Love is feeling at home in your relationship. Part 9 in our “Love is...” series.
Home is one of those things that stands for everything good, yes? Comfort, safety, peace, freedom. The place where you can be most you. The place where you can let it all hang out. The place where all your stuff is.
Home is the place you want to go to when you’re sick, tired, stressed out. The place you want to go back to after your travels and travails.
This notion plays a big role in our love lives. Maybe not at first sometimes. At first what excites us is often the freshness, newness, challenge of the other person. They make our pulse race. They make us want to up our game.
For a while.
But usually for things to continue to go well we need to enter a new phase of new discovery, where the other person feels like home.
Where you discover you both like sitting on the couch eating Thai food from containers watching a show you both love. You enjoy hating the same politicians. You take comfort in tolerating the same balance of neat and messy.
And after you’ve made love, you lie in each other’s arms in a perfection of peace and comfort and safety. You really and truly are at home.
What could be more wonderful?
But as you may have suspected there’s a worm in this apple of perfection that spoils things for lots of us, creating the weird paradox that home can’t be home!
It goes like this. Maybe you and your partner are actually lying in each other’s arms. And your partner is feeling SO at home she says, “You know, a little cuddling is fine, but I don’t really like when it goes on and on. I’m just going to get up now, okay?”
She of course is “just being honest,” as it’s called. But somehow this starts a fight.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner you felt this way?”
“Well, I didn’t want to...you know, you always like to have things a certain way.”
“What do you mean, ‘you know’? No, I don’t know. Are you saying I’m a control freak?”
And off you go.
It’s just that everyone feeling totally at home unleashed a boatload of “free to be me” stuff—saying what we want, doing what we want—which can be hard to process. This is a burden on any relationship unless the two of you are unusually well matched, or undemanding, or diplomatic. And if not?
At-homeness makes people relax. Which reveals difference. Which produces conflict. Which unleashes anger. Which feels like the opposite of home. (Though it may feel exactly like the home you grew up in!)
So you try to manage this by proclaiming honesty as your value—romantics that you are—and that with bravery and kindness and fortitude you ride out the storms your honesty might stir up.
I’ll clue you in. That almost never works.
The next step, of course, is silence. If honesty has not lived up to its promises, maybe just not dealing with things will work.
Now in the short run that does feel better, but I’ll clue you in. That never works either!
So are we doomed to self-destruct the feeling of at-homeness we so long for?
The solution lies in our book Why Couples Fight.
Let’s lay out a couple of basic principles. First, let’s face it, none of us ever felt perfectly at home anywhere. Home was always a mixture of the comfortable (yay!), the familiar (bearable!), and the stuff we just put up with (semi-bearable!). And as long as the balance tended towards the comfortable, we were fine.
So we’re not talking about utopias here.
Second, we don’t need to be in paradise. We just need to feel we’re moving towards it, not drifting away from it. And that’s where our book comes in.
It shows how you can dispense with both anger and silence. It offers a process for dealing with unmet needs or conflicting needs so that you can feel at home in the way you work your way through to a resolution, without falling into anger-inducing traps.
And then your dream of your love being your home will have come true.
The artwork in this post is Richard Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, 1956; Alejandra Hernández's Las Tres Gracias, 2016; and as the cover picture Aliza Nisenbaum's Las Talaveritas, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016, shown here in full: