Hail Mary Pass Definition:
A very long, often unsuccessful pass made in a desperate attempt to score late in the game.
You have been feeling lonely and alone for some time in your relationship – maybe months, maybe years. You find yourself complaining about your mate (spouse, or lover, or long term partner) to your close friends, or to yourself as you do the dishes, mow the lawn, or try to focus on writing a memo at work. Perhaps you realize you no longer find his or her endearing flaws endearing. They are merely annoying and you wish he or she would just STOP IT.
On the other hand, you still feel love and connection to your mate. You have not been seriously considering leaving, or breaking it off – or when those thoughts have come, you have shied away from them, knowing that you would really miss this person, in so many ways, if the two of you parted.
In other words, your relationship is in trouble. But there is still the flame of life within it. Given the choice to leave, or fix things, you know you want to fix things if you can.
If this sounds like you, then I have a suggestion. However, I have a few caveats for you to consider before you take my suggestion and try this “Hail Mary”.
First, consider whether you will feel emotionally and physically safe if you have an honest, frank discussion with your mate about the problems in the relationship. If the answer is “no”, then I suggest seeking professional guidance before you try this.
Second, consider whether your mate is someone who has the capacity to listen to you – really listen to you – without responding with anger and blame. If anger and blame come with any attempt to talk through relationship issues, see my point above . . . or tread very carefully, and know that you are up against tall odds.
Third, consider whether YOU have the capacity to talk about problems without anger and blame. If you are honest with yourself, and you realize you tend to express distress by yelling, or saying mean things, or accusing the person to whom you want to feel closer, get professional guidance to help you with this conversation. If you try it mixed with your own anger and blame, it will not work.
Finally, only try this after you have given serious thought about what changes YOU need to make in order to change the relationship for the better. You will need to be very clear about the baggage you, yourself, have been bringing into the relationship that makes your partner unhappy. If you can’t think of any, then circle back to the idea of talking with a trusted friend, or relative, or professional counselor before you move forward. You need to see YOURSELF clearly before this conversation can bear fruit.
Ok – you want to go forward? Then here is the Hail Mary Move you might want to try. It involves having a very serious discussion with your partner in which each person makes an important “ask” to the other about ONE issue. It is essential that this discussion avoids becoming a gripe session, and does not include a whole list of complaints. This is a conversation with a goal of listening, honoring the other person’s feelings, and trying to commit – both of you – to working on ONE change.
The idea is that if this conversation can go well, if both partners can take responsibility for ONE issue that each needs to work on for the other (and for self), and if both partners actually then work on that issue, and create change, the relationship will receive a huge injection of hope, energy and trust. And this can be a critical first step back towards a better relationship. This is a hard step to take, and both partners must participate in good faith – that is why this is a “Hail Mary”. But Hail Mary passes sometimes work! And the game is won, and everyone is grateful for the amazing efforts of the team. That is the idea here.
So – here is the step by step of the Hail Mary:
- Tell your partner you would like to have an important conversation with them as soon as both of you can find time to sit down (or take a walk) by yourselves, and have the time to talk without the presence of other people or deadlines or tasks that need to be done. Set a time. Tell your partner that the conversation is coming from your love for them – that it is not going to be a blast against them. (Know that your partner will want to hear the news immediately, and it will be hard to wait, so try to bring this up when you know there will be time to talk within the coming hours.)
- When you have the opportunity to talk, begin the conversation by saying that you have thought a lot about this conversation, and it feels like a very important moment in the relationship. You want to do all you can to make it go well, and you invite your partner to tell you if you begin sounding angry or blaming. Tell them you want to be respectful – and they can help you remain so if you start losing it. Tell your partner that either of you can press pause to calm down, or gather thoughts – and then return to the discussion so it can go well.
- Tell your partner that you have been unhappy about this one issue in the relationship for some time. Pause. Check to see if your partner is listening, and seems to be open to continuing. If your partner is not looking at you, or looks clenched and already mad, try saying something reassuring, like “I’m guessing this feels like root canal – I don’t mean it to. I love you, and I want to make both of us happier together. Are you ok to continue?” Depending on your mate’s response, decide if you want to continue. This isn’t going to work if your partner is already set to explode, or is responding with contempt (such as, “Oh, here we go again. Another vent session about all the things I do wrong. How long do I have to sit here and listen to this garbage?”). If things look bleak at this point, you might need to stop here, and circle back to considering whether you need professional help – together or separately – to navigate these problems.)
- If your partner is listening, and seems ready to talk, keep going.
- Next, tell your partner you have thought a lot about what baggage YOU have been bringing into the relationship, and you realize it is significant. You might mention at this point one smaller issue that you know makes your partner unhappy, or impatient. (For example, you could say, “For example, I know that my running late all the time is really annoying, and that it feels rude and inconsiderate. I have really been thinking about WHY I am always late, and I want to try to do better with that.”)
- Explain to your partner that in THIS conversation, what you would like to do, is have each of you be really honest about one important thing that you want the other to change – to work on and then change – in order to make a real attempt to create more happiness. Let your partner know that YOU are ready to hear his/her biggest ask about YOU. And that you would like permission to give him/her YOUR biggest ask. Suggest that each of you speak briefly, to avoid lectures, and that you each really try to listen, and understand, before responding.
- If your partner is still with you, and still listening, or even responding positively to this whole thing, keep going.
- Then ask your partner if they would like YOU to talk about YOUR ask first, or if they would like to go first. Let them decide the sequence.
- When you explain your ask, frame it gently, and with love, no matter what it is. Speak briefly. DO NOT LECTURE. Keep it short!
- Give your partner time to respond after your ask. Pause. Give space. Don’t keep talking to fill the silence. If your partner responds with denial, or anger – consider pressing pause on the discussion. Continuing may lead to a deterioration in the discussion. You can gently note that you had wanted to just have an even give and take- but that the conversation now feels adversarial and you don’t want to have that kind of discussion. On the other hand, if your partner responds thoughtfully, and is open, thank them for being so responsive. Let them know that means so much to you, and keep talking about the issue.
- When your partner articulates his/her ask to YOU, listen carefully. Repeat back what you heard in summary form. Make sure you really understand what your partner is asking for. (You are modeling for your partner HOW you want this conversation to go, even if your partner went first, and did not handle it this way.) When you understand your partner’s ask, thank them for being honest. If you want time to think about it, let them know you would like a brief pause, so you can think about this, and return to the conversation in a bit. If you feel you can reply immediately, do your best to respond by seriously considering how you can work on the issue your partner has described. Do your best to validate your partner’s concern.
- If you AND your partner both respond well, and thoughtfully to one another, YAY! Continue the conversation with a give and take, and decide with your partner how much more to say at this point.
- Decide together how you both want to proceed. DO you want to have a follow up discussion after you each have thought more about HOW to begin changing or working on change? Do you want to leave it open but promise to circle back to one another with more thoughts in the days ahead? If one of you makes some kind of commitment (e.g. Ok, I am going to get a nicotine patch from my doctor this week, and try to quit smoking. I promise.” the other should simply offer affirmation – “That sounds really good. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”) Avoid pushing or pressuring. Do not take over or be the nag or the boss. Let your partner take responsibility for the work on him or her self, and YOU take responsibility for the work on YOURSELF. Follow though on your own work.
Examples of What Not to Do and Suggestions of What to Do Instead – When Explaining Your Ask
NOT: “You have to stop yelling at the kids all the time. You just have to stop being a bully in the family. Everyone is miserable around you. Just the other day you…..blah blah blah.”
INSTEAD: “I’m asking you to examine what makes you unhappy and impatient when you are around the kids, and to find ways to express your upset that feel kinder, and gentler. I’m asking you to figure out how we can bring the decibel level down in our house when things are stressful. I’m looking for more peace when we are all together.”
NOT: “You’re an alcoholic, and if you don’t stop getting drunk every weekend, I will have to leave you – and take the kids. When you are drunk you should hear yourself, you…blah blah blah.”
INSTEAD:“I’m realizing I cannot function well in the relationship as long as you are drinking as much as you have been and the relationship cannot work as long as you are drinking. I’m asking you to take actions – whatever you need to do – to help you stop drinking. I love you, and I love our family, and I want you to live a long time and get healthy.”
Examples of What Not to Do and Suggestions of What to Do Instead – When Listening to Your Partner’s Ask to You
NOT: “Ok so you think I hate sex, and you’re saying we never have any and you want me to be sexy even when I’m exhausted.”
INSTEAD: “So you would really love to be more sexual with me, and you feel like I don’t desire you when I’m so rarely in the mood and you want us to feel closer, physically. I realize this is something that has made you unhappy. I want to make our sex life better too – I am totally willing to work on this with you, and figure out how to be closer. I love you, and I want all parts of our relationship to work.”
NOT: “I’m not depressed all the time! Yes, I have bad moods, but lately it’s been much better! I told you – I’m against medication to make everyone happy all the time. It’s a racket with Big Pharma!”
INSTEAD:“It has been really hard for you to see me so depressed and you are really feeling that my moods are having a real impact on our relationship. I’m not always aware of how down I am, or how withdrawn I seem. So I do want to be conscious of it myself. I’m not crazy about the idea of taking medication, but I can commit to seeing my doctor and talking about it. I am willing to really figure out how to get a handle on my moods in a different way. If it sounds like medication is the best approach, I am open to it. I totally get why this is so important to you and I’m glad you are being honest about it.”
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The Hail Mary is obviously not the end of the story. Each partner will see if the other actually does the work to make the change. All you can do is take responsibility for yourself. If the Hail Mary does not work, and the ball is dropped – by one or both partners – it’s time to circle back to more thought. About the relationship as a whole, and about possibly seeking help.
When this DOES work, each partner can give the other a lot of credit, acknowledgement and encouragement for each step the other takes. This continues to add energy, trust and kindness to the relationship.