When my daughter was small one of our favorite activities was to watch “Sesame Street” together. This wonderful Children’s Television Workshop program was designed to engage both children and adults on a number of levels. I often found that I learned things from watching the show, and I certainly loved watching my little girl learn about the world. A favorite segment was called “Down, Down Below the Street,” sung by the acapella group 14K Soul. The song introduced the idea that lots of things are going on in the sub-structure of a city, like all the various pipes and connections that bring light, heat and water and that allow for messy things to be discarded. It’s a below-the-surface process that works without the folks above the street being completely aware of what is going on.
It seems to me that this is a lot like what goes on in our relationships. Things just go along, seeming to work themselves out without many hitches, and we are not really consciously aware of the process – until the pipes break or the electricity fails (metaphorically speaking), and we suddenly find ourselves in the relational wilderness of broken expectations and destroyed trust.
One of the hardest hurdles that I experience in working with couples is that of the repeated “I’m sorry” that does not result in behavior change. One partner does something that is hurtful to the other, and in the best of all possible scenarios, the couple is able to talk about this in a non-blaming way (This is what happened for me when you did “x” and “this is what was going on for me when I did “x”). Both come away from the conversation with a deeper understanding and compassion for each other.
However, the next time that “x” happens, things are not going to go so well – and if “x” keeps on happening, even though promises are made to refrain from “x” or do something other than “x”, trust is eroded.
When that happens, one has to dig a little deeper to understand what is really going on – because it isn’t what is on the surface. What is “down below the street” in the relationship has to be addressed. Maybe one partner has been holding out on saying something about an issue that is really bothersome, or maybe someone has strayed beyond the agreed-upon boundaries of the relationship, or maybe the chores aren’t being done – it could be any content issue, but the REAL down-below-the-street issue is WHAT REACTIVE BEHAVIOR DOES THIS BRING UP IN ME OR MY PARTNER? How does the way I respond to this issue bring me closer to or farther away from my partner? And is that distance what I want, or is it a reaction to stuff I haven’t addressed in my own life?
Relationships are full of “sunny days” (“sunny days, chasing the clouds away”) and at the same time Down-Below-the-Street is always part of life on any street we take. I hope you will take the time to be curious about your own reactive behaviors, and I wish you lots of sunny days.
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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