There’s a pastime among partnered women, where we vent steam and recalibrate by recounting exasperating things our partner has done. Usually “lately,” though some are fond of bringing the whole kitchen sink in if the contents fit the theme du jour.
It is, for the most part, a harmless or even useful practice. One retelling can drain off the pettiness, enable the speaker to connect again with what she treasures about her partner—and enable the participating women to bond over an exchange of confidences. Relationships strengthened all around, yay!
Sometimes it’s not, if the partnered relationship is turning toxic. I remember a few uncomfortable soccer seasons when B was small, when the prevailing talk over the parent section was, “My spouse is an S.O.B., and here is precisely how.” I’ve not ever felt that way about My Sweetie, so I would sit on the furthest edge and occasionally murmur to one or both of my soccer-buddies, “But I like My Sweetie-!”
But then, sometimes it’s not… even in sustaining, healthy partnerships. Because sometimes the emotional balance of what’s happening tips heavily into “share to build bonds.” Sometimes the retelling moves to multiples, as the tale becomes currency. And research now indicates that multiple tellings can magnify injury rather than relieve it.* This is a dynamic that shows up routinely, generationally, in my family of origin. This is a dynamic that sneaks up on me, and I don’t like it.
I was mulling this during my most recent travel day. (Why? Heaven only knows. I had left behind interactions with my new friends, My Sweetie was waiting for me at home, and I’d been missing him for a couple of days. Not fertile Sweetie-bashing ground. Go figure.)
In my mulling, I started thinking about the scrap I know about improvisational theater: what I call “and-ing” a situation.
Here it would look like:
My Sweetie will sink so far into his own thoughts during dinner with me and the girls that he’ll contribute a thought that is identical to the thought one of us just finished sharing.
And (and yet?) he never ceases to think about each of our welfare: is each of us individually thriving? Are we eating healthily and well? Are the people around us good to us? Have we eaten our fruit for breakfast?
The exasperation is there and true. The acknowledgement of love and care is also there, and also true. This, to me, is more real than only exasperation, and much more real-feeling than only voicing acknowledgement of care.
Plus I’m realizing that, most days, I have and-ed my fusses without noticing. My internal equilibrium somehow requires a positive to couple with my negatives. Without consciously attending to it, I have tried to inoculate myself against the corrosion I felt during the Pre-Divorce Soccer Seasons.
Maybe I’ve done okay, then. Maybe I’ve shifted the ground from what I knew growing up, and my girls will walk into their partnerships affirming light and dark. Maybe they will and- their beloveds too, not losing track of what drew them in and keeps them cherishing this one person, particular.