Lessons on relationships I learned racing sports cars

In sports car racing, there are times when your intuition fails you.  This issue is greatly compounded during the fast-moving and confusing situation of a near or actual crash.  I’ve been reflecting on relationship dynamics tonight and their similarity to race car dynamics.  This is especially poignant as tonight it appears that one of my relationships is crashing and burning…

Racing Lesson #1

When you lose control and leave the track, your instincts might be to slam on the brakes.  Instead, you should keep steady and begin to slow down gradually.  Major deceleration will upset the car when on an uneven surface and will likely result in a full-scale spinout.

Relationship application: This strategy initially worked very well.  Slowed things down a bit.  Had lots of conversations about the foundation.   Along the way, we uncovered miscommunications that resulted in resentment.  We worked on our ability to communicate difficult things with less acrimony.  We were even able to accelerate once we got back on track.

Racing Lesson #2

If you begin to slide, instead of adding more steering input to get back in the direction you wanted to go, you must steer into the slide to regain traction before trying more steering input. Adding steering input in the direction away from the slide increases the slip and control cannot be regained. 

Relationship application: even with much progress on communication, we still lost traction and started to slide off track again.  Early on this year, we discussed my interest in dating again and the specific two people I planned on asking out.  The go ahead I thought I got without reservation turned out to be more equivocal than I had received.  Damn! Another miscommunication derailment. And, I remembered “steer into the slide.”  I had to stay in the fire. We had to complete the argument.  We couldn’t let go of getting to understanding just because the slide was very unpleasant and stressful.   Staying with the slide allowed us to uncover the fears behind the intense reaction and deal more fully with previous issues that had remained unresolved. We regained traction and were able to steer back in the right direction.  Our relationship deepened.

Racing Lesson #3

Sometimes despite an abundance of skill and good driving, you still find yourself in the act of crashing and bouncing off of hard things.  In an actual crash, you need to give up control.  Don’t hold tight onto the steering wheel.  If you do, the only effect you’ll have is breaking some of the bones that might not have otherwise been broken in your hands and/or arm.  When crashing, take your hands off the wheel and put them close to your body. And, apply the brakes, hard.

Relationship application: Despite my best efforts, I’ve just had to take my hands off the proverbial steering wheel… and I’m modulating the brakes. Crashing and hopefully not burning.  Sometimes you just have to let go when hurt recurs with high frequency.  When the trust built daily is presumed to have been betrayed because of transparency itself.  When the transparency that’s supposed to build and reinforce trust destroys it, the possibility of repair seems remote.  I’ve taken my hands off the steering wheel.  If I’m lucky, only my heart will get broken.  If I’m very lucky, I’ll walk away scot-free.

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A Response to Fear and Loving in an Uncertain World

From Fear and Loving in an Uncertain World:

“My fears may be realized. It is something I cannot predict.  I know, however, that my best chance at joy lies in giving love without letting the fear that it won’t be returned close me off.  My major task in an uncertain world is feeling and giving the fullest measure of love I can manage.  I actively cultivate this style of loving and aim to get better at it every day.”

Response: I’m undecided on this… I understand what you’re saying… but without expecting that return, you can allow others to take you for granted…

Mind Crush:  Yes, we’ve had this discussion before.  We can’t confuse loving with pleasing or consistently elevating someone else’s needs over our own.  Seeing our needs as equal and managing the ways in which they may conflict in an active way is an important relationship skill (for all our relationships not just romantic ones).  We have to know how to hold our needs as equal to others’ yet respond out of love and not out of fear that our needs may not be met or resentment that they have gone unmet.

What does “loving without the fear that it won’t be returned” really mean?  Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  It does not mean that I will do whatever you want; it does not mean that my job is to satisfy you at the expense of self-care.  I don’t think it has anything to do with being a doormat.  And so, you can only continue to take advantage of me if I allow it (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…).  I would argue that the most loving thing you can do for someone is never ever to let them take advantage of you or any one else.  To know this, you must understand that taking advantage of people hurts them too (even if they don’t care about the ways in which it hurts them).  

When someone is not meeting your needs, what is the most loving thing you can do?  The “love as sacrifice” paradigm suggests that the most loving thing you can do is swallow your needs and carry on.  If it’s merely a desire, swallowing it is fine.  If it is a core need, then swallowing it will ultimately reduce your capacity to be loving because it will erode your peace and sense of agency.

It does not mean staying in a relationship that is not healthy or meeting each others’ needs.  Leaving might be the most loving thing I can do for both of us  (I have actually made this choice).  If we rely on the emotional charge (of resentment, anger, or fear) in order to motivate ourselves to not continue in certain situations, it is often very difficult to act in ways that isn’t destructive and harmful to yourself and others.  When we need the motivation, we most often find that we have to build the initial emotional charge into something bigger in our heads.  Doing so often blinds us as we start to feed the hurt, reinforcing it and reliving it.  This is a good way to re-traumatize ourselves and reduce our capacity to heal.  And, it is a terrible way to consistently act wisely. 

Isn’t it still possible to act out of love even if we feel someone is taking advantage of us? Isn’t it still possible to act out of love, when we’re hurt?  Isn’t it possible that when we are acting out of love we can still change or remove ourselves from a hurtful situation?  I believe so.  And, think there are times when I’ve done so.  I want to make that standard practice, my SOP, my Modus Operandi.   

More than anything it means that I’m always willing to ask the question “What is the most loving thing I can do right now?”  Having asked that question, I want to always have the will to act out of love more than out of fear or anger or, even worse, indifference.  It means that I’m able to hear your joy without jealousy, that I can see your pain even when it causes you to be unkind, and I won’t ignore your authentic self in favor of who I wish you to be.  It also means never hiding from the truth of the situation when it can be understood.  So, regardless of whether my loving act is a simple hug, a grand gesture of romantic bliss,  ending a relationship or simply ending an unproductive conversation, I know that I’m not doing it to retaliate or justify my resentment.  I’m doing it because I believe it’s ultimately the most compassionate, loving and appropriate thing I can do in that moment. 

Sometimes growth feels like pain.  Similarly, sometimes a loving act hurts more than a non-loving one.  Because it hurts, doesn’t mean it’s not loving, healthy or good.


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Fear and Loving in an Uncertain World

Intimate with Fear Redux

I awoke with a start, instantly alert
Heart pumping, pupils dilated scanning
Still dark and deep quiet disconcerts
Fear perches between my dreams and awakening

Here we sit, the fear that knows my fears
The piercing eye and judging hand take steady aim
On hopes and loves, and all that matters, and new frontiers
Disheartened by praise then blame, malaise and shame

Unexpectedly, instead of hiding, I turn to embrace
Without need for words nor charm nor deflecting gaze
I accept my fear, uncertain is even the worst case
Life has sharp edges, living fully cuts both ways

Fear limits the love you can share.  Fear limits the love you can accept.  Whereas fear limits, love expands.  Where fear pulls us back, love draws us closer.  Where fear sees risks, love sees possibilities.  I don’t mean to imply that they are opposites or mirror each other.  The absence of fear doesn’t equal the presence of love.  It is perhaps better to think of fear as being an unsupportive condition for the growth of love.  In spite of its significant dangers, fear is a valuable and frequent human emotion. There’s a pretty big difference between the useful kind of fear (like the spike we get when we see a large bear at the edge of our camp site) from the fear that gets triggered by the emotional traumas that we carry with us from our past.  John Gottman calls the latter enduring vulnerabilities.  Unfortunately, we confuse the two in everyday life.

I have found that it helps to better understand my enduring vulnerabilities, the life experiences and emotional traumas that form the basis of the core belief that gives strength to these fears.  Usually, there’s more than one core belief about yourself and others that is involved.  My very first post here deals with coming to terms with a set of core beliefs about myself and how the world worked that were fueling my fear of abandonment and failure.  At first, I thought that deeper understanding would get rid of these fears.  Well, that’s not so easy.  I’m not without fear today.   I had to accept them and not push against them in order for me to not be controlled by them.  Not only do I need to accept those fears, I need to let myself feel them fully.  This was the hardest part.  Allowing myself to feel the fear and anxiety, not cutting it off, while avoiding feeding it with additional negativity.  Trying to adopt a mentally neutral stance while being consumed by fear and anxiety is a trick and a half.  I really didn’t understand how to do it until I applied the idea to physical pain when running.  Like riding a bike, it kind of only really made sense after being able to do it.

I don’t expect it to go away anymore.  With a better sense of how those fears developed and how it feels when they are operating, I’m now often able to catch my negative crazy train before it leaves the station.  With a lot of practice, I’m better able to see the cycle of anxiety and negative thoughts for what they are – mostly false, yet also partially true.  I am less fearful, however, of the anxiety and feelings I get when those fears pop up.  I know now that they won’t burn me up and they’ll subside if I lean into them.  As a result, I feel more able to do those things I fear.

Recognizing that my fears aren’t completely false helped a ton too.  We often get into trouble by trying to dismiss our fears, even those that are founded on those enduring vulnerabilities.  For me, it all boils down to the inherent uncertainty of the world.  There are literally no guarantees (except death).  My partners can state a deep intention, but they cannot guarantee that nothing will ever change.  There is a possibility that the new friend or partner of hers could shift our relationship in a way that is painful to me.  To ignore the reality of this uncertainty is to choose to not see the world as it is.  And, I try hard to see as clearly as my little brain allows.  And, that leaves me with only one choice: learn to accept an uncertain world.  I can’t say that I’m happy about uncertainty.  I face it along with the feelings it brings up.

The uncertainty is real.  So, I try to focus on what I can control.  When the fear of abandonment grips me, I know I cannot prevent it from happening.  It is not completely up to me.  When uncertainty about how a partner’s new interest might impact our relationship snares me, I know that I cannot predict how things will play out.  Instead of playing multi-dimensional chess in my head to try to work out the exact set of moves I need to make to have things work out just the way I want, I turn my attention inward.  I know how fear works against love.  And, so I work directly with that.  I focus on keeping my heart open to the love that’s around me and keeping myself open to that love growing and expanding.   When I feel the self-protective move to close off because of the fear, I focus on softening and staying vulnerable.  That’s the essence right there, staying vulnerable.  It is the key to intimacy.  And, intimacy feeds love faster than fear can diminish it.

My fears may be realized. It is something I cannot predict.  I know, however, that my best chance at joy lies in giving love without letting the fear that it won’t be returned close me off.  My major task in an uncertain world is feeling and giving the fullest measure of love I can manage.  I actively cultivate this style of loving and aim to get better at it every day.

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