Elephants and Roller Coasters: Choosing Partnership in the New Year

Date Posted: December 28, 2015
Elephants and Roller Coasters: Choosing Partnership in the New Year

I consistently see couples who avoid addressing obvious issues between them out of fear of the repercussions. They don’t want to risk the loss of their relationship. Some of the most common reasons I hear to justify avoidance are “She will be too hurt if I try to talk about our sex life again” and “He will be too angry if I try to address my frustration with our spending habits” and “Talking didn’t make a difference in the past, so why should I bother now?” and “I thought you said it was wrong for me to try to change my partner?”

Reasons such as these may be valid and true, but if you want the goodies that come from radical honesty in your partnership, then you have to be willing to hop on the roller coaster. You have to be willing to disrupt the status quo. Of course, forcing yourself to face issues you’ve grown accustomed to living with can be very uncomfortable. If you’re not ready to fasten your seat belt and go for the ride, then the alternative is to make peace with things as they are. As you probably already know, doing that is harder than it sounds.

It’s really not my business to decide the depth of intimacy or level of transparency a couple should have with each other. But when I hear a couple sincerely asking for more from each other, I say it’s time to get brave and call out the elephants in the room. This is the price you have to pay to earn greater connection, and to be known more deeply by your partner.

I didn’t build the roller coaster. My job as a therapist is to take the ticket you bought, make sure the ride doesn’t break down, and commit to hanging on tight for as long as you want or until the ride is over. As I said, it isn’t going to be comfortable. Think of holding hot coals in your hands until they cool down. Outing your elephants can bring up scary feelings, mindboggling confusion, and large dollops of self-doubt. You may have to tolerate unexpected, irrational fighting between you and your partner to get to the other side.

To assess whether you are a “keeping the elephants” type of person or a “roller coaster rider,” ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I avoiding dealing with elephants in the room because I’m afraid of change or because they don’t matter enough to me to bother?
  2. Will I have major regrets if I put up with elephants, while knowing in my heart my relationship deserves more?
  3. Am I afraid to talk about what is bothering me because I fear it will give my partner permission to pressure me about what is bothering him or her about me?
  4. Can I be truly happy and live comfortably with my partner if I decide I’m not willing to address the elephants in the room?

There are no right answers, just honest ones. At the end of the day, it’s better to know and accept where you stand—whether you’re okay with elephants living in your house or don’t want to tolerate them for one more minute—then to spend your life feeling like a hostage to your relationship. Either way, I suggest you take advantage of this transition into 2016 to decide what you might want to address with your partner, and when. Happy New Year!

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