Exploring the Edge: Soft Vulnerability or Loving Toughness

So I’ve been exploring this edge recently, between soft vulnerability and loving toughness.

What do I mean by soft vulnerability? I mean full-on openness, a willingness to be adventurous and do “crazy” things, like meet a man who lives across the country from me, like sharing with the world things that I once considered “private,” like telling someone when I feel upset instead of hiding it, like smiling at strangers on the street. All of these things feel great anytime I am feeling a lot of trust, in myself, in a guy, in a situation, in God. And when I feel a lot of Presence.

What do I mean by loving toughness? Well, I immediately thought of Emotional Freedom Technique and Attracting Women that I wrote way back when, which contains a small example of bringing a conversation back to Presence. In that situation, I interrupted the dialogue and brought it back to presence by being honest rather than being “nice.” Loving toughness is something that comes into play when any situation is no longer in full Presence. Perhaps it’s a situation where I have been open and vulnerable about my feelings and concerns, and the other person has not responded with anything that feels better to me. If I don’t do something “tough” at that point, the situation is likely to move even farther away from Presence, into bickering or resentment, etc.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a book that I think has a lot to say about basic relationship dynamics: Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson. Here’s what he has to say:

“The best way of keeping a [relationship] healthy is to maintain a system of mutual accountability, within the context of love. Speaking personally, the secret of my beautiful relationship with Shirley for the past forty-plus years has involved a careful protection of the ‘line of respect’ between us. This is a difficult concept to convey, and its function is different from one personality to another. Perhaps by explaining how it operates between Shirley and me, I can help the reader adapt the principle to his own circumstances.

“Suppose I work in my office two hours longer than usual on a particular night, knowing Shirley is preparing a special candlelight dinner. The phone sits there on my desk, but I lack the concern to make a brief call to explain. As the evening wears on, Shirley wraps the cold food in foil and puts it in the refrigerator. Then suppose when I finally get home, I do not apologize. Instead, I sit down with a newspaper and abruptly tell Shirley to get my dinner ready. You can bet there’ll be a few minutes of fireworks in the Dobson household. Shirley will rightfully interpret my behavior as insulting and will move to defend the ‘line of respect’ between us. We will talk it out, and next time I’ll be more considerate.

“Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose Shirley knows I need the car at 2 p.m. for some important purpose, but she deliberately keeps me waiting. Perhaps she sits in a restaurant with a lady friend, drinking coffee and talking. Meanwhile, I’m pacing the floor at home wondering where she is. It is very likely that my lovely wife will hear about my dissatisfaction when she gets home. The ‘line of respect’ has been violated, even though the offense was minor.

“This is what I mean by mutual accountability. Such minor conflict in a marriage plays a positive role in establishing what is and is not acceptable behavior. Some instances of disrespect are petty, like the two examples I gave, but when they are permitted to pass unnoticed, two things happen. First, the offender is unaware that he has stepped over the line and is likely to repeat the indiscretion later. In fact, he may go farther into the other person’s territory the next time. Second, the person who felt insulted then internalizes the small irritation rather than spilling it out. As the interpretation of disrespect grows and the corresponding agitation accumulates in a storage tank, the stage is set for an eventual explosion, rather than a series of minor ventilations.

“What I’m saying is that some things are worth fighting over, and at the top of the list is the ‘line of respect.’ Most of my conflicts with Shirley have occurred over some behavior that one of us interpreted as unhealthy to the relationship. Shirley may say to me, in effect, ‘Jim, what you did was selfish, and I can’t let it pass.’ She is careful not to insult me in the confrontation, keeping her criticism focused on the behavior to which she objected.

“A workable system of checks and balances of this nature helps a couple keep their marriage on course for a marathon rather than a sprint.”

About the Author:

Erika Awakening is a Harvard Law School graduate and former practicing attorney. She left the rat race to become a location-independent entrepreneur, holistic life coach, blogger, speaker, healer, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) expert. Erika Awakening is one of the world's foremost experts on eradicating limiting beliefs and lifestyle design on your own terms. Learn more about Erika Awakening

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  1. Thanks for the feedback, Anonymous :-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    That is a really excellent concept which I can integrate into my life; thank you.

    I’m in the midst of having a relationship die due to my not requiring the line of respect be observed. And both things happened — more transgressions on both sides, and more resentments “unventilated.”

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