Guest Blogger: Writer, creator and business woman, Alaina Gurwitz, has a particular interest in exploring her feminine essence through the written word and creative endeavors inspired by her ever-growing love affair with the unknown journey of life. Her former professional lives include residential real estate development, international macro-level social work and a brief stint in the world of art history.
Many years ago, my therapist at the time told me the single most important piece of advice I’ve used while navigating the shaky ground that sometimes comes up in my relationship with my partner:
Whoever is the saner one at the time, takes the lead.
I’ve always found a lot of solace in my own self-proclaimed sanity. I’ve worked incredibly hard over my years of self-development to unearth the sane creature that lived for many years hog tied in a dungeon by her own insane ghosts and demons. When I look back, those were dark, tiring and confusing times, led by my own self-created misconception and self-deceit.
Years later, the more I come to understand my own crazy and meet it in its tracks, the easier it is for me to see it in others. While in relationship, no matter how conscious or growth-oriented our partners are, most of us lose our ground.
Sometimes trauma rises to the surface, misunderstanding ensues and one or both partners start seeing life through a very different lens that what is currently happening.
My partner and I have been tossing back and forth the proverbial sane baton since early in our relationship. In the beginning, I knew I was the primary carrier of it when it came to the big picture of our union. The more I dismissed his advances to try to knock it out of my hand, the less he tried and the more he believed in my ability to carry it with loyalty and grace.
When my childish, repressed emotions and sideways outbursts materialized as my own version of insanity, he picked up the baton almost always without fail and redirected me to my saner way. He never believed me for an adult in those moments just as much as I never believed his wounded words of daggers that tried to push me away as his.
Both of our years of growth-work have given us the ultimate gift of knowing just who we are actually relating with in any given conversation, and often the answer is a scorned or a neglected child, not the clear-minded and loving adult that we choose to be in relationship with.
This is the beauty and benefit of partnership. There are few relationships that allow for the kind of intimacy that romantic relationships offer. Beyond random flower deliveries, romantic getaways and spontaneous kitchen counter sex, there’s the opportunity to witness each other’s darkest aspects in the hardest of times and help each other find the light.
I’m incredibly lucky. my partner, Mike, works on himself and more often than not, relates with me through a sane pair of glasses, just as I aim to do. In our healthiest moments, we’re two sane people merely moving through the waves of life.
Joy, sadness, happiness, sorrow, grief, anger, rage, depression, angst – they’re all natural and cathartic parts of the human existence that we both value and try not to shy away from.
Other times, one of us misplaces our glasses and the whole picture changes. The healthy emotions are replaced by their criminal cousins – blame, shame, judgment, doubt, hatred, disappointment and resentment – who are disguised as the truth and hellbent on proving themselves as fact.
Like last Christmas, when Mike and I didn’t give each other our hearts. We were dealing with multiple family matters that tugged on every tool we had in each of our tool boxes until they were empty and what was left was two completely insane individuals trying to stay above board, parent out-of-school children, and hold on to even a shred of our normally loving and affectionate relationship.
I was collapsed into my typical demented mind reality, and Mike was angered into his bitter-driven distance. The baton laid on the floor untouched by either of us for weeks. Most of the time we crossed paths like strangers stepping over it begrudgingly or ignoring it all together. Many times, I wanted to throw it at him for not picking it up when I knew he knew that I couldn’t.
Insanity bread more insanity day after day, until finally in a gesture of truce, he reached down to pick up the baton as he passed by me in our bedroom and held it near his chest while he said, “We’re both just really in our own thing right now.”
It was a simple statement that propelled us out of the darkness to take just one breath of fresh air to remind us of the human in each of us who dearly loves the other human standing in front of us. I felt an immediate swell of relief and gratitude at the gesture, that I have a partner who values that even in our darkest times the saner one always attempts to take the lead.
Today on the planet, we’re going through likely the most radical global evolution of our lifetime. In no other time are this many people forced to face their demons while navigating the same set of pandemic producing worldwide changes.
Normally, we’re each part of the chaos, death and rebirth process that is so slow and consistent, we barely notice its existence. Generations give birth to new ones, traditions change, technology evolves and little by little life as we know it no longer exists.
Now, within a span of several months, life is forever altered before our very eyes, and we have no idea how the puzzle pieces will fall together, if at all. For many of us, it’s maddening to watch, anxiety-provoking, and grief-striking, amongst so many other emotions.
Mike and I are navigating it like so many other couples adjusting to new schedules with or without children, significantly increased time at home with the other, opposing reactions to the severity of the virus, shifting revenue streams and uncertainty across the board.
Just days into social distancing, we walked the path near our home and right into one of our more common distorted patterns as a couple. I should’ve known that we both left our baton at home when I let myself walk out the front door with weepy eyes and a collapsed heart.
Mike, the adept and intuitive partner that he is, was already feeling his insanity creep in and was working his balance of how much to put his own oxygen mask on before my own. Days of Costco runs, planning for the kids’ school to close, and emotion-filled discussions had caught up with us. Whose job is it to hold the baton when we’re both in need of the other to hold it?
To me, this is one of the most important questions to answer in a relationship in which two people consciously help each other grow.
If couples have a clear path laid out when this happens, I believe they have a much better shot of getting through the hard times not only unscathed but better for it.
I’m reminded in Summer that we can’t stop plants from growing unless we intentionally kill them or don’t plant them properly to begin with. So, aside from never learning the lesson of the saner one takes the lead, even when I hold the baton for Mike, and for us, I grow from the experience. And the same goes for him when he holds it for me.
I’ve seen, particularly in the “conscious” self-development communities that value masculine and feminine dynamics, the belief that men are supposed to hold never-ending space for their female partners, who want total abandon and freedom to be in the whirlwind of emotion while their partner not only witnesses but creates a safe space for full expression.
It sounds beautiful, and feels damn good, but it’s a lopsided story to believe that men don’t need the same from their female partners. In my experience with Mike, he values the opportunity to “fall apart” and either be held by me or detach from me entirely into his own abyss of silence and solitude. His own feminine emotional winds present themselves differently at different times based on different triggers or circumstances, just as my winds do.
It’s a tremendous gift to give our men encouragement to let go into their feminine and not need to always be the ones to meet our needs first. Something settles in them, a vigilance and attentiveness that gets the much-needed rest it longs for.
I’ve come to experience this as my own initiation and growing up right of passage. The maiden who expected to always be taken care of first settles into (step)motherhood and partnership that requires a saner, healthier strong feminine for our family.
Early on, I wrestled with my “need” for his support and attention internally, listening as the old self-righteous and entitled voices met their adult counterparts of self-possession, compassion and discernment. It’s been a beautiful gift for me to become skilled at discerning my needs versus Mike’s or the kids’, knowing who and when comes first, and just how much my own sanity is my ultimate filter of reality.
Usually, it’s pretty clear to me who is in the throes of insanity and who is not. At this point in our relationship, Mike and I know each other’s triggers pretty well and attempt, if at all possible, not to make the crazy one crazier. It’s taken a great deal of vulnerable, honest communication to admit to our own insanity and not make the other wrong for behaving the way we are.
That’s been our most significant (unconscious at the time) first step, helping each other get clear on our own version of insanity without criticizing and judging it. We also know how the other copes within struggling times. Mike needs space first and foremost while I typically appreciate a touch in of connection before relishing in being on my own.
Sometimes he touches our baton for couple of minutes to soothe my nervous system before taking the time he needs for himself. Sometimes I internally hold my younger, frazzled parts and wait for him to resource before we come back together. It’s a dance we haven’t perfected by any means but being conscious of it allows us to use it during harder times when the path forward isn’t always clear.
Whose needs get met first typically answers itself when I ask myself the question, who is the saner one? If it’s me, by even a hair, I take care of myself while giving Mike the space to do the same. If he seems to be in the minor lead of sanity, my request for a touch in of connection is either met by my loving partner or he’s already beaten me to the punch with an extra-long face grab in which he jokingly tells me “you complete me” and I laugh and we’re out of the crazy for a heart-felt moment.
When all else fails, or both of us are equal parts insane, we wait. We put the baton in the sun and self-resource using the individual tools we both know work pretty well after our years of self-development. Usually, when we come back together, our open hearts come with us and we’re better for the space and momentary disconnection. I grew up believing that any kind of physical, emotional or mental disconnection meant permanent abandonment and aloneness. What a relief to know I was wrong!
Instead of relating from the proverbial scorecard in which we’re both tit for tat-ing each other, and expecting sanity in every moment, I’m learning to relate to the person in front of me as a brand new being, cleared of his shortcomings, sane as he can be, and above all else, my chosen baton twirling partner. As Ram Dass said so poignantly,
“We’re all just walking each other home,”
and sometimes that means walking separately in the same direction with the baton dragging at one person’s feet.