In every relationship between two people, there are obviously two entities involved: the two people.
What you may not realize is that there’s a third entity in the room.
And leaving out that entity – especially when there’s disagreement or conflict happening – is a huge mistake.
So what in the world am I talking about?
The space between the two of you.
This space is where the relationship lives, breathes, struggles, and either succeeds or fails.
Whether we’re talking about a professional relationship between manager and employee or between colleagues, or a personal relationship between you and a friend or family member – or even a casual relationship between you and your auto mechanic! – there is something happening between you that’s distinct from either of you individually.
That space between can be filled with tension, or it can be filled with acceptance. It can be filled with stress, or with ease; with defensiveness, or with empathy; with irritation, or with joy; with disdain, or with respect; and so on.
Notice, too, that even when there is disagreement and conflict, the space between can still hold love, empathy, and respect … and even when there is apparent agreement and you seem to be getting along, the space between can hold contempt, frustration, and annoyance.
Just as human experience is prone to paradox, so too is the space between. So, for instance, the space between can hold love, frustration, anger, respect, and defensiveness, all in a bewildering mixture.
Ask yourself …
Consider a relationship where you feel comfortable, safe, engaged, and cared about.
What does the space between hold? How does it feel? Is it warm, cool, soft, firm, light, dark? What color is it? How big is it? What’s the emotional experience?
These probably seem like strange questions to be asking about something you might not even be sure exists, but if you give yourself some time to explore them, you may be surprised and intrigued.
Now consider …
Think about a different relationship: one in which you’re struggling. Maybe there’s outright conflict, perhaps you’re not feeling accepted or acknowledged, or maybe you just want more.
What does the space between hold in this relationship?
And then …
How can you use what you’ve learned to improve the relationship? Is there an energy you’d like more of in the space between – or less of – or in addition to?
For most of us, this is a very different way of experiencing relationships. Give yourself some time to play with what you discover – and time to see how you can change the relationship by changing what you contribute to the space between.