Above: Me before the Work.
A potential Inquirer in the Intimacy Intensive – Partners Class writes:
“It sounds like doing the Work lets my partner off the hook. Why should I be the one to change when he’s the one who is wrong? I’m tired of always being the better person.”
This is a common question of people who are in pain and intrigued by the promise of the Work – freedom – but skeptical that it really could deliver.
The short answer is, yes, doing the Work does let your partner off the hook.
The longer answer begins: It lets him off the hook, but aren’t you tired of holding him up there?
It is exhausting to feel resentful and ill-used all the time! Even when you manage to push your discontent aside, it still sits there – switching metaphors now – like a big rock in your living room. It doesn’t belong there, but still you arrange the furniture around it and contort yourself to accommodate it every time you make a move.
For me, the implacable object was my husband’s anger. Or so I thought. The truth was that I was afraid of anger, full stop. (It could have been anything. What’s the thing you keep finding in relationship after relationship?) Because I lived with him, his was the anger I encountered most often. I suppressed my own. But I thought he was the problem.
At the School for the Work, Katie told us to look up at a light fixture. We did. She said, “Keep looking. Just wait.” As I waited – I didn’t know for what – I started noticing how dusty the fixture was, how dated. She said, “The judgments come, don’t they? Look at anything long enough, and the judgments will come.”
I laughed, but this is what we do to the people we love, because we look at them the most. What else could explain why your hateful mother-in-law is the most beloved member of her gardening group? Or why your son, who must be reminded every single day, twice a day, to brush his teeth, is his teacher’s responsible, dependable right hand man?
Or why, in our 22 years together, I have been pulled aside so often by my husband’s coworkers and told how much they appreciate his sense of humor, good cheer, and positive leadership?
I scooted around what I believed to be my husband’s problem by lying to him. With the best of intentions, I lied. I hid things from him, told half-truths and slant truths. The truth always came out anyway, and then I would freeze in fear, cringing and cowering. He was baffled. Why did I feel so threatened? I also made it my job to keep him happy and took it personally whenever he was not. He became afraid to express himself – upsetting me was too exhausting.
Then one day, after a weekend of reading Loving What Is, I simply responded differently to an angry outburst of his. (I tell the story in “The Four Words That Cracked My Marriage Open”).
Rather than scooting around the implacable object and maintaining it there, I looked at it. Friend, it had my fingerprints all over it. I put my weight against it to see how it might budge and found some cracks. I investigated those cracks and found that, with just a little pressure, the whole thing fell apart. It wasn’t what I had thought at all! I was happy to sweep up the rubble. We could both move more freely now.
The process of looking, feeling, finding cracks, and investigating them is, of course, the Work. In the Work, you take your critical eye off your partner and look at your thinking instead.
Guy shouldn’t be angry. Really? Ever? Even when I lie to him?
Guy should always be happy. In what universe?
Guy should always appreciate everything I do for him. Do I always appreciate everything he does for me?
I have no idea what truths you are going to discover when you investigate your judgments of your beloved in the Intimacy Intensive – Partners Class. But I do know this: with the merest pressure – an open, curious mind – your judgments will fall apart and you will feel more clear, empowered, grounded, loving, and free, as well as less stuck, frightened, powerless, resentful, bruised, aggrieved, and victimized.
That’s a great place from which to deal with any problem, if any remains.