On my first day in LA, having moved here for the love of my life after just a few months of dating, I bought us a tuna melt to share for lunch. I ate my half, but Kiran's remained on our kitchen counter all afternoon, growing sadly soggy, consumed only by flies. Eventually I asked, "Not hungry?"
"I hate tuna salad," Kiran replied with a shrug.
"I wish I'd known," I said. I felt a yank of disappointment at the corner of my heart: Here was physical evidence of how little I knew about the man of my dreams.
We're all aware, on a cognitive level, that relationships mean work. However, it's easy at the beginning, when the drug-like sensation of romantic love washes over us, to delude ourselves into thinking that we're the exception to the rule. Fortunately or unfortunately, both Kiran and I have been married before, so we entered this partnership with eyes wide open. We anticipated challenges greater than the Tuna Meltdown.
True, Kiran and I had formed a deep bond over the three years that had passed since our chance meeting on the beaches of Costa Rica in 2008, emailing one another our most profound thoughts about life. But we had no way of knowing how it would work out for us to live together in a committed relationship. Would he annoy me by leaving clothes on the floor? Would I drive him crazy with my OCD tendencies?
Sure enough, the troubles quickly appeared. Kiran calls them "scratchy patches," which I love, because we don't really fight. I have never spent much time arguing. The whole "traffic here is horrible -- I told you to take the 405!" kind of thing bores me.
But Kiran and I have encountered a few differences that have caused the other person's anxiety to amp up or hurt the other's feelings. For example, Kiran, who is a writer, filmmaker and creative genius, likes to take walks. A lot. He'll often take off for an hour at a time, rather suddenly, in the midst of our hanging out.
I thought, "Oh god, he just has to get away from me. I'm too intense. He needs breaks." I am intense, and I've done enough work on myself to know it. "This is the beginning of the end," I fretted.
Which leads me to my first tip for navigating the scratchy patches:
1. Get curious.
Ask questions of your partner to understand what's going on for him/her. Consider your conversations about what's troubling you as a marvelous opportunity to get to know each other more deeply.
After a week of worrying about Kiran's walks, I realized all I needed to do was ask, "What are the walks about?"
Kiran answered in such a genuine and comforting way. "I just need space for my creative process. I write when I'm walking. I set up scenes and envision things. That's how I get my work done, just as you do by sitting in front of your computer, tapping away."
It made sense. The screechy green monster bubble of anxiety and self-doubt hovering over my shoulder vanished in a puff, like a dandelion blown from its stem.
2. Lead with your vulnerability.
Rather than starting off with an accusation -- "How could you do that to me?" or, "What were you thinking?" -- lead with your vulnerability. Try: "I felt hurt when you didn't call me." Or, "I'm feeling really insecure because of what happened yesterday."
When asking Kiran about his walks, I said, "I'm wondering what goes on for you, because sometimes I start to feel bummed. It seems like you're a cornered animal desperate to escape my claws."
Kiran answered, "Ah, love, but it has nothing to do with wanting to be away from you. I just need to do my thing. I always feel connected to you, even when we're apart."
"It's not about needing to get away from me," I recited. And poof! Another dandelion of neuroses sailed away across the evening air.
3. Put love first.
Small slights, frustrations and disappointments inevitably begin cluttering the stage of our relationship dramas. But you can always choose to put your love for one another in the spotlight. It is a choice that each of us make in every moment.
Kiran has been a wonderful role model for me in this regard. Even when I've hurt his feelings by not showing up fully, been suddenly snappy or absurdly impatient, he always responds from a place of devotion. "It's okay, I forgive you. I love you," he says, embracing me.
In turn, I have come to ask him each morning, "How can my love best serve you today?" When I frame our minor frustrations in the light of service to our love, every obstacle feels surmountable.
3. Take responsibility.
Although this is the yoga of relationship, it's critical that you own your contributions to the dynamic. Sometimes it really isn't about the other person.
In the case of Kiran's walks, I had to acknowledge baggage I'd been hauling along from previous relationships. I was freaking out each time Kiran left because my ex-husband and most serious ex-boyfriend both had expressed the sentiment that my intensity was "too much," or that they sometimes felt a need to disconnect from me.
I had wounds to heal. So I took myself to yoga every single night. I meditated every morning. I even spoke with my therapist back in San Francisco about strategies for dumping my excess luggage. "This will get better over time," she suggested. I chose to believe. And she was right: My sudden fears of abandonment, my latent distrust, have already dissipated.
The next time I came home from the local deli, I bore a tuna salad sandwich for myself and a turkey reuben for Kiran. We're navigating the scratchy patches with compassion and care, and our love grows stronger every day.