A graphic showed up in my Facebook newsfeed that prompted this post. Here is the graphic:
This graphic says a lot about love and allowing authenticity in all its forms in others. It is sage advice in its many interpretations for co-dependent me whether I am the one loving or being loved. However, when I read it this morning I realized that one aspect of love like this is “giving space” and one that is often overlooked for the value it holds.
The phrase “giving space” is put together that way for a reason. To do so is truly a gift and one of the most important ones you can bestow on a loved one. It encompasses the letter and spirit of the text in the graphic. Giving space opens a situation so whoever is the receiver can squirm and wiggle, run and scream, weep and blow their nose, ponder deeply or whatever they need to do. It is absolutely allowing another to be exactly who they are without your own personal needs or demands interfering. (There is no right or wrong way to use that gifted space though there may indeed be useful and not useful ways to use it, person dependent.)
The hubster has a deep need to “fix” things that are troubling me. His fixes are a combination of soothing words, practical steps I should take, and assurance of his love. This fixing need has led to many heated discussions on top of whatever distressing situation was already in play. This was not good. Ever. It left me bereft because I felt that I wasn’t allowed to keep my feelings until I was done with them, that I was not capable of addressing the issue on my own, and that I must quickly return to “normal” because … because bad feelings are bad. We’ve had many conversations surrounding listening without fixing and waiting to be asked for advice. Lest you think I am immune to falling into fixing-the-other mode myself let me assure – HA! – I am not immune. Though I am well retrained and rarely do it these days.
So, with that backstory fresh in your mind I think you will understand when I tell you that a few days ago when I was triggered deeply in ways I hadn’t experienced in years I was profoundly grateful when my husband listened and withheld his opinions on how I could manage all of my feelings. He showed through his face and body language that I was dearly loved. It has since come to my conscious awareness that I have a deep need for assurance that I am loved when I am triggered and desperately grasping for a stronghold in a tumultuous sea of feelings. Not everyone can give that assurance to me, but in that raw moment of distress my husband did so.
His gift of “giving space” left me free to be as I was: lacking in grace and poise; sobbing to the point of snot trails (eeeewwww); feeling deeply hurt while simultaneously feeling ashamed for feeling deeply hurt; angry as all get out; and finally, resolved to address what led to this state. It is so hard not to try to “fix” when a loved one is going through that. Trust me, I know intimately how hard that is. It is especially hard for some men (yes this is gender stereotyping), who were raised to believe that men fix things and that fixing is one of the primary jobs of men. The mandate to fix that was nurtured into him growing up has been part-and-parcel of our discussions about this issue. It is a non-blame issue. No individual is held responsible for the ingrained social mores of the times, but the onus to not to succumb to the ones that are not useful is on each individual.
My husband’s ability to “give space” allowed me to regain my footing at my own pace and in the most useful way for me. Giving space sends a message. The message is,”I love you enough to allow you to just be in this moment without having to consider my needs,” instead of, “You must normalize on my timetable because my need to manage counts for more than your need to have agency.” Refusing to give space says: I am more important than you are.
I was deeply grateful for my husband’s gift and I told him so. That seemingly small yet huge gift is still giving days later as I sort and settle all that has bubbled up from the situation that triggered me. Oh, hubster, I love you so!