The Space Between

The Marriage Quest Week #2: The Space Between

The Space Between. Yes, it’s a song by the Dave Matthews Band.

DaveMatthewsBut in Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship Saving Truths, Harville Hendrix and co-author (and spouse) Helen LaKelly Hunt describe the space between as “the energy field between you and your partner.”

I know what you are thinking…energy field? Oh, just let me go grab my bong crystals and essential oils. At least that’s what I thought until I read these lines:

We believe that if a relationship is in trouble, the couple needs to focus on healing the relationship. Not on themselves. The best way to heal a relationship is not to repair the two people, but the space between them.

Ok….but what exactly is this magical space we should be protecting?

By Sacred Space, we mean air that is absolutely holy. The Between may look like ordinary air, but don’t ever treat it in an ordinary way. Never violate the Space Between with anything that will hurt your relationship. 

In order to protect The Space, you must follow three rules:

  1. No Blame
  2. No Shame
  3. No Criticism

When I read the three rules, I got a little cocky:  I’m not a Blamer, Shame-er or Criticizer! Those are harsh words…words that make me think of scruffy men in wife beaters on various episodes of Law & Order: SVU.

But I thought about it for a while.  I busted out my thesaurus and word mapped blame, shame, and criticize because who doesn’t love a good word-mapping session.

According to…well, me, there are subtle ways you can blame, shame and criticize your partner that may not get you arrested for domestic violence, but still leave a mark over time.

I look at it as a kind of Marital Air Quality Index. The Space Between is the air between you and your partner. Your words and actions fill the space. A spontaneous hug or “thank for taking out the trash” text message is like infusing the space with oxygen; it brings your MAQI up to a “Good” rating.

Eye rolling, passive aggressive nagging, or not sharing your Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is like spraying the air with Aqua Net.  And inhaling large amounts of Aqua Net is not good for you. Trust me, I know. I am from New Jersey. Years of Aqua Net-fueled bang-teasing may be the reason I still can’t do long division.

Scan 20I spent the week really paying attention to how I pollute The Space Between, and I came face to face with my villainous marriage alter-ego:

mumbles3

Meet Mumbles.

I noticed that in my daily interactions with Phil, I mumble. I mutter, grumble, and murmur under my breath; loud enough that you can hear me saying words but not enough to know what the hell I am talking about:

OMG this house is a mess. Why do our spatulas keep disappearing? Didn’t I just vacuum in here? Where the hell did I put that thing…that thing I was just holding? Did someone take that thing? I just had it, did someone move it? OMG this house is a mess.

It’s constant.

On my Sunday morning run, I vowed to create some sacred space that afternoon and watch the Eagles game with Phil and the girls. But somewhere in the first half Mumbles made an appearance:

We should really hang something on that wall. And Phil did you call the electrician? It’s so dark in here. We should get rid of those wall sconces, they are kind of Addams Family-esque. Does Lowe’s have wall sconces? I need to vacuum in here. OMG why are there candy wrappers in the fireplace?

Emma, The Cataloguer Of My Flaws, snapped me out of it: “MOM! Please! We are watching football, here!”

The next day, Phil’s inner villain showed up:

LipsMeet Lips Manlis.

The problem with Phil’s lips is that they NEVER. STOP. MOVING.  Even when he knows they should.  Even when he knows he should duct tape them shut.  It’s as if they have a mind of their own.

I will use our Monday night dinner conversation to illustrate my point.

After a busy day that included a less than pleasant visit with my GI doctor, I ran home to make pasta and turkey Bolognese.  I’m not a great cook nor am I organized with meal planning, so I was pretty surprised that I actually pulled this off.  And apparently, so was Lips Manlis Phil.  He said:

“This was really good.  You know, it’s nice to have someone cook for me for a change.”

“Uhhh, excuse me?”

“You know, get a home-cooked meal.”

“I cook every night Phil.  You know, at home.  So those would also be home-cooked meals.”

“I just mean….I was doing a lot of the cooking for a while and….”

“Actually, that was called grilling.”

“I just mean, for a while you really weren’t organized with meal-planning….and….and..”

Yeah. It went on for a while.  Finally Phil and Lips Manlis walked to Acme to get some Cascade.  This gave me a little space to think about The Space.

When I feel like Phil is calling me a lazy-Bon-Bon-eating-soap-opera-watching-diva  questioning my domestic skills, or when he feels that I am passive-aggressively nagging him, it is tough to feel compassion for each other.  In those moments, it is really challenging to move beyond your own hurt for the person who did the hurting.

But you can do it for The Space.  (It also helps when the person who did the hurting comes back with Cascade AND flowers).

You can choose to not spray Aqua Net into The Space.  Because that is the air that you breathe, your spouse breathes…it is the air that your kids breathe.

So don’t pollute The Space.

To keep ourselves on track with this, Phil and I compiled a Protect The Space list, which breaks down blame, shame and criticism into more concrete examples:

No Blame: Aka. No muttering, mumbling, finger-pointing, passing the buck, projecting, reigniting old arguments, or starting a sentence with “you should have….”

No Shame: Aka. No discrediting, shooting down, baiting, embarrassing, or back-handed compliments.

No Criticism: No fault-finding, censuring, kicking under the table, putting down, nit-picking, eye-rolling, fixing, or correcting.

In the words of Dave Matthews,

The space between what’s wrong and right, is where you’ll find me hiding waiting for you.

What is the Aqua Net in your Space Between?

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Space Between

  1. i just did this last night, throwing a bunch of “I told you so’s” at my wife for buying a treadmill that eventually. stopped. getting. used. And now I will help her dismantle it (even though I said I wouldn’t, back when she bought it).

  2. I love this. It reminds me of Rumi’s quote: “Out beyond our ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I got super mad at my husband today for letting my boys play VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES on his ipad. This after he has been deployed for 5 months and only been home for 3 days AND given that we have been married for 10 years and he knows how I feel about guns AND that we have a no toy gun policy in the house …. but I asked him to give me some space because I was about to blow. And we both came back together with a sense of calm. (That and he apologized:)

    I am SO into this idea of a marriage quest and I will be cheering for you both and following your training manual. Who needs Hal Higdon?

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