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Is Staying in Your Comfort Zone Hurting Your Marriage?

conflict habits risk Oct 06, 2021

 

We thought we'd start this week's newsletter with the sage advice of the soulful R&B legend Lionel Richie. During American Idol last season -- yes, we're citing a reality show as a source of intellectual authority -- he told one eager contestant, "Your life begins at the edge of your comfort zone."

We think Lionel is right on. In fact, we think this might also be some of the best advice out there on enhancing your relationship. 

So, to steal a line from the man who wrote "We Are the World" and "All Night Long," today we want to argue that, "A better marriage begins at the edge of your comfort zone."

Why is this such wise advice? Because we've found that many couples fail to implement the tools of The 80/80 Marriage, and all other marriage systems, not because of a lack of understanding or effort, but because these tools require them to feel uncomfortable.

Of course, nobody actually says, "I don't want to improve my relationship because it’s too uncomfortable." They usually say something more like, “I’m afraid that if I am radically generous, he/she won’t reciprocate." Or they say, “I’m afraid that if I reveal how I’m actually feeling, he/she won’t understand me." Or they say, “If I ask for what I really want during sex, he/she will think I'm weird."

Translation: I'm unwilling to risk feeling uncomfortable. I'd much  rather stay safe and live with the problems we have.

There’s nothing wrong with this aversion to discomfort. Nor is there anything wrong with staying safe and comfortable. 

But if you're interested in change, we want to invite you to begin exploring what would happen if you stretched yourself to the edges of your comfort zone every now and then in your relationship.

But how do you do that?

 

Tools

 

1. Start small.

If you're inspired by this invitation, and we hope you are, you might be tempted to start by taking some sort of wild and outrageous relationship risk. You might try out radical generosity by planning a two-week trip to the Galapagos. Or you might try revealing more by telling your partner everything you've been withholding for the last decade, all over dinner on a Tuesday.

We recommend a different approach. Start small. Start with a small act of radical generosity. Or start with a small but vulnerable reveal about your emotional experience or your hopes and dreams. 

This will allow you to dip your toes in the water of discomfort without going in too deep, too fast. 

 

2. Welcome discomfort.

Now for a more paradoxical tip. See what happens when you welcome, rather than resist, discomfort. 

This isn't what we normally do. When we feel awkward, uncomfortable, or afraid, our natural impulse is to subconsciously shut out these feelings. We check out by Netflix binging, we distract ourselves by Instagram scrolling, or we just revert back to all those predictable relationship behaviors that keep us feeling safe. And then we wonder why nothing ever changes in our relationship?

To break this pattern, try welcoming in the discomfort of change. When you feel nervous before a difficult conversation with your partner, let the experience of nervousness move through you.

To do this, it can be helpful to bring your full attention to the sensations happening in your body when you feel discomfort. Notice how they change. Notice that, somewhere deep within you, you have the ability to stay present with even the most extreme feelings of discomfort without getting consumed by them.

 

3. Savor the experience of connection on the other side.

If you venture outside your comfort zone from a spirit of love, you will most often experience an exquisite reword waiting for you on the other side: deeper connection with your partner.

It's like summiting a mountain peak. The ride up can be difficult, uncertain, and uncomfortable. But once you reach the top, you experience the joy of taking in the view and coasting down the other side.

The same holds true in relationships. When you move into and through discomfort -- when you feel the fear or the awkwardness or the embarrassment but take a risk anyway -- you're rewarded by the ecstatic feeling of taking your relationship to a new level. You feel seen. You feel closer. You feel the trust between you grow.

When you taste this reward, savor it. Let this experience of deeper connection sink in. Make a vivid memory of it so that the next time you feel the discomfort of change arise, you remember what's waiting for you on the other side.

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