Listening to Ambivalence

10/06/2011 01:53 pm ET | Updated Dec 06, 2011

Never underestimate the humble privilege to complain or the luscious succor of the perfect complaint. All intimate relationships include struggles and trying moments along with sweetness and delight. Then there are times when you want a partner to wake up just to have them be quiet and agreeable. The greatest story ever told is a bittersweet tale about heartbreak: love won, lost and won again.

Are you feeling gloomy, feasting on crumbs in the exile of the lonely hours asking, "Should I stay or should I go?" Here are five suggestions to consider in making your next move. Gauge yourself on a 1-10 scale of desperation -- anything more than four out of 10 on a regular basis is excessive. Disclaimer: these ideas present just a road map, and should not be confused with the territory, the journey, or as a substitute for counseling. Remember too, there's never an excuse for violence.

1. For Crying Out Loud: Name your pain and say it out loud. Go to a place where you can cry out in pain as loudly as you want, where no one can hear you. I do it when I'm bike-riding in L.A. city traffic (which I don't recommend for anyone else!). A running shower or a car with the radio on are good alternatives. In this way you can dump some of your most unproductive and harmful anger in isolation, rather than unexpectedly and inappropriately on loved ones and friends. Your outbursts can be informative -- even transformative -- if you can grasp the message. Repeat daily if it helps. The goal is to change the vector of your anger and re-visit the circumstances of your life and old themes with a refreshed perspective.

2. Static Interference: We're hard-wired as a species to be social creatures -- to know ourselves through our relationships and the company we keep. Despite our missteps and blind spots we're not meant to be entirely solitary. We require input from others as much as we resist, repel and push them away. People who see us more clearly than we see ourselves are an asset. To a large extent, we are all some admixture of wounded and healed, with an unstated pact to work out our unfinished business with each other.

3. Blame, Blame, Blame: If your default position is playing the victim, you need to work on taking responsibility for your role in creating and maintaining complaints. While blaming the other -- or taking blame -- can hurt so good, it is also a roundabout way of getting your needs met. Blaming may be a place to start because it's easy. But don't over-extend your visit and prolong your stay in the blame game.

4. Breaking and Making Up: Some vows are meant to be broken. Relationships have expiration dates in life, but not in death. We seem to be a species that requires testing forbidden knowledge and uncovering what is hidden to learn what we need to grow. A little heartbreak can go a long way to wake you up to the healing and wholeness available to you when you love again. On the other hand, remain heartbroken too long and you risk getting caught up in your darkness.

5. Steady Yourself: Ask yourself refining questions. Does your relationship pass the smell test? Does it make you a better person? Try to see your complaints as unmet needs. Focus on getting the healthy ones met in a healthy fashion. If you're over 50% unhappy, take a pass and give your distress a day, a week, or a month pass and then revisit the issue. In the meantime, merge with larger organic cycles outside of yourself -- be of service to others, play, exercise, garden, read, cook and listen to the blues, make art and meditate. Before talking with your beloved, write a letter but don't send it. Be careful about talking with close friends and other trusted advisors. Individual and couples counseling may be a better option because you can be assured of confidentiality.

If the displeasure trend increases, ask what is working and what isn't? What can change, what must you accept? Are there grand compromises to be made? Know your deal-breakers and what's non-negotiable. Try to understand conflicts in love as paradoxes begging for a larger perspective that will ultimately be revealed if you keep at it. Ironically enough, working through the tough stuff can bring us closer to each other. Or, if tough times lead to the end of the relationship, at least we know why.

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