Ignoring Expectations and Limitations in Relationships

Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan is a pretty amazing destination. I haven't been there in a while, but I got to thinking about it again. I found myself walking down a long flight of steps to the lake during yesterday's particularly balmy January weather. After about an hour of observing the water, clouds, and sand crashing and whistling against one another, with a storm just on the horizon, I finally made the trek back up those stairs to the street. Going down had been easy. It's going up that made me sweat. This reminded me of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

When I went with my partner to Sleeping Bear Dunes over 3 years ago we drove and then hiked a short way on a relatively flat trail to find ourselves at the top of a dune with a magnificent view of the lake. I can't recall the exact trail* or the location, but it was stunning and we were up rather high. We didn't notice it at first but after some time had passed and the sky had begun to darken, we walked further across the top of the dune and could see it in its entirety from another angle. It was then that we realized people had climbed down the steep dune to the lake, and many were now struggling to get back up. People were at various stages of climbing, some sitting in exhaustion very close to the top, some kicking with all their might at the bottom, slowing their pace as their struggle upward made almost no progress. We were a distance away from them, comfortably standing at the top of the dune, the light slowly fading, and it appeared as though there were people of all ages and physical conditions attempting to climb back up. No one at this point was climbing down.

We stood there for a long time, fascinated. What would happen if they didn't get to the top before the sun completely disappeared? There was only one way out unaided, and that was to climb back up the dune. The only other way out, I overheard someone saying, was to be rescued by boat, something that would cost the stranded hiker or hikers a significant amount of money.

I thought about the joy they must have felt running, rolling and sliding down that dune to the lake. How wonderful and freeing. How very much like falling in love. And like falling in love, once the falling part was over suddenly, it all just got harder. They couldn't stay at that fallen place. It was not a destination point. Yet I would bet that none of them thought that the hike back to the top would be that challenging or considered how long it might take to get back up (hours for most folks, I was told). Few, if any, had probably trained for it. Most probably expected that it wouldn't be that hard. They merely fell, and enjoyed the quick fall, until they stopped, looked back, and discovered there was a mountain suddenly between them and living. They had to climb up that dune or pay the price for a rescue.

Often when meeting with clients in mediation it becomes immediately clear that they met, fell in love, got married or moved in together, all very quickly, and were surprised to find themselves in my office, discussing the dissolution of the relationship. I often ask clients if they ever discussed the expectations they had for their lives together both as an individual and as part of a couple prior to making a commitment to be together forever. The answer is always no. It just happened, they tell me. They fell in love. They decided to be together. They thought they were on the same page about things. They weren't. Assumptions were made. Then they dug their feet further and further into the sand, neither of them making any progress upward.

Of course the relationship didn't work, I tell them. Even the kindest, most thoughtful, smartest people in the world cannot be successful in anything involving another person without first being honest about one's own limitations, the limitations of the other person, and the expectations both individuals have of each other. At the very least, even if a couple fails to communicate honestly about this at the beginning of their relationship, it has to happen somewhere along the way and adjustments have to be made accordingly. It's fun to slide down a sand dune, but if your calves aren't strong enough to get you back to the top, what do you really think is going to happen?

Falling is easy. It's also quick. It's in the climbing that we struggle and grow (or we pay lots of money to a mediator, attorney, or other professional to get us out of this sandy mess, to whisk us away in a boated rescue).

*The trail I'm referring to should not be confused with the "Dune Climb." In that climb the parking lot is situated at the bottom of the dune so the hike up is first and coming down returns one to one's car. The hike I'm describing was the opposite of that where the cars/parking were at the top of the dune with a trail along the top. For those who decided to go down the dune, there was no way to get back to your car (or to civilization) except to climb back up to the top.

By Laura L. Noah
Published on pronoaimediation.blogspot.com
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