What to Do When Your Partner Thinks This Stuff Is Weird
By Matthew and Janet Joyce
We were having dinner the other night with a couple that we have recently gotten to know. Somewhere between the spring rolls and the stir-fried cashew chicken the topic of exploring consciousness came up. Before long we were talking about out of body experiences, past lives, and soul retrievals.
One of our dinner guests was very intrigued by these topics. He asked all sorts of questions and even sheepishly related a ghost story that he had never shared with his wife. She, on the other hand, became increasingly silent as the furrow in her brow grew deep and persistent.
Janet noticed this and commented on it, saying “You seem rather quiet.”
“Sorry,” Sharon sighed, trying to be a good guest. “I really don’t like talking about this stuff and it bugs me when Henry does.”
This is a surprisingly common situation, so we thought we’d offer some tips on how you might address this if it comes up in your relationship.
When Things Get Weird
In the case of our dinner guests, Henry is very curious about the topics of conversation both as subjects to be explored intellectually and as experiences that he would like to have. Sharon has scientific training and a rational mindset that makes it challenging for her to accept the ideas under discussion without the data to back things up. But as we explored this together we realized that something deeper was actually going on that had less to do with those points of view and more to do with the nature of their relationship.
As the conversation evolved we discovered that Sharon felt threatened by Henry’s interest in these topics because she worried that his interests in the “weird stuff” meant that they were growing apart. If he continued to pursue these things then over time she feared that it might lead to the end of their relationship.
Intimate relationships are a fine balance between close connection and independent individuality. In any long-term relationship there will be times when one person is pursuing an interest or goal that is divergent from their partner’s. When that happens it can raise the level of fear or anxiety in the other person.
That person may feel afraid because closeness is akin to dependency and where you have dependency you also naturally have a fear of loss. In this case it meant that when one partner wanted to pursue personal growth or spiritual interests that are unfamiliar or even contrary to the other partner’s beliefs it raised the level of anxiety to the point where she feared they wouldn’t be together any more. That may seem a worse-case scenario, but ideas like these can often be lurking unspoken or even unrecognized in any conscious way.
You Already Have The Skills to Deal With This
Issues like this can be challenging to a relationship, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Chances are you already have the skills to resolve issues like this and you can even use the situation as an opportunity to grow together.
Very few couples agree on 100% of the things in their lives. Mutual compatibility is nice but the differences between us are often what make life interesting. In many cases those differences are things that we take in stride, such as preferences in music, types of food, or particular genres of movies or television shows that one person likes that the other person doesn’t. In situations like these you sometimes favor one person’s interests and sometimes the other person’s.
In more challenging situations, such as having different ideas about where to decide to live or how to parent your children, you talk about things, make accommodations and agreements, and adjust as you go along. Henry and Sharon found themselves at an impasse because they had not yet talked these things through.
We helped them to create a safe zone for that conversation. Then Henry invited Sharon to share her concerns about their growing apart and to explain how his interest in these things could be a potential threat to their relationship.
Beware of Tin Foil and Aliens
When given the chance to express her biggest fears, Sharon shared that she feared that if Henry started exploring these things he would start wearing tin foil hats and talking with aliens or that he would shave his head and start handing out religious literature at the Denver airport. We all laughed but we also got her point that this wasn’t the kind of guy she wanted to be with.
Often times when you express your worst fears they may sound ridiculous, unlikely, or at least not as scary as when they were locked in your mind. Bringing them out in the open takes away some of that fear because it has been shared in the light of day.
The most important thing is to create a safety zone so you can bring your fears into the open and create an opportunity to address them. In this case, Henry assured Sharon that he didn’t look good wearing tin foil and he promised her that he would never hand out religious literature to aliens visiting the airport. More importantly, he explained to her that while his interests were in line with his personal life path his clear priority was maintaining a healthy relationship with her.
In doing so, Henry was validating her fears and reassuring her that those fears would not come to pass. This gave Sharon an additional level of confidence that enabled her to support his personal explorations.
How to Talk to Your Partner
If you find yourself in a comparable situation and want have a conversation with your partner, you may want to:
- Observe the concern in your partner and ask if you can talk about it
- Give them an opportunity to discuss their fears and concerns
- Listen attentively and provide assurances respectful of their concerns
- Agree with them on what is most important and commit to maintaining it, even while you pursue your interests
A Shared Journey
When you take these steps you invite your partner into your process and along with you on your journey. Doing so alleviates some of the tension because rather than fostering the feeling that your new growth may lead to separation you are instead creating an opportunity to explore something new within the safe bounds of your relationship.
It worked for Henry and Sharon and it can work for you as well.
And lest you be concerned about having dinner with us someday, you should know that our dinner guests were so delighted with the outcome of the conversation that they encouraged us to share this with you so long as we changed their names.
Our very best to you as you share what is most important to you with those you care most about.
Matthew and Janet Joyce
Read more articles, and if you haven’t done so already:
(That’s a hint!)