I Can’t Even Pretend to Be Nice to You Anymore. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Years ago, a good friend of mine lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a while (cool, right?) and wrote for a newspaper in the tiny fishing village where the show “The Deadliest Catch” was filmed (REALLY cool, right?). She told me about one of the events she covered while she was there called the “Eskimo-Indian Olympics.” They’ve been doing it for 60 some years and the competitions test the athletes for qualities/skills that at some point in history would have been useful for survival; courage, persistence, strength, stamina, etc.

The most intriguing of the events is the “ear pull.” The competitors sit across from each other and have a loop of string that they both place behind their ear and they pull against each other until someone pulls the string off their oponent or someone gives up.

There is blood and pain. See below.

I’m guessing this event tests perseverance and stamina, fortitude, mind-over-matter-ness, self control, etc.

But, really, I think it’s a great test to see if you can withstand marriage.

Think about it. You’re stuck together with a bind. When one of you leans back, it impacts the other one and they have to lean forward or risk losing an ear.

OK, not that, maybe, but they have to lean with you, or risk pain. Your movements impact their movements, and vise versa. If you resist, it sucks for both of you. The more you test your own strengths and limits, the more the other person is impacted.

You could just both sit up straight quietly facing each other without pain or blood, but that’s not how either of you develop. That’s not how growth happens. Eventually you get bored and walk away.

In our experience, when one partner is going through a big personal change, the other partner, naturally, freaks out. We’ve been through this a couple times in our 20 years together. One of us has a huge revelation and starts growing in a new direction. The other person might be intrigued or proud on an intellectual level, but that change is going to impact them in very personal ways, and that’s scary. The change manifest in re-dividing home or child responsibilities, major family income changes, common interest changes, new friendships, new direction of identity or purpose, or new way of looking at life. These all shake up the status quo.

It’s exhilarating to explore your new self, but it can wreak some havoc on normalcy of the relationship. If you feel like you’re trying to grow and the other person is pulling back against you and you’re both in pain for it, you get resentful, like they’re holding you back.

“You don’t get me.”
“We’ve grown apart.”
“I can’t even pretend to be nice to you anymore.”

These are things I’ve said in the past few years as we’ve both gone through major changes. The last one was especially uncomfortable. What I’ve fought for, is that I don’t have to be less than what I am and that is 100% authentically me. If I’m not feeling connection, I can’t fake it. I tried. I felt like I was moving in new directions and he couldn’t come with me,  so I made nice about the distance. Then when that didn’t work, I made really NOT nice about the distance, now finally I’m trying to find a place in the middle where we can hear each other again. I let up on pulling back and he’s leaning in more. My insistence on protecting my growth will in the end be good for both of us, but man it burns on the way.

Our ears are barely hanging on by an ear thread. But it’s something. Hopefully it will be reinforced or replaced with something better by our continued work and marriage counseling.

What we’ve learned (are learning) is it’s the responsibility of the person going through the big transition to be patient, direct, clear, honest, tender and graceful to their partner and for the person witnessing the transformation to also be patient, direct, clear, honest, encouraging, and graceful as it happens.

Growth happens in each person through the course of a relationship, of course. Sometimes it happens in little spurts, sometimes in huge leaps. The relationship will have to be flexible and malleable and able to change with it,  or it will snap.

And you will lose an ear. DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU WILL LOSE AN EAR.

OK, enough big girl lessons we’re trying to learn today. Ugh.

Here are some Valentine’s Cards for long-term relationships that the Think Tank has helped me thunk up.

‘Oh, you’re still here.’
‘Thank you for making me coffee this morning. I guess the murder I had planned can wait until tomorrow.’
‘I love you even though you’re you.’
‘High-five for honoring contracts.’
‘Romance DID mean fancy dinners and intercourse. Now it means sharing the spoon in the peanut butter jar and binge-watching old sitcoms.’
‘I’m for sure not buying fancy underwear to impress you, but I did find that mustard you like on sale at the grocery store.’
‘You’re still better than dating strangers. Gross.’
‘Here’s a picture of the card I would have gotten you if we still celebrated.’
‘Instead of a card, I’m going to actually try in bed tonight. No, just kidding. Here’s  card with a pun about a train on it. That should help with your chronic disappointment.’
If you have others, please include them in the comments! 

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