As we walk about our daily lives we get to draw a map of the world we see. Our parents, our life experiences and the people we encounter along the way, each shaping a unique version of this map.
At some point we meet someone important and they too come equipped with a unique map of the territory they explored thus far.
To each, their version of the map is the correct representation of the terrain, and yet, neither of the maps depicts the terrain the other person knows so intimately.
It would be so easy, and often I too fall in this trap, to believe that the map we hold is the correct version of reality. And yet, a quick examination would easily reveal the fallacy of this thinking.
To me, a loving, respectful and successful intimate relationship happens when the partners lay their respective maps on the table, share them with each other and openly work on exploring the terrain, without preconceived ideas, without judgment.
It is through this exploration that the partners can then identify the areas where their respective maps overlap, and from which, a third and shared map can be drawn as they lovingly move forward on their journey.
Let me share a quick example to illustrate the power and influence of these maps.
I was working with a couple not too long ago. Through a series of circumstances, the lady in the couple had been extremely busy with an important work project.
The conversation evolved and she said to him, “well, now and again, depending on circumstances, it’s ok for one to take a step back from the relationship.”
He almost blew up on the sofa. “What!?!?!?! You cannot erase the relationship now and again, just because it’s convenient to you.”
She replied, “You are always so extreme, I am not saying ‘erase’, I am just saying ‘taking a step back’.”
What transpired from the rest of the conversation is that he felt abandoned and neglected by her “taking a step back” and imagined that her love for him had disappeared.
When we clarified what “taking a step back” meant to her, a loving connection was restored.
She clarified the meaning by saying, “When I get overwhelmed by work, I am in survival mode, I get so stretched that I no longer have any space for anything or anyone else, all I have space for is to focus on the tasks on hand. In those moments, my love for you is still full and real, but I feel unable to find any energy to connect to it and share it.”
This was a beautiful moment of reconciliation and the couple committed to help each other when those circumstances re-emerged, so that she could feel less stressed and he could feel the love.
This is a simple example. It highlights how words that we can easily understand, “take a step back” can mean and feel so different to different people. How is this possible? It’s the result of the maps we draw as our lives unfold.
Imagine the impact these maps have on all the unspoken realities we carry within. Imagine the impact these maps have on the interactions with loved one, family, friends, strangers, when our unconscious minds are constructed in such fundamental, different ways…
To conclude, a quick tip on how to deal with such inevitable situations.
When something triggers you (joy, excitement, hurt, sadness) enough to stop you on your track, it is likely a moment when something needs noticing. Pause and ask yourself, “do we share similar meaning and understanding about what we just shared?”
If the answer is ‘yes’, take note and find an appropriate response to the emotion that alerted you to the trigger.
If the answer is ‘no’, take note and immediately seek to clarify the difference in meaning between the words you shared. This should help you gain a new sense of perspective and the opportunity to create a collaborative approach to shaping and growing your relationship.
Thank you for reading my article.
I base all my articles on real case studies and research findings that are relevant to my work and my clients.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you would like to explore something together.