Comfortably Uncomfortable Relationships – A Modern Day Plague

The term comfortably uncomfortable is used to describe those relationships where one accommodates another to their own detriment. Now, to be clear I am not talking about domestic violence, this is far from the phenomenon of comfortably uncomfortable and sits very much on the other end of the spectrum. Comfortably uncomfortable is caused by moments in a relationship where we allow just a mild overriding of our own knowing and feelings in our everyday choices.

Some examples of this could be:

  • Knowing you are not hungry after a huge lunch but eating dinner with your partner, friends or family anyway

  • Staying up with your partner watching television or a movie until 11pm when you truly wanted to go for a walk with them and then go to bed

  • Sleeping in because your partner or friend did when you knew you were ready to get up hours ago

  • Reluctantly catching up with that friend who actually leaves you feeling exhausted

Simple examples yes, and perhaps they may feel a little minor at first. However, this can become a habit and doing this in one relationship could mean it leaks into all the other relationships in our life. This habit of overriding what we feel creates a backlog of unsupportive choices that starts to erode our essence and build a tension in the body.

Before we go on, I offer you a moment to take the space to really examine your relationships with your friends, work colleagues, primary intimate relationship and family members…Can you be honest enough to say that perhaps there is a degree of enduring, compromising and accommodating that is taking place?

The thing about comfortably uncomfortable relationship is that that they run on an insidious cycle, one that is usually monitored or fuelled by the level of tension that builds in the body and therefore is inevitably felt in the relationship. Every time a disregarding choice is made for the pleasure of the other (so we think), it chips away, building up until the tension feels so huge it’s desperate for relief.

Now, ideally there would be a conversation after the first or second disregarding choice, where both members of the relationship can have space to express and communicate with curiosity, allowing themselves to get clear on the dynamic, disarm the tension and perhaps check if the other even wants the thing you have so convincingly contorted yourself to deliver (yes, this miscommunication happens regularly). However, frequently, due to the intensity, the tension bursts with a rupture - an argument or a passive aggressive comment. This, more often than not, is followed by a superficial repair (I say superficial as the core of the issue was never fully resolved) to then slowly cycle back into the comfortable of the comfortably uncomfortable relationship.

Does this cycle sound familiar?

Sometimes we are not even aware that we are enduring or accommodating as it has become somewhat normal – that’s just the way it is, right? I like to use the analogy of dropping a frog in a pot of water. Of course, if the water is hot, the frog feels this immediately and leaps out (the frog is not silly and knows it’s highly uncomfortable in the pot and probably fatal) however if you drop the frog into cold water, heating it up slowly the frog doesn’t notice as the water heats up, it is just the frog’s normal.

This is a great analogy, but it is missing one vital component and that is the understanding of awareness – something everyone has. When we are in the comfortable we are still aware of the uncomfortable, subtle as it may be. The more awareness we have the less tension we can handle.

You see once you know, you know – and you simply cannot un-know.

Therefore, to stay in the cycle and not express and honour what you feel and observe is so crushing that the next available option is to reduce or manage the awareness, ensuring it keeps the uncomfortable at bay as the water gets warmer.

Awareness can be managed, reduced and dulled in all sorts of ways; some of these could including food, TV & movies, social media or even exercise. These are more obvious forms of medication or management tools. There are also less obvious ways to manage our awareness, such as, keeping busy, obsessing with gossip and drama or withdrawing due to self-doubt.

However they are packaged, these “medications” all do the same thing. When we start to empower ourselves by not going to the management tools/medication and instead respond to the awareness by making choices that honour us, there can be an initial fall out or reaction from the different people that are used to us accommodating, enduring or compromising. This too is known somehow intuitively. It’s as if we can sense the reaction even before we make the choice, subconsciously it plays a large part in what and how we choose. How will this choice be received by the other? Jealousy? Resentment? Will I be ridiculed or feel I need to justify? Oh bugger it I’ll eat the bloody piece of cake or have another beer and avoid it all, making another choice that we truly didn’t want and adding to the tension.

Getting comfortable with another’s reaction is all part of the evolution that is offered when we begin to break this cycle. This a healthy process resulting in gaining a loving independence within the relationship. Communication is a vital part of all aspects of relationship, especially when fostering such change. Sharing your feelings, claiming your needs and hearing the other's feelings and needs, allow a basic but fundamental foundation to develop both an understanding and respect within the relationship. From here we can start to develop true communication that although at times can feel exposing and challenging, is no longer pretending. In other words everyone knows the water is getting warmer and we are now open and willing to talk about it. Often couple’s counselling can a be a great support to allow the relationship a safe space to have this conversation and to learn how to communicate respectfully and with connection and to manage any challenges that may need the professional support of a therapist.

The more we can support ourselves and those with whom we are in relationship, to be open and engaged in deepening the awareness and then each allowing the space to share our new awareness, the more we can start having true relationships. Fostering love, honesty, respect and evolution brings a vitality and satisfaction that supports the relationship to connect to its potential and delight in the expansion of this connection. This is surely a much better option than intentionally reducing our own awareness and stagnating our expansion with the various tools/medications, in order to keep the arrangement going by maintaining the comfortable for as long as the cycle will last.

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