Mike and Lisa shuffled uncomfortably in their chairs. Having invited them to turn and sit facing each other, their knees touching, looking directly into each other’s eyes, they both said how vulnerable they felt. Lisa giggled nervously, Mike struggled to hold Lisa’s gaze and shyly looked to me for instruction.
We had started Session 2 with them sitting at opposite ends of the sofa telling me more about their typical daily routine.
Lisa would get up early with the children, Mike would leave for work at 7am, both of them in a functional flurry of tasks and clock-watching. Lisa would spend the day with the children and Mike would spend most of the day in back-to-back meetings. By 7pm, after Mike got back home from London after a busy day and stressful commute (standing room only again), desperate for some time to herself, Lisa would immediately hand over the children to Mike whilst she went and had a bath.
When I asked them how they greeted each other after both having had a long and stressful day, they laughed wryly.
“We don’t even look at each other” said Mike.
Dinner would then follow at around 8pm after the children were in bed, and Lisa would go up to bed at around 9pm, exhausted and falling asleep almost immediately, with Mike following Lisa up to bed at around 10pm, after having a beer and watching TV alone.
This would all happen again the next day. And the next. The days had rolled in to weeks and months, and now Mike and Lisa felt completely disconnected from each other.
So it was unsurprising that sitting opposite each other, looking in to each others’ eyes, and really taking each other in, felt uncomfortable and even unnatural to them.
Encouraging them to just settle and breathe, and notice how they felt, until they felt more comfortable, I gradually noticed their faces soften, their body language open up more, and they both seemed less tense and nervous.
“We haven’t sat like this for years” said Mike after about 5 minutes, smiling sadly.
“Why not?” wondered Lisa, out loud, more of a question for herself than Mike.
Mike said nothing.
“Your eyes look tired” said Lisa gently, with a concerned frown. “I hadn’t noticed that before”
“I miss you” said Mike, reaching out for Lisa’s hands.
Lisa said nothing, tears welling up in her eyes. I asked her what the tears were for.
“I don’t know what happened to us” she said. “It makes me feel sad”
“So you’re both sad” I reflected back to them.
Mike and Lisa both nodded.
I noticed that without any prompting from me, they had shuffled their chairs even closer together. United in their sadness.
It might seem simple, but sitting opposite each other, and just looking at each other, can be extremely powerful. You don’t need to even say anything – only 7% of communication is verbal. If you really look at your partner, and they really look at you, you will really see each other.
It can also be very disarming because it is very difficult to maintain hostility with someone when you are looking directly into their eyes.
With Mike and Lisa, there followed much calmer and more open discussion about the resentments that had built up over the years, the assumptions that had taken place, the misunderstandings, the hurt and isolation. They each discussed their unmet needs in the relationship. Mike craved more emotional connection with Lisa and regretted not prioritising it earlier on in the relationship. Lisa really lacked her own privacy and space to be alone at times, without the children, and also felt that she was not stretching herself mentally.
Having spent so much time on discussing what had gone “wrong” in the relationship, I asked them to consider what had gone “right”. What were their strengths as a couple?
“We both love our children and always put them first no matter what – I think we’re good parents” said Lisa.
“We have been through some difficult and stressful times together and have always managed to hold it together for the children” agreed Mike.
“We both have drive and determination to succeed” said Lisa.
“When it comes down to it, we really like each other as people. We were always best friends” said Mike.
Encouraged by the more positive focus on their relationship, Mike and Lisa went on to list several strengths in their relationship that they hadn’t ever spoken about or even realised.
I explained to them that it is in recognising these strengths, they could use what is “right” with them to fix what is “wrong” with them. So for example, the fact that they were such determined individuals could be used to their advantage, if they pointed the same determination on to improving their relationship.
After teaching them some communication principles, I set Mike and Lisa the task for the following week of making time to sit down together like this every day, just for 30 minutes, and to just say whatever came up for them. I also asked them to think more about each-others’ unmet needs, and to think of ways together to address them. This would be the beginning of creating a new Relationship Vision.
I also wanted them to start to think about the healing power of Nature and how that could enhance their relationship. Both of them admitted to spending the majority of their time indoors, despite the fact that they both had a love of hiking when they first met. My challenge to them was to simply spend time in Nature the following week; individually they were to each spend just 10 minutes per day in Nature (gardening, sitting in the park with the children, finding a green space to spend time during lunch), and to go for a walk together of at least 30 minutes.
In the next blog post – “Mike and Lisa; Part 2”, I share how I helped Mike and Lisa take their previously unmet needs, and plant a new Relationship Vision, using the healing power of Nature to grow it.
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Take care for now and remember – tend to and maintain your relationship and watch it thrive!
*Client confidentiality is always protected. All case studies are fictitious and for illustrative purposes only.