A simple tenet uniting all of us in holistic wellness is that we all want to feel good. Seems obvious! To have harmony with our spouses. To have that cute guy or girl call you back. To be running a bustling business. To wake refreshed each day. I know that’s what I want! And I want the people I work with in my intimacy coaching practice to have that too.
But though simple, having what we want is often not easy. Impediments abound. In my sessions and workshops I help my clients “unblock” whatever is in the way of them living the life of their desires. One of the main obstacles I regularly see is a phenomenon let’s call, “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It goes something like this.
Things can be humming along. Perhaps you just made a big sale in your business. Or maybe you and your partner just got engaged. Or you finally dropped those sticky pounds you had been trying to lose for years. But somehow, in the face of satisfaction, a bracing sets in. An anxiety that it might not always be as good as it is now. And then…wait for it…bam! Something happens. And that happiness comes crashing down. You make a big purchase, overestimate your buffer and bounce a check. A big fight ensues between you and your fiancé and doubts about your marriage creep in. You injure yourself, your exercise routine goes on a six-week hiatus and the pounds come layering back. As the expression goes, the other shoe has dropped.
Ever wondered where this idiom comes from? Evidently in the manufacturing boom of the late 19th and early 20th century, New York tenement apartments were built with bedrooms one right above another. The ceilings and floors of these spaces were so close that it was common to hear the “thud” of your neighbor taking off his or her shoes and dropping them on the floor above you. Once one shoe hit it was inevitable that the other shoe…you got it…was also going to drop! This expression comes from the probability of one event following the other in time.
But the expression in practice generally refers to something negative or foreboding. A common example would be, “Once the layoffs started happening, the company’s employees were biding their time and waiting for the other shoe to drop”. And the fact that the expression occupies such a common place in our language speaks volumes about our cultural confidence in not getting what we want.
Here’s how I see this show up in relating.
Because we often brace in the face of positive emotions – men and women alike – we get hyper-focused on what isn’t working. Time and again when I ask a client in their first session – “What do you want?” – the response is, “My husband and I don’t spend enough time together”, or something to that effect. To which I reply, “I see. So if you did spend enough time together, what would that be like?” To which I hear, “Well I’m so busy with my work and he prefers to travel, we’ve just grown apart”. Hmm. The difficulty in getting an answer to my question would be humorous if the ramifications weren’t so serious.
Imagine the conversation between these two. She might start with, “You planned yet another trip and didn’t invite me and now I’m stuck at home working all the time!” You can imagine him responding with something like, “You haven’t looked up from your computer in months, how would I know you want to come with me?” There is genuine pain under these words, clearly, yet the criticism in the first comment usually provokes the defensiveness of the second. And off they go into an argument. When we allocate our focus to the things that don’t work, tragically we get more deeply mired in the painful situation! Defenses go up. Habitual patterns of disconnect or conflict deepen. And we hurtle further away from the thing that would make us happy.
But there’s good news. The converse is also true. When we let ourselves envision the thing we want, we stand a chance at getting it. Using the same example as above, imagine what might happen if she flipped that first statement from a lament about what she doesn’t want into a request for what she wants. For example, “I see you planning these trips and I really miss traveling together. Can we set aside time in the coming week to plan a family vacation for January?” Can’t you just imagine in response his eyes widening and maybe, just maybe, a closed heart softening?
Turning complaints into requests is a transformative practice that can rewrite the story of your relationships. And that’s where intimacy coaching comes in. For many of us, acknowledging what we want requires vulnerability. Angrily focusing on the things that hurt us – which I’ve done, I assure you! – usually comes from a defensive wall that we layer around our tender hearts. The things we want live right behind that wall. So asking for them requires that we soften. Feel the pain of not having had the support or care that would nourish us. Open to support from a coach or others to heal that wound and learn communication tools. And then take a new step and ask for something different. It’s a practice, worth practicing.
Here’s what I’ve seen is possible when we live like that. We start getting the things we want. Amazing, eh? And in the face of joy – at the big sale, the engagement, or the weight loss – instead of contracting and defending ourselves from the memory of past loss, we stay open, expansive and welcoming of the good things continuing to come in. And then instead of bracing for the “other shoe to drop”, we can walk around bare foot, reviving our feet weary from having been stuffed into those old shoes and even go shopping for a cozy, stylish pair of winter boots that actually fit! Asking for what we want means we have choice in a world where we are no longer forecasting the thing we don’t want; there’s no inevitability there. We can stay open to unlimited possibilities and allow our journey through life to surpass our wildest dreams. Happy New Year Dallas. May you open, soften and ask for what you want!