I’ve noticed a concept come up again and again when I work with couples that want to create more art and depth in their connection and intimacy.
That concept is the bandwidth of connection between the two partners.
Your bandwidth for connection is a lot like the same bandwidth you have for the internet coming into your house. When the bandwidth is wide, you can receive, and provide, a great deal of input to and from your partner. When the bandwidth is narrow, you can receive and provide very little input. And when the bandwidth is pinched off or closed, you cannot receive or provide any input.
In any relationship — romantic or otherwise — the bandwidth available between you and the other person is continually shifting. Your bandwidth widens and narrows as time goes on, and is a function of both partners involved.
When your partner says something that you perceive as hurtful, you will close yourself, energetically, and thus narrow the bandwidth available between the two of you. When your partner says something that you perceive as loving, you will open yourself, energetically, and thus widen the bandwidth available.
This same thing is happening on the other side of the conversation, and this dance makes up a lot of the art that is available in relationship.
When your partner closes themselves, it makes it easy to justify your own closure — a narrowing of the available bandwidth. But the truth is that whichever partner is willing to hold their position longest is the one that dictates the bandwidth available.
If your partner closes themselves, and you stay open in the face of their closure, eventually, they too will open back up.
This isn’t easy. When we are close to someone, we become less loving and more fearful, and from our fear, we tend to be nasty. Like an animal that’s hurt, we swipe out, even if someone is trying to offer us kindness.
You always have a choice in the matter of the bandwidth that is available between you and your partner. You can be at the effect of their closure, insisting that that is the reason there is a lack of intimate bandwidth between the two of you, without taking responsibility for the fact that you are simply unwilling to stay open.
Alternatively, you can be committed to staying closed yourself, punishing your partner for their perceived transgressions, and refusing to meet them in the wider bandwidth their openness is inviting.
Or, you can stand for greater bandwidth, and keep yourself open in the face of your partner’s closure. Loving them, standing open-hearted and willing to be with everything they bring, in service of creating more intimacy and connection between the two of you in the moment.
Most attempts to “fix” relationships that are problematic (as an example, imagine a couple trying to “work things out” after years of built up acrimony and resentment) operate on top of a tiny amount of bandwidth.
All of the frustration and resentment that have accrued over the years come into conflict with the narrow window for intimacy and connection the partners have for each other, and consequently, it’s like trying to do complicated, data-intensive work over a dial-up connection and a 2400 baud modem (that’s a reference for the cool kids).
Before we can start to really address some of the stuff that’s built up, we need to develop some capacity to stay open with one another and sit in the tension that gets created. Only from there can we begin to grow the seed of intimacy, and begin to develop mastery in the art of intimacy.
Next post, I’ll elaborate on some of the things that happen when our bandwidth becomes narrowed or pinched off completely, and how you may see this manifesting in your relationships, as well as what there is to do about it.