It’s easy to let relationship drama threaten your love, here’s how a leadership perspective can save it.
I live at the bottom of a mountain that hosts at it’s top, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Sometimes, people fall in love there. Sometimes they break up. And every so often, they find their way to my office, down the mountain on their way home.
This happened recently with a woman I’ll call Joy. Joy met “Drew” at the monastery’s 2014 New Year’s celebration. Both divorced, talented artists, they seemed perfect for each other. One problem: They lived 3,000 miles apart.
They managed to keep their relationship long distance for the year. For the holidays, they rented a house near the monastery and spent three weeks together. Children from former marriages came and went. They meditated together. Hiked. Had a blast. And felt more deeply integrated as a couple.
But suddenly, the day before their three week stint would end, Joy came in for an emergency session. The good feelings were disintegrating. Suddenly, she found herself annoyed with Drew, and how all he talked about was his latest project. He seemed to be annoyed as well: pricking her insecurity by saying he was unsure of whether or not they were an intellectual match. Suddenly, as they were parting, both felt angry and unsure of their future together.
Joy was totally befuddled. It made complete sense to me.
Joy and Drew had three very intense things going on at once:
First, they were parting after a period of deep intimacy. Anger is a very popular emotional choice when separating from anything. It seemed to work when we were teenagers needing to find our own identity, and gave our parents the good ol, Fuck You treatment, and it has kind of stuck around as a default. It’s as if we believe that focusing on the other’s imperfections and leaving in a state of aggression will make the parting easier.
Second, they were in what I call the “testing phase” of the relationship. It usually occurs somewhere between 3 months to the 1 year mark, in which there is serious consideration of what it would be like to commit and create a life with this person. Questions such as: How will my potential partner handle my need for space, my love of my work? Can my new partner keep up with me intellectually and spiritually? are being asked while lovers must simultaneously be fully in the relationship. Most people hate this phase because it’s so damn provocative, but once you’re above a certain age and have been hurt enough times, there’s no way around it. It’s not personal, it just takes time to get to know someone and see if there is true compatibility for creating a life together.
And third: In order to move forward, they need to establish what it is they are doing together as a couple. I call thiscreating a vision, and I love to help couples do it, because once they are clear on a joint mission — whether it be having a family, supporting each other in stepping into their vocational potential or traveling the world — it helps them sidestep so much drama. Joy and Drew are facing that crossroads: Are they simply going to be part-time long distance lovers who meet a couple of times a year and maybe fizzle out, or do they want to create a life together? If so, what would that life be based on? What would it really entail, what sacrifices would it require?
It’s a lot all at once. Enough to create a premature break-up.
But does it have to be so painful and dramatic? The answer is, not really. Of course, in order to get through these times with less drama and agita, you would need a few skills and strategies that take some time to acquire. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on encouraging you to cultivate this overarching one: A Leadership Perspective.
Seasoned leaders know a few things:
1) They know that with any new endeavor, there is a good possibility that things are going to get hairy beyond imagination. This experiential knowing keeps
Joy made use of this perspective by recognizing that her and Drew’s problems were not unique or cause for alarm. In fact, they were kind of right on cue. But it didn’t stop her heart from worrying. When the heart is involved, perspective can be hard to maintain, and often gets tossed out the window.
2) Effective leaders learn to hold their upset and a vision of the endgame at the same time. By managing their reactivity and energy on their own time, they are able to make decisions about what’s important and where to focus in the midst of chaos, without having a complete meltdown.
This double-vision perspective helped Joy to understand that her anxiety might not subside in the uncertainty, but she didn’t have to act from it, blame Drew for it, or try to put an end to it through some sort of “resolution.”
3) True leaders learn to appreciate risk. At the end of our session, Joy felt relieved. She was less invested in the content of the things that had been said and not said, and more content with continuing getting to know Drew. She felt compassion for them both, and understood that in moving forward, there is no way to avoid the risk of heartbreak. She returned to say goodbye to Drew with a soft heart. She realized she could still love him while discovering if he is her next life partner.
With time and practice, we can build a leadership perspective in love. Then, the antagonistic words and actions we get so bruised and ensnared over become not the cause but a signal of something deeper in a partnership that needs tending to. And then, we become masters of relationship. Which, in turn, impacts our leadership.
This perspective takes a lot of time, maturity and practice to build. Start now.