I recently moved to BC from Ontario with my partner of just over a year. We made the decision to relocate provinces after only a month of meeting each other. The catalyst for the move was his limited two-year working-holiday visa from the UK and not wanting to pass up an opportunity to ski in some of the best snow in the country.
Our relationship developed quickly and with far more ease than either one of us had previously experienced. Both rounding 30, we were painfully inexperienced in committed relationships, having chosen to spend most of our younger years studying and traveling, while paying little attention to our dating lives.
We found planning the move shockingly easy with little tension or disagreement. Neither of us had savings by the time we arrived in BC (HA!) and we moved in with a couple we knew well. My partner immediately jumped into a low paying job, while I spent the first several months working odd jobs and desperately looking for solid work- something I was not accustomed to doing.
Very quickly, the reality of our situation and the fragility of our new relationship became apparent. The stress of navigating a new city, low paying jobs, unemployment, less than ideal living conditions, etc… all hit us within days of arriving. It became apparent that our ways of handling change were drastically different. I am extroverted and rely heavily on my ‘people’ in times of stress. I need distractions, conversation, physical comfort and usually an afternoon of people watching in a crowded mall with my mom. My partner is an introvert and closes in on himself, often quite literally, when experiencing stress. He disconnects from others, puts his head down and naps frequently.
These opposing approaches to managing external changes instantly affected the dynamic of our relationship and the ease we previously felt was replaced with disconnect, confusion, isolation and conflict.
I found myself incapable of relating to his withdrawn behaviour, unable to accept that his coping strategies were effective in any way and feeling extremely volatile and confused. I was exhausted and quickly fell into old habits of being confrontational and unpredictable. Our first true blow out left me feeling shaky and unprepared for how to move forward without any support system and lacking confidence in my partner. I realized I needed to do something different, and dig deep for skills in order to put into place a better system for managing the conflict in our relationship.
This is when I found myself sitting in a course called “Building and Maintaining Resiliency” by Raj Dhasi of Turning Point Resolutions Inc. This marked the beginning of my journey as an individual and as part of a couple, navigating unmarked terrain and working through very raw conflict. What I learned and am working hard to apply, sometimes with success and sometimes not is:
- Honesty WITH GRACE is the best policy. Trying to avoid hurting my partner by guarding my raw feelings or withholding my disappointment in him was only prolonging the inevitable conflict and creating a wider gap in my connection with him. He can’t read my mind and he certainly can’t work with me to improve the relationship if I am not fully honest about difficult feelings. How I frame my comments to him though would determine his ability to listen. Adding grace to how I speak has become critical.
- I need to put my own oxygen mask on first! Raj’s course opened my eyes to the very real side effects prolonged stress was having on my neurological systems. I found myself identifying with far too many of the physical expressions of stress she was discussing. By not looking after myself and managing my own stress I was bringing a less than ideal version of myself, down to the cellular level, to my relationship.
- There is no glory in being an emotional martyr. I find myself often putting my own emotional needs second, third, sometimes ninetieth on the priority list. If I CHOOSE to do this I can’t get angry with my partner for not making them his first priority. I needed to develop a mature way of meeting my own needs instead of looking for my partner to do this.
- I needed to get creative. If my old patterns of managing stress and dealing with emotional issues with my partner weren’t working, I had to lay them aside and explore new options. This meant changing up parts of my daily routine, scheduling actual time for self-care and learning new ways of having old conversations.
This course ignited in me a desire to demand better for my relationship and myself. It gave me the wake-up call I needed to look at who I am in the relationship and hold myself to a higher standard. If I want my relationship to last the test of time, I need to become a more resilient teammate. I am trying every day as I move through conflict, change and even chaos.
This is the true story of a workshop participant.
We hope to welcome her back to share more of her journey.