When I was a little kid, it seemed like I did everything with my older brother. I was just like any of the other kids from the neighborhood. We would all seem to find a rallying spot at some point in the day and figure out if we were going to play football, Capture the Flag (we called it “Flag Game”), Kick the Can, or whatever. At that age, I never paused to wonder if I would have considered my brother to be my “friend” or if we were close. We were only a year apart in school, so we were invariably drawn together in various circumstances.
But then middle school, high school, and college rolled around, and it quickly became clear that no matter what we were before, we were now anything but close. I don’t really remember even any conversations with him from those years. We didn’t fight or have sibling rivalry; it wasn’t like that. We just seemed to live in completely different worlds, even as we sat right next to each other at the table or in the car. My brother drove me to school for a couple of years in high school, and I don’t remember ever talking to him during one of those rides. That seems so weird when I think about it now. I will save the sociological and psychological analyses of how our society socializes boys and the communication patterns of adolescents for another post, but suffice it to say that during those years, I was totally invisible to my brother.
With all of that as background, you might be shocked to learn that by the time I arrived in my mid-20s, the same guy that completely ignored me for more than a decade had become something of a hero to me and one of the people I most enjoyed talking to in this world. That has continued to this day, and even though I don’t talk with him very often—a recurring theme with even my very closest relationships—there is still no one I would rather get a call from. We can instantly dive into a topic, and there is a mutual respect, admiration, and interest in the other person’s thoughts that I never would have dreamed possible when I was 16 and invisible. It is one of the greatest discoveries and gifts of my life, this late-blooming relationship.
My brother and I somehow managed to find the RESET button on our Relationship Remote Control, and we both chose to press it simultaneously. Nobody was holding any grudges from childhood, so we kept what we admired and otherwise gave each other a clean slate. It was as though we stepped off of our separate flights, found each other at the gate, and chose to bypass the baggage claim as we stepped into our new relationship. When I look back at our story from this distance, I can see how hitting RESET and really giving the relationship a fresh start was quite feasible. There is a tremendous divide between childhood and adulthood in terms of how we act in and care for relationships. So many childhood friendships are accidental, a product of whose team you were placed on or who sits next to you in school. As an adult, we bring a little more of an opinion to the game. We are intentional. We choose. And we are also able to see that so much of what happened as kids was so totally unimportant. Think about it: do you remember the specifics of your relationship drama from when you were 15, and do you still hold that against the other person now? More than likely, if that person somehow re-entered your life today, you would take a fresh look and see if they are worthy of your time and friendship, and go from there. Friendships that pass from childhood to adulthood can be restarted and happily go the distance.
But what presses on my mind today is not a mere friendship and it is not a lifelong relationship. I want to know if a marriage or other adult romantic relationship can really hit RESET. When we agree to become life partners, we sign onto a tremendously complex and fluid organism that is our relationship. People grow together or they grow apart, and the commitment to grow together is an admirable but incredibly challenging one. Once we get past that blissful, falling-in-love phase and settle into the reality of an actual life together, things get interesting. Adorable idiosyncrasies shift in the direction of annoyances, and things we once looked past now seem to dominate the scenery. Some of the luster gets scraped off that superhero we built our partner up to be at the beginning, and that disappoints us—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
And life happens. You go through tough stuff together, whether it is the loss of a job, a death in the family, or just a really bad fight between the two of you. These things deepen the relationship, but they also leave scar tissue. Baggage. Our partner becomes inextricably intertwined with these things, though. We come to know them in so many different ways. With that, of course, comes knowing their weaknesses and their insecurities. We know how to hurt them, and—sometimes more importantly—we are keenly aware that they hold the power to hurt us. Everyone silently hopes for a continuous cease-fire, as we have all been witness to at least one divorce that turned evil, a testament to the power we have to either protect or completely shatter our partner’s heart. Most of us are happily in denial of the fact that in a long-term, committed relationship, we are walking on the razor’s edge between being the object of our partner’s loyal love and the object of their unbounded hatred.
For me, life seems to unfold in front of me as a direct reflection of my thoughts about it. I believe we see what we expect to see. If we think of the world as inherently beautiful and people as inherently kind and generous, we find examples of that in our day. If we think of the world as cruel and people as selfish and rude, we will just as surely find examples of both as we go about our business. The world presents itself the way we expect it to, and what we focus on shows up more often in our space. The question, then, is: What do you choose to focus on? What do you expect to see?
You might be asking, “What does any of that have to do with my restarting my relationship?” You see, as I said above, we come to know our life partners from so many different angles. We see all of the charming and admirable stuff that we fell in love with—the person we wanted to show off to friends and family—but we also see that other stuff that we wish they would be, and the annoying parts, too. Their portrait becomes a lot more complex. So, what do you choose to focus on? From what angle do you choose to view them? It is a choice, after all. I am not talking about burying your head in the sand and living in denial of issues that really need to be addressed. I am talking about dumping your baggage, grudges, and competition, and seeing anew the qualities you fell in love with, and MORE. I am talking about going in with eyes wide open—not ignoring the things you wish they would change but accepting them as part of the package that you dearly love—and choosing to focus on the good.
I suppose this is where this question goes from the micro to the macro level. It is as much a Life question as it is a relationship question: Can you take the brighter view? Can you choose to focus on the positive? Can you accept the parts you wish were different because they belong to a whole that is amazing and admirable and worthy of love? It is no small task. It requires discipline and a willingness to start every day with the proper focus, with your heart and mind centered in a generous and loving place. That’s tough. But ask yourself: “Is the great love of my life worth it?” I think you already know the answer. I know I do.
How about you? Do you have a relationship that needs to be restarted? Open up your journal and dig in. Who is it with? While I was stuck on the idea of restarting a romantic relationship, you don’t have to be. I think a parent-child relationship is another wonderful and challenging option, actually, as one party has been an adult the entire time and one may have transitioned from childhood to adulthood and is ready to be viewed as such. What parts of your partner are the most appealing and admirable? Why did you love them so much in the first place? Are those qualities still there? Which of their characteristics do you most wish you could change? Is anything on that list a deal-breaker on its own? How about the collection taken as a whole: too much to handle? Is there something on this negative list that must be addressed with your partner before you can start the relationship over in your mind? Which ones do you just need to get over? Can you focus on the good stuff? Can you give them a break? Can you let go of the grudges? Can you wake up tomorrow looking for their goodness? Can you love the whole, complex package? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready for a relationship RESET?
Live the way you want to be remembered,