I was working with a woman as a coaching client recently, who is a professor in a very prestigious institution. She guides dozens of PHD students every year to select the perfect subject for their dissertation, that will be truly unique and innovative. She hired me as a coach because she wanted to serve her students even more deeply.
Coaching is always multi-dimensional. No matter what the surface issue is (in this case, helping her students), I always coach the whole person: in every aspect of their life. As we got to know each other better over the weeks, she told me about something else that crops up for her, almost all the time. She has been married for several decades to another brilliant academic who is always (I mean always) chronically late, and who almost never remembers to do what he said he would do. So, for example, he might agree to meet her in a nice little Italian restaurant after work at 6:30pm. She is there a few minutes early, to make sure they get their favorite table and to settle in with a glass of wine. She sips her wine. 6:30 passes. 6:45 passes. 7:00 passes. No phone call. No text. No answer to her calls. 7:15 passes. Finally at 7:30 he arrives, with a big smile, and a dramatic story about traffic, and car troubles, and his phone being out of batteries, and losing the charger. This kind of event is her everyday experience. She brought it up to me because she wanted my support, through the various tools we use in Awakening Coaching, to become “more tolerant.” She and her husband had agreed together that the primary problem they face in their marriage is her “obsession” about exactness, and her “intolerance” for any deviation from what was agreed. Her husband describes her as “anal retentive.”
I was curious. I asked her to consider what might be the different possible responses that anyone could have to such a situation: never mind about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I asked for a full spectrum of possibilities. I gave her a week to ask some friends what they would do in such a situation, and then to compile as complete of a list as possible of how someone might respond to his behavior.
When she got back to me, some of the answers she had were:
1. Stand up and leave the restaurant at 6:40, and go home.
2. Order the food and enjoy dinner by herself.
3. When he arrives, talk loudly about his lateness, and throw a glass of water in his face, with the rest of the restaurant looking on.
4. Firmly look in his eyes and tell him how she feels.
5. Find ways to do the same to him to “teach him a lesson” (the revenge method).
6. Blame herself for her reaction and agree that she is “anal retentive.”
It did not take her long to realize that acquiescing to her husband’s weaknesses, and then blaming herself for any reaction about it, was only one of many ways to deal with the situation. It wasn’t ‘better’ or ‘worse’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I simply encouraged her to see that she had alternatives. And then, in the coaching call, we went ahead and examined the pros and cons of each of these alternatives. I asked her to look at it from a bird’s eye view, not from within the situation, but looking at it from the outside. It didn’t take her long to realize that communicating clearly to her husband about how she feels, making sure he understood her discomfort and setting boundaries clearly enough that he would cooperate, was the best way.
“But,” she said, “I love him. He is brilliant. We share everything together,” and (the most significant statement of all) “He was only half an hour late last time, so he is obviously getting better and there is really no problem. The issue is already solved.”
This leads me to the title of this week’s article: I See You. I take a Stand. I love You.
Her kids were grown, but I asked her to remember back to when one of her children was maybe six years old. I asked her to remember moments when she asked her child to do some simple task, like cleaning the bedroom, washing hands before dinner, or doing homework from school. I asked her if there was ever a time when she asked one of her children, ‘Have you cleaned your room yet?’ and got the answer ‘Yeeeeeeeees mom,’ and then she looked and discovered it was still dirty. She did not have trouble finding a memory like that. So I asked her, “Can you see that, in that moment, your child was completely unreliable?” She agreed. “Can you see that, in a way, your child was lying?” She agreed. “Can you see that if your child partially cleaned the room one time, that it does not mean that the child has suddenly matured into a full adult overnight? The child is still a child and needs supervision.” She agreed also. Then I asked her what she used to do in a situation like that if she saw the room was untidy. Did she get down on herself for being “anal retentive?” If her child threw a tantrum and started crying, did she quickly apologize, and admit that it was all her obsession? She laughed, of course. “I would make sure that he came back to the room, and cleaned it before he did anything else. I might even stand over him,” she said. Finally, I asked her “Do you love your son?” She didn’t hesitate. “Have there been periods when you love him, and periods when you don’t?”
“There have been periods when I like his behavior, and periods when I don’t, but I never stop loving him.”
“Exactly,” I said. “And have there been times when you have taken practical steps to consider sending him to an orphanage?”
She laughed. “Of course not.”
“So your love for your son is unwavering and unconditional upon his behavior?” She agreed.
And there you have it. Her husband is not a child. He is a fully grown adult. In some ways. For sure he is a fully grown man, a university professor renowned in his field, written books, but when it comes to keeping his word and being on time, he is like a child. Like almost every other human being on the planet, he has areas where his development is not complete. In those areas, he behaves like a child.
This is the way to celebrate love, and to break free of being co-dependent:
I see you. ‘I see you’ means I see all of you. I see the deepest dimension of you, which is infinite, loving, eternal and free. I see your gifts. I see where you shine, what you do well, where you are celebrated. And I see the areas where you cannot be trusted; where you behave sometimes like a fool, where you run on fear and weakness. I see all of you calmly, and with open eyes.
I take a stand. Just as I see you completely, so I see myself. I have deep respect, not just for you and for me, but for the force that gives us life. I am here with you, but my deepest commitment is to that force, is to love itself. I take a stand for doing what’s right and I don’t deviate from that.
I love you. When you are in your zone of genius, giving your gifts and being celebrated, I love you. When you are noble and strong and an example to everyone around you, I love you. When you are taken over by weakness and fear, I also love you. When you lie and break your word and hurt me, I love you just the same. I love you so much that I will hold you to the standards of who I know you can truly be.
The best example of I See You – I Take a Stand – I Love You was maybe fifteen years ago. I had a friend back then (lost touch with him since) who was young and dashing and charismatic. He traveled internationally for his work, and was proud to be the kind of guy who had “a girl in every port.” He was a ladies’ man. During the time that we were friends, he met a very mature, deep, and wise woman. She was a keeper, and he knew it. From the first night they met, they became a couple, and they were great together. Finally his wandering days were over. Then, after some months, came the time for him to get back on a plane and take another trip. And that’s when they had ‘the talk.’
“Listen”, he said, “It’s been amazing getting to know you. I totally love you, and I’m totally in love with you, and I absolutely don’t want to do anything to lose you. And I want you to know that I really need my freedom. I’ve got girlfriends all around the world, and I really can’t restrict my love to one woman. So I want to ask, is it okay with you, when I’m gone, if I share myself with other people too?”
“Oh”, she replied, “It’s totally fine. No problem at all.”
“Really?” he asked. “You’re okay with that?”
“Of course I’m okay with that. You do whatever you need to do. That’s your freedom.”
“And you’d still want to be with me?” he asked.
“I’d still want to be with you?” she replied. “Oh no. Definitely not. I don’t want to be with a man who’s playing around. That’s kind of boring to me. But if it’s what you want to do, I’m totally fine with it.”
He had to make a choice.
They got married and had a child.
In your own relationship, perhaps you can discover how you can practice I see you – I take a stand – I love you. What are the ways that you have been compromising, blaming yourself for your reactions to your partner’s behavior? Do you see your partner completely, in their triumphs as well as their defeats, in weakness as well as in strength? Can you open your eyes and quit fooling yourself that things are anything other than the way they are? Can you take a stand for love, for integrity, for freedom, lifting all of us more than taking a stand for holding on to some particular situation?
And can you love so deeply that, if necessary, it may include letting go of what you are attached to?