My wife and I have been a unit of coupledom for almost 35 years, and married for over 30 of those laps around the Sun.
We tend to function as a reasonably well-oiled relational machine, the blessings of which are not lost on either of us.
I don’t know what others see when they look in from outside. If I’m being honest, I don’t really care all that much. We are ourselves and others are not.
We’ve got a sound foundation upon which we’ve constructed a solid house, and it is good.
And like any solid house under any sky, sometimes storms happen…
Recently, one did.
I’m not going to share the whole story, because this ain’t a tell-all confessional. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, the details of our meteorological events aren’t that important. They aren’t the wingbeats of butterfly wings that morph into monsoons thousands of miles away.
Unless they do.
What might be noteworthy is this: Rather than dig in and brace against what’s coming, we do our best to open the windows wide when the storms arrive.
If you’re thinking water-damaged interiors, hang with me as I paint a different scene.
One of the hallmarks of learning systems – you know, relationships, organizations, cultures – is that they find ways to navigate the obstacles that come their way.
That isn’t about mystical powers of prescience. Rather, those systems have developed and tuned their capacities to meet moments of disruption with open eyes and open hearts.
From my point of view, the leaders (or partners) of such systems carry a blend of pragmatism, realism, and idealism. Realism recognizes that storms will come. Pragmatism knows the storms will have to be dealt with. Idealism understands that growth and learning come from acceptance of – and engagement with – all of it.
They also possess a disciplined command of curiosity and more than a touch of genuine humility.
Even the most intimate partners, because they are individual human beings, live in different worlds. Unless one is psychic, it’s impossible to ever know what’s going on in the mind and heart of another. That’s not a bad thing, it’s simply one of many ingredients that make close relationships as challenging as they are fulfilling.
Away from fairytales and Hollywood, relationships are messy.
But closing and locking the windows doesn’t stop the storms from coming, it only makes the house tight and stuffy.
So the windows stay open, the winds do their thing, and in time the clouds move through and go their stormy way.
We do our level best to visit each other’s worlds, to see our own (and one another’s) choices, actions and impacts in the light of day.
Yeah, sometimes this stuff is sucky, muddy and painful. Not unlike being human – compounded by the fact that the other one in the mix is also human.
At the same time, it always – always – leads somewhere better and, thank goodness and including the human element, we’ve become more skillful.
Time, practice, and an understanding that each of us holds full ownership and responsibility for the relationship has, I believe, made the difference.
Here’s the thing: We all know folks who’ve locked their windows, did their best to avoid foul weather, pretend it didn’t exist or, worse yet, believe themselves above it all. To say this sort of thing is tough to witness or, for that matter, sustainable, is nothing if not understatement. (Mary Tyler Moore did a brutally brilliant job portraying a character locked into all four in “Ordinary People.”)
Yeah, this stuff is going to happen and it’s going to require energy, attention and focus.
Moving through whatever shows up is do-able, providing one is willing to let go of the need to look good and/or always be right.
Danielle and I didn’t get this far accidentally. We most certainly did not learn in a vacuum or by ourselves. We’ve had more than a little help and, to this very day and for the foreseeable future, continue to do our work together and individually.
And, by the way, today’s speedbumps would have been yesterday’s high brick walls…
And with that, I wish you, your organizations, and your relationships all the goodness you can handle – and a few speedbumps along the way.
Let me know how you handle them.