Have you noticed, how the things we say change over time? One expression that seems to be popular right now is:
“We’ve had the conversation about..”
I have to say it is an expression that strikes fear into my heart.
You see, I always hear it in a very specific context; the context of people having a dialogue about their relationship, with a view to putting various – major – problems to bed.
The Conversation is something that can occur at any stage of a relationship, from the beginning to years and years in. Normally initiated by one parter, it is intended to sweep problems aside. You – I – could be tempted to argue that it is seen almost as the informal equivalent to the ‘prenup’. Once you’ve put that conversation in place, both sides will know exactly what is expected of them, and behave accordingly.
Except that it tends not to work like that.
In fact, it doesn’t work at all like that.
Having The Conversation is seen as resolving the issue when, in reality, it’s more like a box-ticking effort.
Your partner’s behaviour isn’t making you happy? Have The Conversation.
The issue of joint finances needs addressing? Have The Conversation.
You want more from the relationship than your partner is offering? Have The Conversation.
Surely, getting things out in the open and talking about them frankly has to mean you’re doing the right thing and addressing the issue(s) like adults?
Believe me, I’m all in favour of showing up in relationships as your adult self. Preferably on a consistent basis.
(Did you sense that “but” hovering on the tip of my tongue?)
Having the adult, box-ticking Conversation is not the same as dealing with an issue as a pair of enlightened adults.
All my years helping women with relationship difficulties points to one, massive problem: most people don’t consistently show up in their relationships as adults.
Intimate relationships are testing. You start off fuelled by infatuation, lust and pheromones. You walk on air and you are – quite literally – cushioned from the jolts of everyday life by the wonderful cloud of feel-good chemistry.
Sadly, that wonderful cloud has a limited life expectancy.
During the first phase of the relationship that feel-good cloud is self-generating.
And then it stops being self-generating.
At which point it’s all down to the two of you.
But the two of you still have the old hurts, fears, and frailties you had before that wonderful chemical cocktail kicked in.
Of course, losing that chemical high can be a bit of a downer, all by itself.
So, picture this: you’re feeling down, and so is your significant other – for whatever reason(s).
How likely is it that The Conversation you had a while back will be at the forefront of your mind? And, just supposing it is, do you really think it is going to eclipse the down feelings you – and he – are feeling right now?
Reason and wishful thinking may well say: “Yes!”.
Experience and reality say otherwise.
The Conversation was just that: a conversation, that occurred in a particular moment, and a particular context.
Unless, of course, the two of you committed to implementation, and accountability. Notice the really powerful “C” word here: committed.
How do you spot that commitment?
Commitment is all about H-O-N-O-U-R-I-N-G whatever it is you have committed to.
That’s not the way The Conversation usually works. Usually, it’s treated more like a promissory note that you shove in a safe deposit box, or the proverbial ‘bottom drawer’.
Promises are words that can easily be broken – and often are.
Unless you know for a fact that you’re with someone who will always stand by their word, even when it’s difficult; and the same holds true of you, too. – as do the remarks that follow
The Conversation, to paraphrase the wonderful Grouch Marx, is only ever worth the paper it’s written on if you are with someone whose word is their bond, whose deeds are consistent with their words.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been having The Conversation with someone who can always find reasons why – on this occasion – what they agreed to doesn’t have to be binding, The Conversation is worthless.
That’s why it’s likely not enough to have The Conversation.
You need to be with someone who you know well enough to know that they will honour what they commit me. Otherwise The Conversation can be very misleading indeed.