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Authentic Partnership: ten years and counting

What started out as romance 10 years ago has turned into an ever-evolving journey of authentic partnership.

Harlan and his travelling companion Paro!

It was Labour weekend 2007 that Harlan made the bold move to come over to the Sunshine Coast, Australia, to visit me. We’d met two weeks before I was booked to fly to Brisbane and go and work my way up the East Coast for an indefinite amount of time. We’d clicked, but my Inner Mean Girl was worried that he might be wasting his time flying over two months after I’d left when we didn’t really know each other.

We kept in touch via letters as I spent time working in backpackers in Noosa and Rainbow Beach, and the closer we got to Labour weekend the more excited I was! Harlan hired a Wicked Campervan from Brisbane and I met him in Noosa to share three days together. There was lots of swimming, exploring, talking, lounging and passion. A day or two in I asked him if he wanted to come to Australia and go travelling with me. He thought about it over a shower and decided “Yes!”.

Taking off in our newly acquired camper-van (Maxine)

He flew home and gave notice on his job, and a few weeks later I flew back to NZ to find a job and start saving for our trip. In May 2008 we arrived in Brisbane together to begin our three-year long working adventure in Australia.

In these ten years there’s been so much adventuring, learning, loving, laughing, planning, deepening, and fun! There’s also been disagreements, fights, emotional stretching, some days where we both want to walk away in different directions, frustration, and a lot of extra tricky navigation because of my healing journey.

But through that all, we’ve kept communicating.

We’ve maintained communication, even if sometimes it’s one pushing for it and the other pulling back. Even if it takes a few days to open up. There’s been raw, open honesty, and the strong desire for connection. When it’s been deeply, frighteningly tough, we’ve come back to that base of communication and also injecting a little humour and lightness, even if it takes tears, space and frustration in between.

You see two years after we met we attended a couples’ workshop (with Harville Hendrix) in Melbourne to provide us with some specific communication tools. We also read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and then last year went to another couple’s workshop in New Zealand called Emotionally Focussed Therapy. We didn’t go as a last resort. We didn’t go seeking these tools because our relationship was broken and needed fixing. With my mum being a psychologist and all, I learned that: communication tools are important before you hit emergency mode at the bottom of the cliff (in any relationship).

The thing is, we weren’t given the handbook for how to navigate authentic partnership with another whom we share our life with.

We weren’t handed out the tools when we left school and told “here you go – use these to navigate your relationship and they’ll really help you through the times when everything isn’t ‘easy’ and in the ‘flow’. So these decisions were made because we knew we needed this and also sometimes needed a mediator to help us through trickier topics.

For my own journey I’ve gifted myself with regular counselling in the last couple of years. By default, of course, it has filtered out into my partnership with Harlan. The more I have developed my self-awareness and self-honesty, the more I am able to own my stuff, and the more I can show up in this relationship without a whole bunch of unnecessary heavy baggage and make Harlan pay for crimes he didn’t commit.

During this journey I have also realised that I need to be able to give myself what I need instead of expecting those things from Harlan. Sometimes when I’ve been lonely and desperate for company it’s been because there is a hole of emptiness inside of me that I need to fill. But until I realised that, I was liable of lashing out and demanding more time with him and pushing him away. Or if I’ve been looking for acknowledgement, it’s because I haven’t yet acknowledged myself in the way that I desire. I can only fully and truly receive from Harlan what I already give to myself.

I’d love to say, that with these tools, learnings and insights it’s become easy and breezy – but I would be talking nonsense.

A lot of things have become easier though: when we find ourselves in our downward dance we are both able to identify it earlier and move ourselves back to connection; I am getting better at timing my ‘truth-telling’; Harlan finds open communication easier; we both own our parts more easily. And even though in that sweet romantic honey-moon phase in the early days there was less of the challenging and more of the fun, ten years into the journey our connection is so much deeper, fuller and richer.

I think a lot of us would like to think that love is the main ingredient for a strong relationship. But I’m of the belief that authentic partnership requires more than just love – otherwise we could end up partnering with many different people throughout life, right? It requires respect, openness, trust, and truth – not just with each other but also with ourselves. I believe it also requires patience, compassion, gentleness, and the knowing that we can’t change another.

Through the many, many dark days that I experienced on my recent healing journey, Harlan has been my rock, my dearest friend and often the only one I could share my painful space with! He has known when to use lightness and humour, and when to say nothing and just hold my hand or give me a hug. He has made me 100s of teas and allowed his t-shirt to dampen with my tears of despair.

I am so deeply grateful for Harlan!

In this space we have learned together – me how to more often ask for what it was that I needed (rather than expecting him to intuit it), and him that he didn’t need to fix me or offer solutions; me to be aware of taking my pain out on him, and him not to take my outbursts as personally.

And then sometimes we both get it really wrong, because we’re human. We’re all only human. And we’re all doing the best we can in each moment. Remember that! You are doing the best you can in this moment!

Hitting pause to take stock of your relationships (past or present), provides insight into what it is that you’ve learned and gained on this journey together. This insight is a powerful thing, because it brings awareness to things you can celebrate and also aspects that may need more exploring.

Are you willing to take stock of your relationships and what insights they’ve allowed you? Go on, I dare you xx

 

Navigating Relationships through Health Hiccups

Dear Harlan

Here we are, 8 years on, navigating relationships 🙂

kali-harlan-relationshipsThis time 8 years ago you and I were on a plane to Australia. We had adventure under our feet and the vast unknown ahead. We had no idea what it held in store for us, except that we were going to your Aunt Sue’s place on the Gold Coast. From there we would begin our search for a campervan and follow the season…head north with the winter to stay warm.

We had known each other for 9 months. We had been dating for 6 – you in Hamilton, me in Auckland. Meeting on the weekends in alternate locations. You’d accepted my offer about this mission while visiting me in Australia 7 months earlier. Did you want to join me on an exploration trip of Australia? Did you want to throw in your job of about 8 years? Apparently the answer was YES!

kali-water-spiritI wonder if you knew what you were getting yourself into back then. You fell head over heels in love with this girl. A stubborn, head-strong, opinionated girl whose free spirit could be alluring. Did you realise how head-strong? How critical she could be? NO! Otherwise you may have reconsidered your answer. Did you realise that together we would walk some of the most beautiful times, but also some of the hardest and harrowing? Most likely NOT.

harlan-anniversary-australiaDid I? NO! I didn’t even know if we could make it work at first, but I loved your handsome boyishness. Your deep and dimpling smile. Those blue eyes that sparkled and told me so much without you saying a word. I loved your desire for mischief and adventure. So travelling in a campervan together seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t sure though that we would be able to figure out our differences. Or should I say if I could figure them out. They didn’t bother you.

You see you are a very accepting person. Me, I have my moments. I’ve had a history of being very hard on myself, and as a result am very hard on those I love most. My expectations are sky high. Sometimes impossible to meet. I’ve had the tendency to create a vast and inviting space for Failure to step in and point out the unmet expectations. Usually with a whip…he’s not subtle that guy!

Relationships require work.

They are like anything in our lives. They need sustenance, nurture and nourishment. Regularly. Without it they wilt and sometimes wither away. My stubbornness is good for one thing. I’m a firm believer in communication and come hell or high water I’ve made sure its present. We attended an imago relationship weekend early on. It was all about dialogue – really hearing the other person and giving them the space to share their feelings without our own stories over the top.

Honestly, most of the time you play that game better than me. I think my opinion kicks in at the drop of a hat, and unless I’m reminded, I hear your words through my stories. You, on the other hand, often have the foresight to diffuse a situation by simply saying those magic wordsI hear you say… They’re like an instant cut to the gas of my vent. It helps me to realise what I actually want to say and then I don’t feel like I need to harp on. Thank you!

You know life happens and then suddenly you think Oh shit, that’s right, this relationship actually needs some servicing! Businesses need to be run. Bees need to be attended to. Chronic health issues cloud pictures. Homes need to be managed. And so it goes.

Relationships are the constant.

They make you grow. If you choose to of course. I want us to both grow together. I want our relationship to challenge me…gently. Us to challenge each other…gently. Like you, I have changed over the years and one of the up sides of coming home to myself through my health journey is that I have become more balanced (have I? ;)). I’m not as critical. I don’t live in fear of our differences. I realised that was my stuff, and the sooner I could start letting go of it the better.

When I feel more balanced the relationship flows more smoothly. When I am struggling with my own demons, navigating chronic pain or finding my way through health disappointments, debris is thrown into the river of our relationship. On so many levels.

Small things get bigger, big things are forgotten for a while and we go into cope mode.

I couldn’t have asked for a more compassionate, supportive person to walk this crazy healing journey with me. You are able to put aside the fact that many days I have been near on impossible to live with because of my pain, both physical and mental. You know when to hold me and when to leave me alone. Yes, you’ve used avoidance tactics at times, but who wouldn’t? I don’t know if I could have been as supportive if the roles were reversed. You are an outstanding example of a good man.

Today I sit here and reflect on that tongue of mine. We talked about it. It needed to happen. The judgments and criticisms I can throw at you. Sometimes they’re because I’m feeling critical of myself. Other times they’re because we haven’t checked in for a while and we need to air some things. And then sometimes it’s a mixture. Like today.

So today, 8 years on, I’m thinking of judgement. I realise it has no place in relationships. It’s not usually a very pretty emotion, and so I wonder if I can morph it into something more productive. What if I dig deeper and see where it’s coming from? Is it just my stuff, or is it related to stuff we need to navigate our way through together with the wonderful tool of communication?

kali-harlan-navigatingMaybe we could do with a little refresher. We could call on our experienced mediator to guide us through this part of our journey. We haven’t seen her for years. Maybe now is the time. Surely not many couples could still love each other so much after what we’ve been through. What I’ve been through. What you’ve been through. The focus has been on my health journey, but I think people often forget to ask you how you cope with it. You are just as much in it as I am, but in a different capacity. Your life has also been seriously altered as a result of this fistula.

I have so much support on so many levels. Do you have the support you need? I know we deal with things very differently. It’s one of our differences. And wisely you like to remind me that you’re not me, and I’m not you 🙂 But do you have the support you need? I know my full acceptance of you, as the incredible life partner you are, would go a long way. I will work on that. And maybe you can think about the support you might need from yourself or others.

And so together we grow…gently…

With love x