The Smile Underneath

I was talking on the phone at work to this lady about Medicare supplements when she said her husband had a few questions for me. He was a definite character and his questions all began with a story. A rather long story, that didn’t lead to an obvious point. I could feel the impatience of his wife through the phone line and hear her urging him to wrap it up. He started protesting “She called me to the phone, now she doesn’t want me to ask my questions.” It was obvious that she just didn’t want to hear his stories…..again. They continued to quibble, until he finally asked his questions, and she dismissed him. I could hear him protesting and grumbling as he walked away. He had more to say but she felt like he had said enough. He had. From that little exchange, though, I could feel the love between them…..and the smiles in their voices as they argued with each other and were so good for each other. It made me smile, too.

We all know that everyone is made up of their internal and their external. What we see on the outside is often very different than what would be seen on the inside. Relationships are like that, too. Relationships, like people, have character. What is important is not who people are when everyone is looking, but who they are when no one is looking. Or who they are when they don’t think people are paying attention. The little moments show the roots of the relationship.

These roots are fed by two (or more) people, who come to the relationship with “their stuff”. Are our roots allowing the other person (people) in the relationship to thrive, or are we choking the life out of them? It’s one of the things in life I find to be most interesting.

Below the surface some people hide a tempest, which can rise quickly and unexpectedly. This can be shocking to see, scary and annoying, even when you understand that this tempest represents unresolved pain. To live with that tempest on the edge of eruption day after day is quite a difficult thing to maneuver. These folks walk through life with an internal volcano, dormant but brewing to active. How difficult is it to live with that in your belly? How difficult is it to live with that by your side? They don’t care if they hurt others as they erupt, because they are so blind with pain that they can’t see where the lava goes when the volcano finally erupts. The lava can cause a lot of damage, but usually they only notice the damage they suffer. Or they beat themselves up internally for the pain they know they cause, but won’t admit it or apologize to the people they have hurt. Sometimes they do apologize afterward, and there are dramatic make-up gestures and promises. Still the cycle continues. Whether you are the volcano or the lava victim, how you go forward in the relationship reveals much about who you are. To stop the cycle, you have to become quite self-aware, difficult in the midst of constant volcanic activity. If you don’t stop it, you sometimes also become a volcano, or a fire starter, or a big pile of ash. Sometimes if you are in a relationship with a volcano you have to move away from them, because the constant threat of volcanic activity makes creating a real life difficult.

Other people seem totally dispassionate about life and each other. They don’t seem to care what the other thinks or feels, and many questions they are asked are answered with “whatever”. They roll their eyes or speak passive-aggressive comments, but don’t express what is really on their mind. They seem to have given up in one sense, but yet exist in limbo. They do nothing to improve things. Life could be worse, but it could be so much better. They exist in blah. It’s interesting to watch for someone like me, who doesn’t feel dispassionate about much (except perhaps manufactured drama.) Do they really not care? And what makes a person stay in a relationship (be it a love relationship or a friendship) with someone like this? Some would say low self-esteem. Maybe sometimes. But I think perhaps often they are kindred spirits, albeit maybe one a passive-aggressive one. Could it also sometimes be relational laziness?

Then there are the givers…..they give, and give, and give…..which would seem like it would be a great and awesome thing, until you’re on the receiving end and just too exhausted trying to reciprocate. Sometimes the giving is based in a purity that is hard for “sinners” to match, and at other times they are playing to the crowd and waiting for the applause to begin. Sometimes there are underlying tones of dissatisfaction coming off the giver that others aren’t living (or giving) up to their standards. You can’t seem to win with them, but yet it’s also difficult to confront. (You’re mad because they’re doing something good?) Often apathy sets in for the “less giving”, and the “non-marathon giver” just decides to be a taker without worrying about reciprocation….or they start to spend their time with someone with whom the pressure is not as intense. The giver’s position? “I give, and give, and give and no one ever appreciates it.” Did you ever wonder why? Really?

Relationships are funny things. If we all were bathed in perfection, maybe they would be easy. It’s difficult to realize that while it is easier to visually see where the other person is wrong, we can only effectively change when we allow ourselves to focus only on that person in the mirror. Not to say we can’t be a change agent in the lives of others…we can and we should. But we don’t usually do that by focusing on them. When we change ourselves, and live reflectively and positively, people notice. When we don’t allow ourselves to feed bad behavior, sometimes it dies. You can’t always ignore the bad, but helping someone see and develop their strengths as they minimize their weaknesses is the true picture of a good relationship.

This couple I mentioned earlier. The thing that I loved most about them was that underneath it all they encouraged the good in each other. They appreciated the strengths, recognized the weaknesses, but were each other’s equilibrium. His gift of gab left unrestrained could have made him a bore, but she kept it in check so that his charm glowed. They were honest with each other and felt the freedom to argue with no consequences except good ones. They obviously had great affection and appreciation for each other. They worked as a team, even if a bit of a disjointed one. They talked and argued, agreed and disagreed, but underneath it all there was always a smile and passion for each other that overrode everything else. That smile underneath the facade made all the difference. He had her back, and she had his. It made their relationship steadfast, and comfortable, and gave them confidence. They were better together than apart.

We need to inflame the affection and burn the rubbish. We all come into relationships with a certain amount of baggage, carting around a caseload of issues. Love doesn’t require perfection, but it is difficult for it to thrive without kindness. Smiling on them, showing you have recognized the special….people need that. It’s what “your people” deserve. It’s what you should require. Smiling on people takes root and grows and allows people to live in freedom, and perhaps gives them confidence to leave behind the baggage that has been weighing them down. There are enough people in life who give the message “You’re not…..enough.” What if our message is “You are….plenty” and we use words that affirm their value. With a smile that can be heard in our voice, and generates from the depths of our hearts. Don’t be a doormat in your relationships, but also watch where you are stepping. There may be a body there.

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