a mirror, your story about what they are doing reveals your own thinking.
Thanks Kevin and Sam (pseudonyms) for giving me permission to share this valuable story!
Friends in this Love,