You want to be free to do and be whatever you want in your life.
This type of freedom could be called Negative Freedom, being free from constraints. Being single offers ample relational negative liberty.
Being in a committed, intimate relationship holds the possibility of Positive Freedom due to the moral, financial, sexual, logistical, and familial limitations. Positive freedom is acting according to the values, rules, and limitations you have taken upon yourself. Living within your positive freedom helps you develop character, congruence, and confidence.
So how can you leverage the positive freedom of your relationship in order to grow? By blocking your exits.
An "exit" is any statement, defense mechanism, or behavior you do that serves to hide your true feeling, thoughts, and beliefs from your partner. An exit prevents you from actually meeting yourself. Most of us have lots of exits because they protect us from being vulnerable or getting hurt. In order to feel safe and avoid pain, we develop many exits so others won’t see the shadow parts of ourselves that we perceive to be unwanted and undesirable.
The price of having many exits:
- You don’t grow. By always avoiding meeting and exposing shadow parts of yourself, you don’t grow beyond them. You become stuck with your historic defense mechanisms.
- Your relationship remains superficial. With many exits, both partners avoid intimacy and vulnerability, leaving the encounter more superficial and boring.
Growth and exits
Growth happens when you can’t run away from yourself anymore and you start taking full ownership of all the different parts of yourself. In some instances, life forces you to meet yourself and refresh your defense mechanisms—like cases of illness, financial crises, etc..
You can proactively block your own exits in service of your growth, though.
Benefits of proactively blocking your own exits:
- You mature. Being blocked forces you to find and express more of your self-states.
- Your relationship becomes more vital, exciting, and generative. By blocking each other’s exits, you become each other’s coach in the service of personal and relational growth. You both enjoy an ever-changing and deepening relational bond.
Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have a partner that blocks our exits in a playful, growth-inducing way. Not a partner who complains about our behavior while feeling sorry for themselves, but rather a mate who really wants us to expand our relational repertoire and bring more of ourselves to the world. It is in your enlightened self-interest that people block your exits and relational business cards which will force you to face the creative limitation within the positive liberty of your relationship.
How to proactively block your exits?
Blocking your own exits proactively is not natural because it basically means exposing ourselves to risk. But with some conscious effort, this can be done.
- Share this article with your partner.
- Choose to believe that the fastest way to grow is to block your exits, enlarge your relational repertoire, and connect yourself to additional self-states.
- Dare to stop fearing being caught. Choose to believe that your partner unconsciously, implicitly intuits your shortcomings. Actively create an environment where your faults are welcome.
- Make your partner into the best therapist you ever had. If you reveal to your partner your defense mechanisms, smoke screens, and avoidance tactics, you’ll help them to become the best person to challenge you effectively.
- Own your exit retroactively. When you do avoid or bypass intimacy, own it playfully to your partner: “I just avoided your question again, by changing the topic. Why did I do that? I was embarrassed you might think I am stupid.”
- When you are called out, Let It Land. In those unbearable, vulnerable moments where your partner sees you at your worst, dare to stay open in the heat of the crucible of intimacy.
- Dare to playfully block your partner’s exits. After you have modeled blocking yourself, use Play to soften your calling out your partner on their exits. You can invite them to do a "Take 2" and try again.
- Enjoy the creative limitation. It is a bittersweet feeling because being blocked can be experienced as aggressive and embarrassing. Yet there is also a sense of release and joy of finally being seen beyond your façade.
Over time, you will waste less time in self-presentation and more in self-exposure. You will experience more growth, vitality, and agency. Block your exits so you can enter the next evolution of yourself and fully realize that Love is Freedom.
Berlin, I. (2002). Liberty. UK: Oxford University Press.
McKee, R. (1997). Story: style, structure, substance, and the principles of screenwriting. New York, NY: Harper Collins.