Do you ever have days (or maybe weeks, months or even years) that start to feel like it’s all just a bit too much to manage? Recently I was talking with someone who has had life throw quite a few curve balls over the years and the response was “I’m tired!”.
Sometimes life can make us tired and at those times it’s especially important to be able to rely on the support of another. In speaking to my friend, an image suddenly came to me of how two people can lean into each other in a way to create balance, support and yes, even rest. The most common image we see is when two people are sitting back to back on the ground, creating a comfortable resting place for each other.
Two people can also lean into each other, standing in a way that simultaneously can be a little off-balance and yet perfectly balanced. Standing with backs, shoulders, necks and heads together and feet a bit angled out creates mutual balance, but only when there’s cooperation. It takes some trust to lean on another in this way, but done right, there’s balance. The little triangle of space that’s created between the two bodies reminded me a bit of an arch, especially the stone arches seen in bridges and cathedrals.
Stay with me as I dip a little into physics and engineering (definitely NOT my forte). In building an arch, the whole thing is unstable and requires support until the two sides meet in the middle. Once the sides have met in the middle, then the load of all the weight actually makes it stronger. Essentially, there is negligible tension in the arch as the force is pressed outward and down toward the base. In bridge language, the weight is diverted toward the abutments on either side which take on all the pressure.
Now, isn’t that the most beautiful metaphor? Two people standing alone but coming together are less stable, and needing more support, until they meet in the middle. When they do, the weight that comes upon them actually can make them stronger. They are stronger when they have a solid base on each side where the force can be pressed outward so there is negligible tension at the place they come together. Given all that, why do we find it so challenging to lean on each other?
As I mentioned a little earlier, it takes trust. In the physical leaning in I described, a movement away on one person’s part will leave the other falling right on their backside. Who wants to risk that?! The risk of getting hurt can be way too scary. What if the support isn’t actually there?
Another reason we don’t lean in is that it can be hard to describe what we need to happen in order to feel fully supported. Every time I read my written description of leaning back to back, I noticed it was awkward and not as clear as I would hope. Thankfully I had the benefit of pictures to help me along. When we are trying to talk about something that can make us vulnerable, there aren’t usually pictures and the message can get more muddled than we would like. At that point, we start to worry that not only will we be turned down but that we also start to sound stupid or inept. Double vulnerability whammy and that’s not exactly inviting.
Finally, as with the friend with whom I was talking, sometimes our motives for not leaning on another are more altruistic, at least in our own minds. Sometimes we see leaning on another as handing the burden over to them, not being something shared. In those cases, perhaps we worry that anything we add will be just enough weight to make it all come crashing down, or at least just stress the other person out unnecessarily. Here’s where the arch metaphor comes back in play. Sharing the weight of what troubles us with someone who really does have our back spreads the load in such a way that it can make us stronger, together. Even when that person has weight on their own to shoulder. In fact, leaning on each other can take both burdens and spread the weight out to make it all more manageable.
Is it risky? Yes. Being known in a real way always is. Can it make a pair stronger? Absolutely. When a strong base exists, both in the couple’s relationship and in each person separately, sharing the load of life becomes easier, less heavy and like the arch, the load can strengthen the overall structure.
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