Stand with your feet comfortably together. Take one foot and stick it out in the direction you want to go until you throw yourself off balance. Then, at the last instant, when you’re about to fall on your face, bring the other foot forward to stop yourself from falling. Repeat this dangerous operation as long as it takes to get where you’re going.
When you think about walking this way, it’s a wonder anyone would try it. Why would you throw yourself off balance and risk injury when you could stand in one spot?
Because you want to get somewhere.
To get somewhere, you have to take chances and do things that you are unaccustomed to doing. Throughout the whole journey down the road to reconciliation you must do things despite an uncertain outcome. When you’re feeling like a victim, it’s not natural to see that you have power. When you’re self-righteous, it’s not natural to accept some blame. When you’re indignant, it’s not natural to be merciful. When you’re ashamed, it’s not natural to take responsibility. People who seek justice want it fast. It’s not natural to be patient with change. None of this is natural; but it’s also not natural to stay stuck and immobile.
What should you do if a Problem has taken over your relationship?
For starters, once you learn to tell the difference between the person you love and the Problem; walk towards the person and away from the Problem. If they’re inseparable, create Problem-Free Zones and walk there. Walk to get help and then walk with the help. Every step involves you taking a risk and doing what seems unnatural. When a Problem takes over, it’s natural to be taken hostage, unnatural to break free. It’s unnatural to trust a stranger. It’s unnatural to say that your loved one has become possessed by an alien being. It’s unnatural to acknowledge that your partner is divided in two and you’re only going to cook dinner for one of them.
What if your partner doesn’t walk with you?
What if, when you walk away from the Problem, you leave your loved one behind? Being in a relationship means you walk together. You and your partner are like two feet. Standing together, things are perfectly comfortable, but you can’t stand there forever. You want to try different things, be someone different, do something with your life, develop, grow. It’s inevitable. You’d feel stuck standing in one place too long. It’s static, suffocating. The blood pools in your legs. It’s bad for the heart. You must move or the whole world will leave you behind.
Healthy relationships cycle through two phases: comfort and growth, standing still and moving forward. When you first meet, you take great strides together as you get to know and accommodate one another. Then you get comfortable. The next thing that happens is one partner gets a wild hair to do something outrageous, uncharacteristic, and steps out into perilous space. In healthy relationships, they’re not afraid to do so, because they know their partner will follow. The partner will come along, like your other foot, and they will soon be safely in balance.
Healthy parent-child relationships are the same way. Generally, it’s the child who takes most of the first steps, wanting to be independent or to try some new thing. Good parents follow along, celebrate or adjust to the changes, and support their children. No one can be a good parent if they are not open to their child changing.
In unhealthy relationships, people are afraid to change. They wait around for the other to be ready before they take a step. They don’t want to be the first one to propose something. They don’t want to risk disconnection. Conditions must be perfect before they try.
Can you wait for your partner, your other foot, forever? Sad to say, people do. It happens all the time. But, whoever takes the step, sets the direction and the pace. The other has to follow or be left behind.
When a Problem enters a relationship, people get stuck waiting for their partner to change. If one of your feet is injured, the other foot takes the weight. You nurse the bad foot. You don’t go anywhere. Standing on one foot for a long period of time is very hard; just as hard as taking care of a loved one subsumed by a Problem, but you could do it for a very long time if you thought you had to. People have done it forever.
At some point, even a broken foot will be mended. The bone will fuse together, but the muscles will be weak, the tendons stiff, and the spirit uncertain. You’ll put weight on it gingerly and there will be some pain even though the bone is fine. Your first steps will be tentative. You might not even try, but it’s important that you do, because the other foot has been bearing the burden and is getting tired. When a Problem takes a person over, he doesn’t even try, even when he is able. He avoids pain, dodges uncertainty, and lets the other partner carry the weight, even when there’s no need.
So, if you’re the partner, in order to prevent the Problem from taking over, you will have to take a step. Distinguishing the difference between your loved one and the Problem, getting help, creating a Problem-Free Zone, and taking care of yourself are all important steps, but the most crucial is to grow. Don’t let the Problem prevent you from growing. When he sees you change, he’ll have to change with you or be left behind.
If he does get left behind, it’s as much his choice as yours. He’s choosing to remain with his Problem. He’s picking his Problem over you. When that happens, keep walking .