when your partner is on fire

Mind the Gap: Listening for the Signals from Your Lover

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There are times in relationships where the distance between you is painful and isolating. It’s normal. No couple can maintain 100% intimacy and warm fuzzies. If you try, you’re probably sweeping some of the “stuff” under the carpet of your uber-positive attitude. I try to run with the 100% positive motto, but even I fall flat, lose my flag, and wind up face down and wondering what I did wrong.

You Didn’t Do Anything Wrong

One of the hardest lessons I am learning is this: I cannot make another person happy, I can’t make them change, I can’t reset their priorities for them. I cannot make ME the most important thing in their lives. And… That’s how it should be. My problems arise when I try and take responsibility for things that are not mine, not about me. At the moment, I am powerless to change the situation. I can run headlong into a place where I don’t belong. I can get butt hurt about being excluded. And I can soothe my own achy breaky heart by myself. What I can’t do is blame myself for another person’s chaos. I cannot change them. I cannot force them to realign with me or the things I see as important.

It’s not about me.

*** Listen to this post on the podcast Love on the Air.

At this moment, the situation is entirely out of my control. And, in fact, as the situation evolves over the next months, it will be ENTIRELY out of my control. I am dependant on this one person to adjust, make time, reorient a tiny bit of their energy back towards me, us, the WE. And guess what? I cannot see the timeframe or roadmap for how this happens. I have to let go. Even in my burning desire, I have to become aware of the gap, the painful fking gap, and I have to press pause. By trying to force a solution, I am pushing others out of their own necessary healing and growth. I cannot fix the situation. And forcing myself into the middle of it will only do MORE HARM than good. So why is it so hard to pause? Why is it hard to let go of the outcome and just be present and available?

I’m an active participant in any relationship. I am working it. I am committed to growth, health, and happiness. And in this model, I am also committed to letting the other person struggle with their own demons. I’d like to take them on. I’d like to rush into the burning building and start putting out fires. BUT… It’s not my building. It’s not my fire. And the crisis has nothing to do with me. Still, I am a gap crasher. I want to jump in and help. I want to offer advice. I want what I want and I want it now. Waiting in the gap is hard for me. And, I wait.

Managing the Momentum of My Own Moods

I want, I want, I want. And I can’t have. Fk. I’m moody about it. I’m lonely. I’m within miles of my joy. And… It’s time to keep breathing, keep working MY program, and keep giving up my desired outcome. I cannot control the outcome at any given moment. I can only control my response to the situation and the emotional turmoil inside.

Backing away from the fire is often the best move for me. I cannot save anyone else inside the burning building. It’s sad, but I have to let them firefight on their own. I have to stay out beyond the perimeter and hope that their higher power can help them navigate their way to safety. Earlier in my life, I’ve been an active firefighter. Even when the issue wasn’t mine, I was willing and able to rush in with all of my energy and drive to solve the problem. Divorce was one of those disasters that I could not avert, no matter how much energy, goodwill, or effort I put into the crashing relationship, the other person’s choices were not influenced by my actions at all. It was a crushing blow, but a lesson I needed to learn.

If I wait outside for the person to save themselves, am I waiting around from something that might never happen? Yes. Is this a good plan? No.

If you are waiting for the other person to change, you need to get over it. In most circumstances, a person will continue to behave in the same way over time. If there is a lack of boundaries, there are things you can do, there is couple’s work you can agree to, but for someone to change the effort has to come from within. By asking for the changes, I’m almost part of the problem. And maybe the person will make an effort. Maybe things will get better for a bit. But if their natural tendency is to rush back into the burning building, leaving you behind, that’s probably going to show up in the relationship again, and you’re probably going to be standing outside, wishing there was a way to join them.

You Cannot Put Out Another Person’s Fire

There is very little I can do to solve the… Actually there is NOTHING I can do to solve the current impasse. Nothing. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I’m so prepared to make things better. I’m so prepared to take my responsibility. I’m so prepared to reset, restart, and rejoin. And I cannot not change one thing about the gap. There is a gap. A gap between what I need and what I can have at this moment. It’s a gap that has been in our time (or lack of time) together since the beginning. I want things to be different. And I can stop hoping for that. The gap is real. And only the other person can cross the chasm and change the path ahead. I am powerless. And this is always a painful place to be. But we’re always powerless over another person’s actions. I cannot change the other person. I cannot give them advice about how I’d like them to change. And in the end, I either love them just as they are, or I move along. That’s a hard lesson. But it’s a lesson I’ve learned well.

There is no rescue coming for you. I am not a hero. I am a solitary man, sitting in my own pain around the current gap, and I am working like hell (writing, meditating, exercising, coaching, praying) to heal my own troubled heart. It may happen, that I will stand up and leave the scene. It is painful to observe the destructive fire. And it is more painful to know your hands and efforts cannot reach inside the burning building and give your partner the comfort you know you could provide. The raging flames are still blocking the path back. The consuming crisis is using up all the available air. It’s getting hard to breathe, even outside the fire.

I am no firefighter.

I sit in the gap and hold the loving-kindness meditation in my mind

May you be safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

And that’s the best I can do, in the gap.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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