Picture yourself and your partner washed ashore on a beautiful island, with blue skies and pristine water as far as the eye can see. When you look around, you notice old palm branches and dried seaweed strewn about in the sand. You see a forest full of trees, filled with raw materials that you could use to build a shelter for yourselves. You know that you and your partner need to start building, but you aren’t quite sure how to start. What you choose to do next could determine how well you both weather the coming storms on the island, as well as enjoy the beauty around you. What do you do?
In this first part of the “Building Your Beach House” series, we explore the analogy of the beach representing the life you and your partner will build together. The old debris on the shore represents your past wounds and life experiences. The forest in front of you is the raw material you can use to build your new home and life together. Before any materials can be gathered, or construction started, it is important to clear the “debris” to make a new and open space to build something together. The debris can show up in the form of past wounds, trauma, challenging family or past romantic relationships, or old patterns of behavior that no longer serve you.
It is important for each individual to first sift through the debris on the shore and figure out what belongs to them. While a partner can be there to lend a helping hand or offer support as their significant other picks up their debris, it is not in fact the partner’s to own or “fix” the other’s struggles. We are only in charge of our own past and current struggles.
What ultimately helps to clear a space for open communication and connection, is for each person to fully own and understand what they bring with them into the relationship. Sometimes, individuals choose to pick up their “debris” and find a way to heal from it, perhaps through therapy or other means. Other times, individuals might just own their “debris” in the moment. For example, in a difficult exchange between a couple, it might prove very helpful if one person says, “You know, I can see a part of myself showing up right now that feels very distrustful based on past experiences and I think that’s why I am reacting this way to what you said”. Right there, in that moment, when a person picks up a piece of debris from the shore and holds it out to their partner and says “this is mine”, it automatically opens up a space for their partner to see their wound, their trauma, or their struggle. Once the debris is seen, a partner can then acknowledge it and ultimately grow to understand their significant other on a deeper level. This type of understanding has the potential to lead to loving support of one another and hopefully a deeper connection.
When we are able to see and own our own struggles, and thereby see and acknowledge our partner’s individual struggles, we are able to see the person as a whole sum of their parts. With this deep understanding and acceptance of a partner as a whole person, struggles and all, comes the ability to build a strong and solid foundation for the home and thereby the life that you would like to build together. Be sure to check out my next blog in a few months which will further expand on this important concept of building a differentiated relationship, where all parts of yourself are welcome and partners can be loved and accepted exactly as they show up in the world.