How small unconscious behaviors can wound a relationship
Without Sight, You Can Really Feel
Opaque — Dining in the Dark, that’s the name of the restaurant along with its catchline.
“Opaque is enhancing our senses of taste, smell, touch, and hearing by abandoning one that we often take for granted”
It’s a fun, exciting concept where you spend an hour or two having dinner completely in the pitch-black. You are served by blind or visually impaired individuals specially trained to guide you through an unsighted experience.
Without your sight, all of your other senses are heightened
But without your sight, all of the clues we give each other are also blinded. That’s the night I first experienced relationship paper cuts. I didn’t know that is what was happening in front of me at that time. What I did know was how I felt sitting across the table from the bickering couple.
These were friends. A couple we had gotten to know as parents of kids around the same age as mine. They were your typical suburban couple. In the light of day, they were the same as every other couple I had seen. Including me and my now ex. We all acted the same. All did the same things: took kids to sports, helped with homework, had jobs, went to the supermarket, played in the yard. Everyone acting in the same normal fashion as all the other couples.
But what we were doing to each other without know it was creating little cuts in our relationships. And that night at Opaque I got to feel it first-hand for the first time.
You know those little stories you tell about your partner. Those little deprecating stories of how they squeeze the toothpaste just the wrong way. Or how they leave their socks on the floor, or leave not enough coffee in the pot so you have to clean it but not enough for you to drink.
It’s those stories. Those dismissive, passive-aggressive stories, that partners tell about each other in public all the time. All couples do it. In fact, when it comes to being a couple, these paper cuts are so accepted that
Dissing your partner has almost become sport
But those stories hurt. They show your partner in a bad light. They demonstrate to the world that you are angry. That it is alright to make fun of your partner, in public no less. They are slashes that leave wounds. They leave marks. They make your partner not feel safe around you when you should be the one person they always feel safe around.
They go precisely against the concept of
Praise in public, critique in private
That is a time-honored leadership creed. It is worn well by many a leader. You know why? Because when you critique or criticize your partner in public you shame them. You shine a light on their flaws. You’ll feel it. You’ll know it.
How will you know it?
Because your partner will become defensive. They’ll start to justify how their toothpaste squeezing is not that bad and how you are making just too much of it.
Then they will go on the attack to give you a paper cut in return. To find a way to make you feel not enough. To find a way to return the shame wound you so easily gave them
That’s What I Felt That Night In The Dark at Opaque
That night, opposite the couple, I couldn’t see their faces, their body language, how they looked at each other. And you know what, neither could they. Without their sight, they couldn’t shoot a glance at each other that coolly said: “cut it out.”
Without their sight, they couldn’t rely on the non-verbal cues they typically used to shut each other's passive aggressive behavior down. So what I witnessed was the Truth with a capital T. What I witnessed was how they really felt about each other unmitigated by body language or cold stares.
What I witnessed was a knife fight between a married couple that was occurring every day without their awareness. An emotional knife fight that I am sure was taking a toll on their relationship
These back and forth cuts can create mortal wounds
Dr. John Gottman talks about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Not a biblical reference but the Four Horsemen of a Relationship Apocolypse:
These are the behaviors that when left unchecked will destroy a relationship.
Right there at the top of the list is Criticism. Criticizing your partner as an ad hominem attack. An attack on your partner at the core of their character.
That is what Paper Cuts do:
They criticize your partner’s character. In public.
Unconsciously creating shame, defensiveness and letting your partner feel unsafe
When enough of these paper cuts are struck on both sides of the relationship it will let the relationship bleed out. It will create mortal wounds. And at some point, someone will be done with the knife fight and walk away.
We Are Unconscious of Paper Cuts
We’ve all done it. We’re not even aware that we are doing it. Don’t feel ashamed or bad that you’ve done it in the past. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. It’s a cultural phenomenon.
We don’t recognize that we are doing it at the time the words leave our mouths.
But it’s time to be more conscious of not only our words but our actions.
Not All Couples
Earlier I said, “All couples do it.” Well, not all couples. Beloveds don’t cut each other. Beloveds recognize and are conscious not to slice their relationship open. It’s not a better or worse thing. It is just a conscious thing.
It’s a wanting to savor your relationship thing.
It’s a wanting to make sure that your partner feels safe in the same room with you thing.
It’s a wanting to know that you are seen by your partner and they find the sweetest way to see your humanity, thing
Of course both partners, both beloveds, in a relationship have to coo about each other. It can’t be one-sided.
But when that happens. When both partners coo. Beloveds happen.
You can have any life you want. All you have to do is decide
Decide that you want to show the world the lovely sides of your partner.
Decide that you want to have your beloved glimmer in how they are reflected in your eyes.
Decide that your beloved ALWAYS feel safe by your side. Even in their most idiosyncratic ways.
If you decide to drip sweet words of affirmation in public, not only will you avoid paper cuts, but you will find a partner who truly stands still while you show the world their beauty.
And in return, instead of a bloody mess, you will find a blossoming you never thought possible
So decide. Decide you will
NEVER EVER GIVE ANOTHER PERSON A PAPER CUT
Talk about problems in private. Get rid of the passive aggressiveness. Work it out in private.
Let your partner glow with you in public. I promise the most beautiful of magic will happen.
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