Traveling through the muck is part of the journey.
If you’ve ever seen The NeverEnding Story, there are many moments in long-term relationships where it feels like you and your partner are traveling through the Swamps of Sadness. You know that place where there is mud, gunk, goop, and tar everywhere. It’s difficult to trudge through. With every step hope is sucked out of you, and despair clings to you like the mud on your boots. You can’t tell how much further you have to go to get to the other side; you can’t even tell if you’re traveling in the right direction. And if you stop, the sadness, the sludge, begins to drag you down. The whole swamp suffocates you, the swamp consumes you.
I’ve been in lots of different relationships that have tried to handle the Swamps of Sadness differently. I’ve been in some relationships where we won’t even go there. We avoided it like the plague. And it makes sense, who wants to travel through this swamp? Who wants to risk getting stuck there? But what’s funny is that the more we tried to avoid, ignore, and deny the existence of such a swamp, the more the swamp of sadness began to form around us.
You see, you can’t really avoid this swamp in relationships. When you try to avoid it, or deny its existence, that avoidance and denial becomes the swamp. You try to deny a large swath of the relationship, you avoid dealing with the difficult issues and questions which means the relationship can’t grow, and so the relationship becomes suffocated, sinks, and dies.
I’ve also been in relationships where we just get stuck in the Swamps of Sadness. We headed in very optimistically, but ill-equipped. And so as soon as the optimism fades, and it’s unclear whether there is another side, we begin to sink. The sadness and the despair overwhelm us. We stop moving forward and just allow ourselves to be sucked downward.
And I know, because I’ve been to the other side, that there is a way to navigate this swamp. That there is in fact hope; and, getting through this swamp is essential to healthy, fulfilling, and deeply meaningful relationships. And I want to give you the equipment you need.
First, you need to be able to communicate. Navigating these swampy periods in our relationships requires teamwork and trust. You and your partner need to be able to talk about what you each need to keep going, you need to create the safety and compassion to help your partner open up, and you both need to hear one another accurately. Communication is key. And you may not both be able to communicate perfectly throughout the journey. In fact, I guarantee that you both won’t be communicating at your best throughout this entire trek. There will be points when one of you can’t talk, and the other person needs to have the strength to keep communicating with respect, honesty, and love.
Second, you need to have patience. You probably won’t be able to traverse this swamp in a day, maybe not even in a week, maybe not even in a month. Sometimes the swamp is big, and sometimes you do in fact get stuck for a little while. You have to be patient with your process. If you think “we should have resolved this by now!” you are just one thought away from giving up, and it is when you give up that the swamp consumes you.
Finally, you and your partner need support. You need help; you can’t just do it alone. Now, for various couples, individuals, and issues/swamps this help will look differently. Sometimes you’ll need the help of a relationship counselor, someone who can minister to the the relationship as a whole. Sometimes you’ll each need one on one support from a counselor. And sometimes, all you need is the healthy support and guidance of a trusted friend, someone who will help kindle new hope in your heart and point you in the right direction. A trusted friend whom you can confide in and know that you will just be listened to without judgment, blame, or advice.
And what is underlying all of these three suggestions is compassion. You need compassion. You need compassion for yourself, and you need compassion for your partner. Compassion, empathy, understanding, loving-kindness is the guiding light that will lead you out of this swamp.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.