Still Learning

IMG_4234A few weeks ago my family and I spent five days up in the mountains. Overall, it was a lovely vacation, with much laughter, hiking, game-playing, and boating. But for some reason my husband and I were in one those spells when we bumped heads at some point each day. Perhaps it was hormones or lack of sleep; whatever the cause we weren’t in our best flow. On our last day we had a horrible fight in the middle of Garden of the Gods (oh, the irony of having a blow-up at Garden of the Gods!), in front of our kids, then drove back in silence until we arrived at our cabin and each retreated to our separate corners to continue to fester in our own dark projections. We finally, miraculously, found our way back to sanity, and after consciously choosing to express accountability in front of and to our kids, we re-entered the ease that normally flows through our marriage.

As I took a hike by myself later in the day, I marveled at the fact that, well into our second decade together, we’re still learning. We’re still growing. We’re still diving into deeper and deeper layers of our self-knowledge and knowledge of each other. Some part of me thought that we would have nailed this marriage thing by now. But when I step back and think of our marriage as a teenager, it makes sense that we fumble at times. As adults we don’t typically find our stride until our mid-thirties and even forties. Perhaps it’s the same with a marriage.

Yes, we’re still learning. My guess is that we’ll be learning for the rest of our lives. My hope is that, at some point on this marriage journey, we’ll each find enough internal equanimity that we can hold space for the others’ moods. We can do it now much more than we could years ago, but perhaps it will happen with more frequency when our kids are a bit older and the external space opens up.

I felt terrible that we fought in front of the kids until I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily the arguing that’s traumatic for kids as the lack of repair. I have clients who grew to adulthood believing that, because they never saw or heard their parents arguing, marriage didn’t include arguing. Every time they argue with their spouse now they believe that something is wrong. Or the more common scenario where parents fought a lot but never showed repair. As I shared with my son later that day, “I’m so sorry we argued and I’m sure that felt scary. I want you to know that it’s normal to fight when you’re married, and that Daddy and I try to learn from our fights so that we’re always growing. One day you might fight with your wife and that’s okay as long as you’re both accountable and learn from it.”

I’m sharing all of this because it’s of utmost important to me to dispell the illusion that, even when we’re on a path of deep personal and spiritual growth, there’s a “there.” We live under a massive cultural illusion that life is a mountain you climb and when you’ve done enough inner work, you will reach the top where no winds or storms of human folly will affect you. My soul-sister and colleague, Carrie, and I share the philosophy that it’s especially important to shatter the myth that therapists have somehow evolved their way above the tempests of psyche that emerge from the underground realms and seize you in a paroxysm of projection.

We are not immune. I am not immune. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have any answers because I don’t believe single answers exist. I’m highly suspicious of “experts” who write books espousing their simple, three-step approach to a conflict-free marriage. It’s not that I don’t believe that there are tools and practices that can greatly aid in developing healthier ways of communicating. But anyone who says that it’s possible to have a conflict-free relationship, well, I just don’t buy it. And I believe that setting up that expectation is part of what entrenches the conflicts further, for as soon as you hook into the belief of, “This shouldn’t be happening,” it’s a quick downward spiral to shame.

If you’re in an intimate relationship with anyone – friend, child, parents, partner – you will butt heads. It’s helpful to learn skills, like walking away as soon as someone is triggered, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes you’re in the car or on vacation, and you’re forced to stay in proximity when one or both of you has been overtaken by the dark side. So you do your best to plod through it. You remind yourself that, as horribly awful as it is to be in conflict with someone you love, it’s also a sign that you’re in relationship with someone you love – which means that you have love in your life. And with love comes tension. With love comes extremely high levels of discomfort. With love comes projection, which can lead to a feeling of hate. And with love comes, if you take it as such, the opportunity to deepen your awareness of yourself and others, to learn how to give and receive love more deeply. It’s a rough path at times, for sure. I’m not sure why, but this seems to be the way that we grow best. When the storm passes, there your beloved sits, face clear and heart open, and you revel in gratitude for this path of love and learning and growing that you’re on together.

24 comments to Still Learning

  • Simone

    Gorgeous post as usual Sheryl! I love the whole concept that were all still learning! When I have good days of anxiety I somehow think I’ve stumbled upon the answer and found my way and then Only to be led by a setback like today.For the past while ive been doing really well. More confident that i love my partner and that i want to be with him and getting better at not putting energy into the fear thoughts, having much more windows of clarity. Ive also been working on and under-covering alot of the false beliefs i had about love that play a huge role in my anxiety.Finally i feel like iv worked through alot of my anxiety but last night i had a dream that me and my boyfriend broke up. I was extremely upset in the dream over this break up, and so was he and then when i woke i was extremely upset by the thought of breaking up with him and especially because i was doing so good, i dont know how to interpret this, am i lying to myself? is my unconscious trying to tell me that i dont want to be with him?. Around this time last year i was broken up with so i dont know if this may have anything to do with it? In the dream I cant figure out who broke up with who or if something happened to cause the break up, i just remember him saying ‘i hurt you’ which is crazy to me, because my partner is so loving and caring and always supportive and encouraging of me. Im just feeling very disheartened because I was doing so good, and now with this set back i dont know what to think your advice would be much appreciated x

  • Tina

    You nailed it. Beautiful. Your kids learned from your modelling that s**t happens. We can own that and apologize for it without drama and catastrophe. Love can take it.

  • sim1

    Beautifully written Sheryl. Ive been doing really well lately thanks to your blog. I love the concept of were all still learning. Sometimes when I have an anxious free day and im feeling good i think ive finally learned and ive finally got my answers! how foolish am i to think we ever stop learning! While ive had some really good days in the last while , last night I had a dream that me and my partner broke up, im not sure who broke up with who but i do remeber us both being very upset and also him saying ‘i hurt you’ which i dont understand because my partner is loyal, gentle, respectful and loving. This upset me so much in the dream and when i woke, as i had previously mentioned i was doing so well and now this dream has completely stumped me and has me feeling defeated. How can i go from feeling so good about my partner and I to having a dream about us breaking up. 🙁 It makes me feel like what if my subconscious is telling me that i dont want to be with him? or that im just lying to myself. Its very disheartening to have a setback like this after doing such hardwork to get to a good place finally. I just dont know how to interpret this.. also almost to this date, last year i was broken up with but i dont know if this has any significance to the dream. Any input would be greatly appreciated Sheryl. Hope you and your family are well 🙂 x

  • Esther

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl..
    I don’t have all the answers.. I really like that.. Your only human. Yesterday my husband and my mum went out for lunch in a shopping centre and me and my mum felt looking eating something healthy as usual. So we decided to order noodles at a Japanese place and on the menu wasn’t happy what she saw. She ordered this soup with pork in it and when she tasted she didn’t like it. I also bought Japanese and I didn’t like the fried chicken which I didn’t expect. So I ate the rice only. I bought something else for my mum. She didn’t like that as well. The chicken wasn’t fresh and the rice was oily not steamed. So, I got annoyed not with my mum but with the service. I felt so anxious. And while we were in the car on our way home. My mum thought I was upset with her and I told her not with her. I understand my mum has problems eating some foods. Anyway, my husband said don’t worry angela is moody with everyone and I felt bad and upset because it’s this anxiety that makes me feel frustrated. So I lashed out at him. And silence throughout our journey home. It’s only normal to argue. Even though we hate it. If we keep it inside it will build up. We said our Sorrys and its forgotten. Does anxiety cause high blood pressure sheryl?

    • emilyclaire

      Hi Angela,
      I’m obviously not Sheryl or an expert of any sort but I do know for a fact that anxiety can cause high blood pressure.

      If you’re experiencing this side effect you may want to see a doctor. Take care of yourself!

  • emilyclaire

    I really needed to hear this right now. I went to a comedy show- of all things- this weekend and the guy was talking about how couples who fight a lot or fight on vacation should just break up. Of course, my partner and I fought that night. And, while I was able to remind myself that this man was not an expert and fighting is normal, its amazing how the idea of “should” slip in. We talked through it and are now resting with the reality that we don’t agree about everything. And that’s okay!

  • MB

    Great post-thanks for being so candid, Sheryl.
    And I love the comment a post above states succinctly: sh*t happens!
    Lol-and w/ the pressures of kids, work, etc, marriages cannot be conflict-free… impossible!
    In fact, sometimes my husband and I have the larger arguments on weekends, vacations, etc, because there is less work etc to distract from the larger issues-
    And the ‘saturday night fight’ is sometimes the best gift b/c there is actually time to discuss the issues, mend and heal-
    Versus a weeknight/non-vacation time where there is pressure to either wrap it up quick and move on (usually at expense of exploring and resolving the larger issue).
    Space is needed w/ fights-gives a minute to be thorough about the situation and really move on from it-
    Thanks for sharing-
    And excellent point about kids seeing the healing/reconciliation part.

    • Yes, MB, I completely agree that sometimes being away actually invites the demons out of the closet. The part I didn’t include was that my husband and I talked that night about the argument and I asked him if he thought there was any value in having a big fight like that. He said, “Well, studies show that Italian couples are healthier than many others because they get everything out into the open.”(Of course, he’s half Italian so he speaks from personal genetic coding ;)). I do see that a big fight can clear the air for a couple, much like a big cry does for an individual. Sometimes there’s just no pretty way to get it out so thatthe deeper areas of growing edge can be revealed.

  • Wonderful post Sheryl. Well timed for my own synchronicity. It’s so easy to go down the slippery shame slope. It’s so helpful to hear wise folks like you normalize the ups and downs of calm and upheaval in relationship. Thank you.

  • Angela

    Hi Emily,
    Thanks for your help it’s nice of you:)
    I’ve asked doctors in the past if anxiety causes high blood pressure and they all give me different answers.
    I have a new doctor now so I will ask her tomorrow.
    Thanks again 🙂 take care

  • Nina

    I love the insight that your relationship is only a teenager (or whatever age it is). Doesn’t it often seem like we think oh if you’re getting married you know it all or ir YOU yourself are a certain age than a relationship should work b/c of that. Very nice to remember!

  • Rae

    We are not perfect people so cannot expect our relationships to be perfect either. My stuff finds its way into my relationship as does my boyfriend’s stuff, and it is up to us to choose to handle that mix of stuff-times-two with grace and love or mess and ego. Sometimes we make ourselves proud and other times we don’t.

    Although it was only an undercurrent of your message, I want to thank you for shedding light on the fact that “helpers” of various sorts have not reached some mountain peak where there are concrete solutions to our relational challenges, but are humans with imperfections too who can offer helpful insights but not solve our problems for us.

    This is why you have so many followers, Sheryl. You say it like it is, mean what you say, live by what you say, and never pretend to have it all figured out…..or maybe you do have it figured out precisely because you know you don’t have it figured out and you are okay with that. 🙂 So refreshing, so honest, so evolved!

  • I love this post. So comforting and helpful. “When the storm passes, there your beloved sits, face clear and heart open, and you revel in gratitude for this path of love and learning and growing that you’re on together.” Yes, yes, and yes 🙂 Thank you Sheryl!!

  • Elise

    Hi Sheryl,
    I’m a new reader to your site and I wanted to tell you how incredibly helpful it has been to me. I’ve been married for four years, and actually have just recently started to have feelings to relationship anxiety-have I chosen wrong, do I love him enough, have I been blind for four years and now I see the truth that I shouldn’t be with him? I know in my heart that I love hi and want to build a family together, but these swirling thoughts in my mind scare me! I question myself and why I’m even thinking those thoughts. This site has been my pillar of strength during these hard times filled with much relationship anxiety. I especially love this post, and the final few sentences about the storm passing, and there your beloved sits. My husband has been so good through my path through anxiety, so patient and understanding as I battle with my own mind and thoughts. I am so grateful , though sometimes I fell like I blame him for my troubles, for him just being here with me on life’s journey and so grateful to have his love in my life. Thank you so much for your insight each week! It truly has helped me so much.

  • Nicole

    Hello Sheryl. I love your website. I came from a divorced family where my dad wasn’t very nice. I’m with a guy who loves me and our son and takes care of us and is a great man. I never had a infatuation stage with him and I constantly doubt my love for him. My constant questions are “am I in love with him” “is this true love” “should I feel something more” I’ve had constant doubts for about 8 months we have been together for almost 3 years. I have questioned It from the beginning bc he was a nice guy and maybe that pushed me away. I do have anxiety and have panic disorder under control. Just curious how do you know when you aren’t in love or if your feelings are correct? The thought of not being with him is saddening and there are times that I look at him and feel in love. It’s shortlived before I start doubting everything all over again any input is appreciated. Also … I always dreamed about being in love and getting married and now I’m so scared. I’m not engaged but it is something we have talked about and it makes me nauseous.

  • As anyone else gotten soo tired of going on the internet / Facebook and seeing people posting ways to know your in love or you’ve met the “one” and if you don’t have more then half of what they say it should be then your in a “bad” relationship and it’s crazy things like you miss them every time they leave or every time you see their face you smile or get turned on , and people believe that , some people even say if you don’t have that within a year you should move on and break up , these are the type of post / people that make me nervous and gives me anxiety even when I’m good a minute before right when I read stuff like that I feel the uneasy and ugly uncomfortable feelings that makes me want to hide away and not be touched by the ones I loves , it’s tiring to keep your head straight with all this stuff on the internet , it’s like people only see relationship like its white and black there’s no In-between , it’s either you have or you don’t and that what’s making me soo upset …. Does anyone have advice about this sort of thing . Any tips that could help ???

    • Karina

      Hi Jaimie…

      I think we all know exactly what you mean. It also makes me anxious, especially I don’t have any experience whatsoever. And what people post is exactly what I expect and want to have with my boyfriend :-(…. consequently I am getting anxious and sad and jealous. Sometimes also angry and I think that if they all knew what real love is, then why are there so many couples breaking up? But again there’s also a lot of jealousy in it. So I am not sure whether that helps.

      All the best