On Starting Fresh

Posted on January 24, 2012

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Right when the States is getting into the heart of winter, here in El Salvador we’re enjoying the “summer.”  For me it’s counterintuitive to call it that, since this is the coolest (relatively) time of the year.  But we call it summer simply because it’s not “winter,” that is, the rainy season.

Let me tell you a little about the past winter we experienced in El Salvador.  The height of it came in October.  One day it started raining, and didn’t let up for 3 weeks.  I mean 3 FULL weeks, nonstop rain.  This was bad on a serious level from which many are still recovering — crops devastated, homes buried by mudslides, bridges collapsed, people and animals lost.

Without belittling the gravity of the situation, the rain was also a nuisance on a more mundane plane: MOLD.  I have never seen such mold.  One morning I opened my closet to find all my clothing — the clothing I thought was perfectly clean, hanging patiently in the wardrobe — covered in white speckles.  All my shoes, caked in mold.  Our towels?  Wafting with an odor reminiscent of wet dog.  And when packing my bags for a short trip to the U.S., I had to douse them with disinfectant spray because man, those suitcases had been in storage a long while and were mold CITY.

That was the general state of El Salvador in winter.  Soggy.

It gets me thinking about relationships.  Soggy ones, left unattended a little too long in the closet.  You think your relationship is clean and fine, but wake up one day to find it’s gotten a bit stinky.  Have you ever felt that way?  It’s not uncommon, when you’ve been with your partner for a while, to start treating each other not like friends — i.e., chosen companionship based on respect and tolerance — but like family.  And we all know how ugly we can get with our families.  With our families, we don’t hold back.  Greater intimacy means greater directness, greater demanding.

So on the one hand, it’s a nice reassurance when you start acting this way with your partner, having the confidence and certainty that you’re loved no matter what.  But it can also turn problematic.  Arriving at a deep level of familiarity, it can be easy to “let yourself go” so to speak.  Not in the unshaven-legs sense, but in a certain comfortable laziness that leads to personal stagnancy.

What do I mean by lazy “comfortableness”? It can take on many forms.  Some are behavioral: instead of romantic dates and deep conversations, you and your partner just plop yourselves in front of the television screen each night.  Or you put so much effort into your caring for your kids that you forget to maintain your marriage.

Other stagnancy, the one I’m getting at, is emotional.  It’s about becoming lax in our expectations of what is acceptable within the bounds of our relationships.  For instance, maybe you become so comfortable that you say anything, even hurtful things, to your partner.  Maybe you demand your partner to indulgingly care for you while not showing love yourself. You let your emotions runs loose, use your tears for pity, ignore your partner’s needs, hold grudges, play the martyr, or let your anger fly without check.  And suddenly the person you love most in the world is the one you treat the worst.

If this is the case, it’s necessary to recover some control. Rather than taking advantage of our partner’s commitment, it’s important to regain a healthy degree of emotional distance so we can treat each other with basic respect and dignity.  (Which, for the record, is ideally how we should treat our families as well.)  We should keep holding high expectations for how we treat one another, and how we want to be treated.  Figuring out how to do that can take time and energy, but is well worth the while.

In early November, after a month of heavy raining, clouds lifted and El Salvador’s “winter” disappeared.  Out came the sun, and suddenly it was summer.  A fresh start.  The white-speckled clothes had to be washed and scrubbed, but they turned out just fine.  A little disinfectant and shoeshine, and my moldy boots were good as new.  In fact, they probably came out cleaner than they were before.

Fortunately, the same can occur in “soggy” relationships.  Commitment to cleansing the sore spots and restoring emotional balance leads to a healthier, more satisfying partnership.  This daily renewal of your vows, choosing each other, makes each day a fresh start.  And love is best when eaten fresh.  We wouldn’t want it to get moldy.

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Posted in: Relationships