I have been thinking a lot about relationships lately. I have had a number of clients in my office (mostly women) discussing their relationships and basically their exhaustion at being part of a couple. These women aren’t finding fulfillment in their relationships. They are giving too much or expecting too much, they have fallen victim to a mix of having their expectations so high that they get disappointed or setting the bar so low they are exhausted from doing everything. One of the ideas of relationships I particularly like is the analogy of throwing the ball. My mentor Annette Franks gave me this analogy and it has stuck with me over time.
Ideally a relationship is 2 way street where both people are giving and receiving 100%. Both parties are engaged and wanting to participate in the relationship. Think of a relationship as a game of catch. In a healthy, dynamic relationship the game of catch goes back and forth back and forth, becoming playful at times and dutiful at times but each time Person A throws the ball and Person B catches it (or at least picks it up) and throws it back. In an unhealthy relationship when Person A throws the ball, Person B just lets it fall to the ground, so person A runs over and picks it up and eventually throws it back. Person B might throw it back ever third time and so while it isn’t an even game of catch it is enough of a game that Person A continues to throw the ball in the hopes that maybe this time Person B will play along. This unhealthy dynamic continues and the game of catch isn’t even–sometimes Person A is the only one playing and sometimes Person B is the only one playing. If you ever played catch alone it is lonely, frustrating, and exhausting.
The goal is to have your relationship be an engaging game of catch as much as possible. Recognizing that there might be times when our partners can’t play with us because of health reasons or stress reasons but knowing in a healthy relationship those times are limited. The key is having both parties engaged so even if Person A throws the ball and because of poor health or stress Person B can only throw it a quarter of the way back, both parties are still engaged and trying.
When both partners are catching and throwing the ball equally to each other; the relationship dynamic becomes playful and energized. When only one person is throwing the ball the relationship dynamic becomes demoralizing, lonely and draining.
Think about your significant relationships: are you the one always throwing the ball? Does your partner try to catch the ball and return it back to you? Are you trying to catch the ball when your partner throws it?