Mike’s pool chair was fully reclined as he took in the evening sky when the instructor found him five minutes into the group’s first break. Without shifting his upward gaze, Mike acknowledged that he was no longer alone. “It’s a beautiful night,” he said.
“Sure is,” came the response.
The instructor slid into the chair next to Mike and reclined back to take in the view of the night’s first stars peeking down from the heavens.
“Never gets old,” Mike said.
“Seen this sky from the Afghan mountains, deserts of Iraq, Sinai and Saudi Arabia. Plenty of other places too. Even on the worst of days, it’s always been my place of peace.”
The pair sat in silence for a few minutes, quietly acknowledging the beauty and solitude in which they were embraced.
Realizing the 15-minute break was about to end, the instructor broke the silence.
“How about coming back, Mike,” he asked.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “I was planning on it. I’d prefer not to say anything. I’m not looking to introduce myself to the group.”
Mike sat down next to his wife when they returned to the meeting room, neither looking in her direction nor acknowledging her presence.
The instructor meandered to the front of the room, appearing to ground himself in a moment of prayer as he reached the table where the computer, projector and stacks of papers were carefully spread out, welcomed the group back, fidgeted with the PowerPoint clicker, checked his cords, looked at the screen, and began.
“When we choose to share our life with another person, we tend to have three hopes and three fears,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with the hopes or the fears, it’s just rare that couples actually talk through them, especially during the ‘illusion’ stage of a relationship when our focus is almost exclusively on looking for all the good things in another person, relationship, situation. In that stage, we’re not too interested in doing much more than enjoying what we have, believing nothing will ever go wrong and thrilled that in this world of seven billion people, we miraculously found each other.”
“The first hope,” he continued, “is that all the good things you ever wanted you will have. The family, career, security, money, kids, friends … whatever it is that’s important to you, you’ll get in your relationship. I mean, why else would we choose to share our lives with another person unless we thought our dreams would come true?”
“The second hope is that all the good things we have, we get to keep. What we do with the days and nights of our lives, how we spend or save our money, who our friends are, where we celebrate the holidays, vacations, what hours we work or don’t … everything that’s already ours, the good things we have, we get to keep. No questions asked,” he said.
“And the last of the hopes, maybe we should call them expectations or even assumptions, is that none of the upsetting things that happened in our lives before will happen again in this relationship.”
“After all,” he said, “who would choose to share their life with another person to go through more events that we’d had enough of already?”
“So if we grew up feeling ignored, you’ll never ignore me.”
“If we went through periods in our life not knowing what to believe or who to trust, well that will never happen with you.”
“If we experienced trauma, betrayal, abuse or violence, well of course you’d never do anything like that.”
“If we lived in environments where people were so busy with everything but each other, of course that will never happy with us.”
“Why would anyone choose to share their life with someone to continue going through upsetting, painful experiences from our past? We wouldn’t,” he said.
“The interesting part, maybe the challenge, is that we somehow expect our partner to know everything that happened in our past, the stories we told ourselves about those events, the decisions we made, and to magically be sure he or she never does anything that even remotely reminds us of those experiences.”
“If somehow they do, when something happens in our relationship that reminds us of upsetting, hurtful events from our past, we can easily find ourselves handing the bill for all of that to the person in our life today. It’s as if now he or she is responsible for making up for all of it,” he said.
“That brings us to the three fears,” he continued. “Fears that may have moments earlier been lurking or hiding in the shadows.”
“We can quickly decide the good things we wanted aren’t happening and will never happen, that the good things we had, we are losing. Perhaps worst of all, the upsetting things from the past are happening again with you.”