Imagine that you’re standing on the side of a lake or a river, looking out over the water and into the horizon. It all looks so hopeful, beautiful, exciting, open to possibility and exploration.
The person you’re dating stands on the shore beside you. At some point, both of you decide that you’re going to take the next step and enter into a more serious partnership, so you get into a canoe.
I’m going to take this metaphor a little farther but stick with me. How each of you behaves once you step into the canoe will determine whether you aimlessly drift through life, struggle in your relationship, or if you reach your intended life destination and enjoy the ride along the way.
Throughout our fifteen-plus years of being together, Zach and I have experienced all of these canoe rides. Looking back, I wish I realized how hard we were making it for ourselves when we weren’t working together.
If you are in a drifting canoe, you are not really moving. Life is happening to you. In this boat, neither one of you is doing any paddling, and the canoe idly drifts along with the current. The canoe will move and go places — it may even go far from the shore you started on, but where you end up may not necessarily be where you imagined you would. If you’re in this boat, you may feel like your life has no direction, you’re merely living your days without intention or purpose.
A diverging canoe is where each partner is paddling in a different direction. If you are in this canoe, you could be paddling fast or slow, but the difference is that you are paddling in an opposite direction from your partner. You are working against one another, not together. You may have goals, and your partner may also have goals, but you are not supporting one another or even working together to achieve those goals. If you are in this canoe, you feel out of sync with your partner. You feel disconnected and may even feel like your partner is sabotaging your efforts to reaching your goal.
A dragging canoe is where one partner is paddling while the other is not. In this canoe, you may be working furiously towards a goal while your partner idly sits in the canoe. They aren’t actively supporting your efforts to improve, but not necessarily working against you like in the diverging canoe. If you are the paddler in this canoe, you may also feel out of sync from your partner because your partner is not supporting your efforts, nor does your partner seem to understand how important your goals are to you. They are just watching you paddle toward your goal without making any effort to cheer you on or even help. If you are the rider in this canoe, you may notice that your partner has been working hard for a goal, but not really understand why. You may feel like your partner’s goal has nothing to do with your relationship, but at the same time, as you notice your partner work towards a goal, you start to feel less and less connected and engaged in your partner’s life. You may even wonder why things even need to change since life seemed really good before one of you started paddling. In both of these cases, the rider and the paddler are left feeling unsupported and misunderstood.
In this canoe, both you and your partner are paddling in the same direction. You have both set your sights on the same point on the horizon, and are working together to reach it. You may have identified goals together as well as individual goals, and you’re moving in sync, with mindful intention. With both of you knowing where you’re headed and knowing that your partner is fully supporting you, the ride is no longer a struggle, but a purposeful journey. That means you’re both able to enjoy the ride; watch the scenery, relax with each other, and to truly be mindful not only of where you’re heading but also mindful of the journey along the way. Life is not merely happening — you are creating the life you want, together.
So in looking at your partnership….which canoe are you in? Did you see your relationship style in one of these boats? Next time, I’ll share how to start moving your relationship out of the drifting, diverging, or dragging canoe to the dialed-in one. Zach and I started in the drifting canoe, and at different times in our relationship have been in all four types. It’s important to know where you are, so you know how to change things and head where you’re going. We’d love to help you reach that dialed-in canoe so that your partnership will not only be more productive but also more mindful.