The thing about relationships.
I’ve heard it said every relationship is a set of three chairs. My chair. Your chair. And our chair.
The first thing I thought to myself upon receiving this metaphorical revelation was that it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
I didn’t say that out loud. Mostly because I was in a therapist’s office, and everyone knows you don’t tell your therapist she has a dumb metaphor. That’s like zapping a bear with a handheld Taser.
So I said “hmmmm…” instead, like I was curious and interested. Cool, three chairs, yep.
She continued. And all while she talked, I found myself thinking, “Who sits in the third chair?” I mean, I get it. The relationship sits there. But seriously, who actually sits there? Do we take turns?
Do I sit there when I am telling my secrets, and I need to be closer to you?
What if your chair has lousy lumbar support? Do you move over to our chair because it’s more of a recliner situation?
If one of us needs a hug, do we hop into the third chair together?
As the varying situations unfurled through my mind, I had a queasy kind of knowing that started in my gut and reluctantly coursed its way up through my heart and into my brain.
I spoke the thoughts carefully: “I have a hard time letting what I need stand without justification.”
“Why do you think that is?” my therapist mused.
“Well, because I feel like I need to defend my right to my chair.”
“And what would it look like instead to just own with people, ‘this is my chair because this is my chair’?”
“I’m serious,” her eyes sparkled. “Your chair is your chair. You don’t have to compromise your chair, and you don’t have to leave the room. You get to stay seated, because you are you.”
“So…. Let’s say I’m in relationship, and things have gotten strained, so we’ve stopped paying attention to our chair. Then my friend decides, ‘Actually, chairs are dumb and starts buzz-sawing the chairs to build a rocket ship.’ I mean, obviously that is counterproductive, so I’m going to get up and try and stop the rocket shipbuilding.”
My therapist laughed, “Oh no, you don’t stop it. You start sawing off one of your own chair legs to help in the effort, because you’ve decided you don’t need it as much as your friend.”
I blushed and laughed and bit my cheek all at once. She had me caught and feeling a little foolish.
“Katy, when you hold your space, you stay well, and you invite the people around you to return to wellness. That’s where relationship happens.”
Relationship can’t happen if I don’t stay in my chair.
And while relationship is about building something beautiful together (maybe that’s our chair. Or maybe it’s our tree house, or our garden), it never requires that I sacrifice or compromise my chair. And it never requires that you sacrifice or compromise yours.
In times of health, we build together. In times of strain, we make sure we honor one another’s chairs. And in times when one of us is unhealthy and destabilized, the other stays seated, healthy and full of invitation: “Come back and let’s sit.”
“But staying seated is scary.” The words caught in my throat.
“Why is that?”
“Because then I’m just present with all the hope and the longing inside of me…I’m sitting with all of it, and it’s so big. That’s what I’m afraid will hurt me.”
“Oh but the hope, that’s who you are. That’s you, Katy. And your story is going to be tied to sitting in it.”
Turns out chairs are a pretty moving metaphor.