My husband and I have a very accepting and relaxed space when we are home together. We have subconsciously created that space together by each of us adapting to behaviours that we enjoyed in the other.
An example of this subconscious co-creation:
Early in our relationship, I found myself in the kitchen cooking, and my husband was relaxing on the couch. Part of me was annoyed thinking: “You should be helping, or at least be doing something else!” Part of me was intrigued: “Hm, how would it be to sit down on the couch and relax when HE is cooking…?” Next time he was doing some housework, I did try it - to not do anything - and I liked it!
With anyone else, I would have probably felt guilty and would not have allowed myself to enjoy my relaxed time while the other one was doing something. But his previous lounging on the couch plus his total indifference to me lounging while he was doing stuff had made it acceptable behaviour in our relationship and removed my guilt.
So now, it is accepted standard in our household that one can do something ‘non-productive’ like reflecting, reading, watching TV while the other is ‘productively’ cooking or cleaning. I’m consciously avoiding the word ‘chores’, because to me that word has the connotation of obligation. And when I’m cooking or cleaning while he is resting, I’m not doing that out of obligation but because I want to. If I don’t want to, I might do it later, let him to do it or we jointly decide to eat something that doesn’t require cooking at all.
Not feeling like you have to do something out of obligation has been unbelievable freeing - and it removes a lot of conflict. Outside of our home, in company of others, that sense of obligation comes back to me, and it breeds stress and conflict in our relationship.
Societal Obligation - Necessary?
Out in society, I don’t feel the permission to let me - or my husband - be ourselves, to only do what feels right to us in the moment and to ignore what might be expected, polite, or the proper thing to do. And maybe I’m right to not let go of my sense of obligation ‘out there’ because while we have a tacit agreement in our marriage I don’t have the same thing with other people. My sense of obligation wants to ensure that I keep fitting into society and don’t get ostracised.
But how nice would it be to extend this obligation-free zone to more than just my home!? I don’t think that it would necessarily lead to anarchy and collapse. Once I removed the feeling of obligation, I didn’t do less, I just did it without resentment and with WAY more pleasure.
The past four or five Christmas Eves, I have invited friends who - like us - remain in London rather than return to their families for the festive season. I spend the entire day in the kitchen and prepare a German Christmas dinner of goose with red cabbage and dumplings. Sometimes I prepare Christmas decoration, sometimes I don’t. It depends on how much time and creative energy I have. Sometimes I ambitiously try to make dumplings from scratch, sometimes they come ready-made out of a plastic bag. The guests contribute what they want, but there is no obligation or expectation to bring anything.
My point is: I’m organising these Eve dinners because I want to. I don’t expect anything in return, and I hope my friends don’t feel obliged to give in return either and just enjoy these get togethers as much as I do - guilt free!
A space where you are who you are and not who you think you should be
I have a good friend whom I met on my coach training. He has been on an incredible journey of learning about self, relationship with others, communities, and relationship with nature, and he acts as an endless source of wisdom and inspiration to my own journey to SELF.
He wants to create a space and community where everyone can be themselves. Because in his words:
When we try to be who we think we should be, then we’re all the same.
When we are who we really are, then we’re all unique.
- Neil Ramsorrun
When he told me, I thought: “Noble endeavour, but not realistic.” But then he told me about a mini-experiment where he and four friends were on holiday together and consciously decided to make it a time and space where everyone could be themselves, thus making “be yourself” the socially acceptable and expected framework. And he said it was beautiful to see that they probably ended up doing more together organically than they may have done in a framework governed by a feeling of obligation: They went on outings together, individuals spent time away from the group or sat separate but in the company of others. Some people took charge of cooking while others helped out and yet others did something later on. Did everyone put in the same effort? Probably not - plus how would you measure that? But because no-one did anything out of obligation, it didn’t matter.
I love the idea of creating more spaces where people can just be themselves and don’t feel obliged to be who they think they should be.
If you want to read more about Neil’s project and/or support him: http://bit.ly/neilscommunitydream