The other day I was driving in a city I don’t know well. I had my map app on and I was headed to coffee. Much needed coffee! Then there was a mess of road work in front of me. Lanes closed, cars merging, confused drivers, on and on…I’m sure you’ve all be there. The map was telling me to go through the mess but I was in a hurry and really wanted to get to the coffee. On the map it looked like if I turned right, I could avoid going through the mess to get to the destination. So, I turned right…only to find that there was no way into the parking lot from that street. On top of that there was more road work, more unsure drivers and more mess.
I did the only thing I could do in that moment. I accepted my fate and flipped a “U”. If I wanted coffee then I would have to go through the mess.
Then it hit me and I laughed. My mom, who was traveling with me, asked what I was amused by. This is what I said
“I just realized how spot on this situation is right now. I tried to avoid the mess in front of me by going around it. Yet that isn’t how life works. This all (gesturing at the roadwork traffic) just reminded me that a lot of times the only way to get to something you want when there is mess on the way is through the mess. It’s human to want to go around, to avoid it but it just takes longer and you end up going through the same mess you tried to avoid…some time even a bigger one.”
I like how little moments in life can remind us of important truths. Lately, I have been dealing with a number of difficulties in my life and it’s been overwhelming. Before I pulled up to the roadwork mess, I had been telling my mom about how tangled and jumbled my mind felt…how I wasn’t sure how to get clearer. After my little detour I realized that the only way to the other side of it was through; even if it is hard, painful, exhausting and messy.
When it comes to relationship struggles this message is BEYOND important. Just like me, most of us want to avoid going through a mess, it’s hard and often painful. Yet after working with couples for so long I can tell you that the people who have success in their individual and relational growth and fulfillment are the ones who accept that the only way to get to what they want is to go through the mess in their way. They do more than just accept it, they do the work through it, putting one step in front of the other.
Couples come in to therapy with destinations in mind; better communication, improved intimacy, more connection, a balanced chore agreement, and so on. However often they struggle with doing the work to get to the destination. The work is hard, messy, and requires individual reflection and effort. Yet many people just want a direct step by step guide to getting to their desire; a straight, clean trip there. That just not how change and growth works.
Here are some examples,
- Open communication in a relationship means you are going to hear things you don’t want to and you have a responsibility in how you react so your partner feels safe to be open.
- More intimacy and connection means you will have to take steps to initiate and risk hearing “no”, struggling with the perceived rejection and still staying open to your partner
- Balanced chore agreements often mean understanding each other’s different definitions of “clean” and compromising, not just a to do list.
The point is the path to a desired destination is not always straight and can often be messy yet trying to avoid it often makes it a longer and more difficult journey.
So, ask yourself a few important questions…
- What is your goal or destination?
- Is there a “mess” are you trying to take detours around? What is it?
- What do you need to do to move through it, even if the progress is slower or harder that you want?
- Is there anything you need to share with your partner about this struggle?
- Can you do it on your own or do you need help?
Slowing down and taking stock of how you may be avoiding a mess and how it may be keeping you from what is desired is difficult but important; it can make the difference between wondering around lost and actually getting to where you want to go.
As always if you find you need help navigating these issues, reach out to us. We can help.
Oh, and for all of you still on the edge of your seats, I did get my coffee!
Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.