Chapters
Partnering: A New Kind of Relationship

CHAPTER NINE
THE TOP TEN CHALLENGES TO RELATIONSHIP
Keeping Your Love Alive Amid Life’s Routines

The basic requirement for the care and feeding of a relationship is this: Partners must make the linkage — or connection — between them a priority in their lives.

There are many challenges to relationship, some of them come from outside of us and some come from within. We are going to show you the top ten challenges so that you can recognize them and do something about them. Meeting these challenges takes commitment, time, and effort. But a good relationship is well worth this effort and, we might point out, a great deal of this effort can be fun.

There is one very simple principle to keep in mind. The basic requirement for the care and feeding of a relationship is this: Partners must make the linkage — or connection — between them a priority in their lives. If they do so, the relationship will flourish. Anything that disrupts this linkage will disrupt their relationship.

Even the most devoted of partners will have interests other than their relationships and they will form attachments and linkages elsewhere. This is an important part of life. However, if your primary linkage in life shifts away from your partner and remains elsewhere, it is likely to prove fatal to your relationship.

There is a great deal of competition for our attention. All of us have a great many distractions in our lives and we do not have to go far to find something that will divert our attention from our partners. We will describe the ten major distractions that we have seen over the years. At the end of each of these, we will give you a chance to answer the question: Where is your primary linkage? You can use these questions to look at your own relationship to determine which among these are your major challenges.

Each of us has a different style. If you are the kind of person who likes to take time to think about these issues, read this chapter at a time when you can be quiet and alone. Give yourself time to think about the questions and write your answers in your notebook. If, however, you like to do things quickly, just read this with a highlight pen in hand. See what comes to mind as you read. Highlight whatever speaks to you and make notes in the margin of the book — or on Post-its if you need more space.

Now, on to the challenges.

Challenge 1: Television
Most homes have a television set. Actually, many homes have more than one so that each family member has a set all to his or her own. This is a very compelling distraction. Television sets and television programs are designed to attract us and keep our attention. That is their goal. The entire industry is based upon linking us irrevocably to the TV set. They seduce us with the weekly shows, the news, the stock market, our favorite ball team, the Olympics, the latest scandal, our favorite soap opera, that special program we cannot miss. Others among us are seduced by the sheer power inherent in the remote control. We are in charge! We can do or watch whatever we like, whenever we like. We can change stations to our hearts content without anybody scolding us. We are not forced to finish anything.

In addition to this seductive quality of television, there is its lack of confrontation and complication. It essentially complements your every mood and gives you whatever you want, whenever you want it. After all, has your TV ever made demands on you? Has it ever been disappointed in you? Has it ever criticized you? Has it made you feel vulnerable? Does it pressure you to finish anything? Does it frighten you or make you feel insecure? Do its feelings get hurt? Does it ever disagree with you? In short, there is no way that a TV set makes you as uncomfortable as your partner can!

Is it any wonder that we frequently find partners spending a great deal more time linked energetically to the TV than to one another?

Think about it! Are you more attached to your TV than to your partner? Which would you rather do without?

If you would rather do without your partner, it seems safe to say that something is missing in your relationship. We find that one of the first things to disappear in a relationship is time together. Both partners get so busy that they forget each other. Life today is difficult and demanding. People are usually so overworked, overstressed, or exhausted that when they do have a moment, they drop into a comfortable chair and watch TV. It takes real effort to stay on your feet and do something different.

Challenge 2: Work
Our work is very important. It gives us power and money and keeps us safe in the world. It helps us to define ourselves. Hopefully, if we give it enough attention, our work will always be there to support us and we do not have to worry about our work abandoning or divorcing us. Most important, as long as we have our work, we do not have to think very much about our vulnerability. Anything that helps us to deal with our vulnerability, without us having to face it directly, is extremely attractive.

Is it any wonder that many of us develop a primary linkage to our work and relegate our relationship to second place? When we feel vulnerable deep down inside and we do not want to know about it, going to work can make us feel better. At work, we make a difference. We are needed. We are wanted. Here we have mastery, or at least we can work toward mastery. This is extremely reassuring. Life feels safe and structured and our priorities are set for us. We know what is expected and we are able to do the right thing. Add to all this, the fact that we are earning money and contributing to the financial security of both our inner and outer children and you have a total win-win situation.

Unfortunately, the more our linkage is to work, the less energy there is left for relationship. Since the lifeblood of any relationship is linkage, this is not good for the relationship! The tendency to link to work rather than to one’s partner is a major challenge to relationship.

Traditionally, men have buried themselves in work when they felt vulnerable or their emotions became too uncomfortable. Now women, too, have this marvelous option available. Many women have learned to drop the linkage in the relationship and shift their energies to their work. When the going gets rough for a two-career couple and each partner has satisfying work, there is a strong temptation for the partners to shift the primary linkage from their relationship to their work. As this happens, each feels abandoned by the other and each links even more intensely to work.

This linkage may be to the work itself, to the clients they serve, or to their coworkers. This linkage is frequently to a particular person at work, an understanding coworker or a particularly supportive assistant. Traditionally it was the man’s secretary. This may or may not become a full-blown extramarital relationship.

We find this can be a particularly subtle challenge for people who work together. For instance, it is very easy for the two of us to get so involved in a project that we lose contact with each other. We may both get so interested in our writing that our linkage goes to the book rather than to one another. It may look as though we are still in a relationship because we are both linked to the same object, but we are not. Not really. We are like two oxen yoked to the same cart. We are pulling together and doing a great job, but we have blinders on and we no longer see each other. We just see the road ahead. When this happens, there is a loss of intimacy. We do not feel good and we do not know why.

There are many times in life when being linked to work looks like a natural and necessary move. This is particularly true when there are financial pressures, either real or imagined. One or both partners will deal with this underlying vulnerability in the most seemingly sensible fashion by working harder and earning more money. This is not a problem if the connection between the partners stays strong and intimate. Usually, however, at times like these the truly strong connection switches to work and the partners gradually and unobtrusively drift apart until they are almost like strangers to one another.

Of course, there are times when any of us will feel better at work than at home, but think about it. Over all, where do you feel better, with your partner or with your work?

To deal with this challenge, see what you can do about putting a limit on the amount of time you spend at work or thinking about work. Set boundaries. Try to set realistic time limits that you can meet; for instance, no work or work-related activity between 8:30 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. This will probably be extremely difficult to do at first. To help you do this, keep a notepad with you so that when you have a work-related thought during your off-hours, you can write it down and not think about it until the next work session. For instance, you remember that you should send an E-mail to double check on yesterday’s order. Write it down on your notepad and put it away until tomorrow. Otherwise you will probably spend a great deal of time (1) trying not to think this thought and (2) fearing that you will forget to send the E-mail.

Challenge 3: Other Relationships in Fact and Fantasy
There was a period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people realized that they could not expect a single romantic or sexual relationship to meet all their needs. This was a reaction against earlier overidealized expectations of marriages “made in heaven” and dreams of “happily ever after” when all that was needed was one Cinderella and one Prince Charming. It was a time of cultural revolution during which there was a good deal of experimentation with extramarital relationships and deep extramarital friendships.

Quite often this worked beautifully for a while. Each partner felt more alive and fulfilled. They brought back new energy to the primary relationship and the linkage between the partners intensified. But what we noticed during those years was that, sooner or later, the linkage between the partners began to dissipate as the linkage to outsiders increased in intensity. Most of the time the primary linkage finally shifted from the partner to someone else.

As normal, ordinary human beings, we can expect to feel attractions to people other than our partners. This is totally natural. It just means that we are alive and that our hormones are functioning properly. There is a great deal to be learned from these attractions if we do not panic about them or feel too guilty.

There was definitely a kernel of truth in the thinking of the sixties and seventies. One person does not hold everything; therefore one relationship cannot hold everything. We have our primary selves and we have our disowned selves. In our relationships there are selves that are acceptable or primary and others that both partners disown.

If you think about what we said earlier regarding disowned selves (see chapter 2), you get the picture of what happens in relationship. Our disowned selves, and the disowned selves of our partners, are the selves that we find fascinating in others. These are the selves that exert the fatal attractions that cause us to drop the linkage to our partners and develop a primary linkage elsewhere. This linkage does not have to become sexual in order to challenge the relationship. It just needs to be primary.

Sometimes this is not even a linkage to an actual person, sexual or otherwise. Sometimes it is a preoccupation with a fantasy. One of the partners develops a strong fantasy life and disappears into it. This can be a fantasy about another person, about an imagined person, or a fantasy about a different kind of life. The primary linkage shifts from the relationship or the partnering to this fantasy or this fantasy character. For some people, this can be as strong an involvement as an involvement with another person and it can disrupt the linkage between partners as much as an actual affair. Just as in an actual affair, the primary linkage has been shifted. Here, the primary linkage is to the fantasy rather than to the partner. Where does this linkage go? Just as in an affair or an attraction, the linkage is always to a person or a situation that is carrying a disowned self.

What can be done to reestablish the linkage within the partnership? If you follow our thinking, look for the disowned selves that are operating. What is it that is irresistible about this person who is not your partner? Where does this person carry either your disowned self or that of your partner? You can actually use this attraction as a teacher and either you or your partner can claim the disowned self so that this irresistible attraction becomes more resistible and your primary linkage returns to the relationship.

What does this look like? Perhaps you and your partner have become rather complacent and predictable. Your routine is safe and comfortable because each of you has disowned your spontaneity and wildness. We might expect that someone who is more spontaneous or unpredictable would be very attractive to one or both of you. If you take this attraction as a sign that you need a bit of fresh air and that your lives need a bit of change, you may be able to incorporate this change into your relationship rather than changing relationships.

These missing pieces that we find irresistible in others can be almost anything. Each of us is different. The person who carries this attraction can be a rebel or a conservative, sexual or proper, a professional or a homebody, fiscally responsible or fiscally impulsive, cautious or spontaneous, thoughtful or selfish, powerful or sensitive, passionate or cool, sophisticated or simple. The list goes on forever, but we just wanted to give you a picture of the variety of possibilities.

Think of the people in your life who exert a fascination over you and who pull your energetic linkage toward themselves and away from your partner. What is it that they carry that is missing in you, your partner, or the relationship? How might you bring more balance into your life and into your relationship by including some of this missing energy?

Challenge 4: Friends
It is extremely important to have friends and not to depend solely upon your partner to fill all your interpersonal needs. However, it is possible for our friendships to divert our primary linkage to someone other than our partner.

In the past, this has been particularly true of women. Their friendships have been deeper and more intimate than their marriages. They felt that they could say anything to their friends, but that they had to be cautious about what they said to their husbands. When they needed comfort they spoke with their friends not with their husbands. When they were unhappy about something that their husbands said or did, they did not speak to their husbands about it, but aired their concerns with their friends instead. Rather than saying to their partners, “I did not like it when you … ” they called their friends and discussed the matter with them. This shifts the primary linkage from the husband to the friend.

There is another way in which the primary linkage moves away from the relationship and to the friendship. This is a particular problem when one partner is an overly responsible person who gets very involved with the needs and problems of friends. There is a point where the balance between the friend and partner is shifted and the relationship loses. The energy is withdrawn from the partner and goes to the needy friend.

For instance, Bob and Jill are sitting at the dinner table. Jill tells Bob a funny story about their daughter’s success with her potty training. Bob proudly tells Jill about his contract to build three homes in the new housing development in the next town. They are having a great time together. The phone rings. It is Jill’s friend, Marla, who is having marital problems — again. Rather than finishing her meal with Bob, Jill leaves him at the table and talks for an hour with Marla. She links to Marla, her friend who needs her. She breaks her linkage with Bob who, she thinks, can manage on his own. If this happens frequently enough, the primary linkage is no longer in the marriage but in the friendship, and the marriage becomes an empty form rather than a living relationship.

As you might notice from this interchange, friends often carry our disowned selves, or missing pieces. If we look at the example of Bob and Jill, we see that Jill is not allowed to be needy like Marla. Jill, as a responsible type of person, must abandon her own dinner in order to care for Marla. She does not have the option of saying, “I’m sorry but I can’t talk just now, Bob and I are eating dinner. I’ll call you back tomorrow.”

The question to ask yourself here is Who is my best friend? In general, when you have something really important on your mind would you rather talk to your partner or your friends? For a truly intimate relationship, the answer will be “my partner.” There is a saying “It’s wonderful to be married to your best friend.” When the primary linkage is in the relationship, that is just the way we feel; our partners are our best friends.

Challenge 5: Children
We devoted chapter 8 to the effect of children on relationships because it is so common for children to replace the partner as our primary linkage. They are a marvelous gift but, just because they are so fascinating and delicious, they are also an almost irresistible distraction from the primary relationship. For many of us, it is the easiest thing in the world to shift our primary linkage from our partners to our children.

Basically, when a baby is born, the mother must bond to the new infant so that it will flourish. This usually means that, at least for a while, she will shift her primary linkage from the relationship to the child. These days with the increasing involvement of fathers in child rearing, the father is likely to shift his primary linkage to the child as well, for the same reason the mothers have done so in the past. It feels good.

It is absolutely necessary for both parents to realize how important it is for themselves, their relationship, and the well-being of their children, to stay connected to one another. This means that they will do whatever is necessary to maintain their own linkage.

When the linkage between partners is broken because one partner shifts the primary linkage to the child, the other partner is left hanging out alone, like an atom with an unpaired electron commonly known as a free radical. This “free radical” will look for someone or something else to bond to. Then any of these other “challenges” we have been discussing may become the object of the primary linkage. Let’s see what this can look like.

John and Jane have just had a baby after eight years of marriage. Before the birth of the child, John and Jane were inseparable. Jane taught school full time and John worked in computer software development. Now that the baby, Nancy, has entered the scene, Jane has taken a leave of absence from teaching, she is busy all the time and her primary linkage shifts from John to the baby. John feels rejected and is a bit worried about money, but he does not like to feel vulnerable so he does the sensible thing. He spends more and more time at work. After all, there are more bills to be paid and Jane is no longer teaching full time. Now Jane is linked to the baby and John is linked to his work. But there is a problem, a big one, their connection is no longer primary.

Sometimes the primary connection remains within the family but instead of being between the parents, it shifts to the children. Each partner links to a different child. The mother’s primary connection may be to her son and the father’s to his daughter. One parent may connect to the most successful child while the other parent’s primary connection is to the most needy child. If there is a single child, it sometimes happens that both parents’ primary linkage is to the same child.

If you have children ask yourself these questions: Is your primary linkage to your partner or to your children? What about your partner’s primary connection, is it to you or to a child? When did you and your partner last take time to be alone and to reconnect in intimate ways that did not include your children? (See chapter 8 for more suggestions about meeting this challenge.)

Challenge 6: Doing Rather Than Being
Most people have within them a pusher that pushes them to do more and more. They must learn more, accomplish more, earn more, be better, be smarter, expand, succeed, be the best. For our pushers, standing still is unacceptable. We must never waste a moment, we must always be doing something. When we reach one goal, our pusher sets another. There is no rest, just constant doing.

Unfortunately, this constant action makes linkage impossible. You have to stop moving in order to connect to another human being. This is not encouraged in our culture. We are not given permission to slow down long enough to connect with one another and to nourish our relationships. As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to move faster and faster. We’re like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland running as fast as we can to stay in the same place.

Now there is a new challenge to relationship. We have a New Age pusher, who, in addition to everything else, is pushing us toward growth, consciousness, greater spirituality, and, for the most ambitious of us, enlightenment. This New Age pusher will stop at nothing in its quest for growth. It has us learning about ourselves, working with our process, paying attention to our dreams, doing our spiritual practices, and following a myriad of new rules. It thinks nothing of breaking the connection to our partners and taking us away from them for months at a time.

Again, it is a matter of linkage. If the relationship connection remains primary, the partners will be able to handle the demands of this New Age pusher. However, if the primary linkage moves elsewhere, we are no longer linked to our partners and the relationship is severely challenged. When this happens, there is a chance that the relationship will not survive as our partners feel abandoned by the loss of connection and look for their linkage elsewhere.

Challenge 7: Computers — The New Mystical Lover
There are many among us who cannot resist the glow of the computer screen or the lure of the Internet. There is so much to do, to see, and to learn. There is so much to explore. There is an endless opportunity for play. You plan to take a moment to check your E-mail or to reconcile your bank account and, five hours later, you drag yourself to bed, exhausted but happy, hardly remembering your partner’s name.

We have come to think of the computer as the new mystical lover, a seductive creature who, always awake and available, sings a siren song at all hours of the day and night.

Again, this is a question of linkage. No matter what you are working at, it’s good-bye to your partner as your primary linkage shifts to the computer. Once when we were speaking about this as having an almost addictive quality, a computer expert told us he had heard that when people work on computers their brains move into a very satisfying alpha rhythm that is literally addictive. We do not know whether or not this is true, but it certainly seems that way.

There are many levels to this new fatal attraction. Some people have an intermittent linkage problem that does not constantly detract from their relationship. When they are working on their computers, that is their primary linkage but they are capable of returning and connecting to their partners. There are others, however, where the connection to the computer, and to the things that they access through their computer, is truly the primary linkage in their lives.

To check this out, ask yourself where you have more fun, with your computer or with your partner.

Challenge 8: Alcohol and Drugs
Partners often use drugs or alcohol to relax with one another or to enhance and intensify their relationship, particularly its sexual aspects. This may work very well if these substances are used in moderation, but this, too, can present a challenge. There is a point during intoxication beyond which the intimate connection between the partners is lost and each one moves into his or her own private world. When this happens, the other partner is abandoned.

If drug or alcohol usage moves into the realm of an addiction the relationship will suffer. In addition to whatever practical problems this presents in terms of overall functioning in the world, addictions break the connection between partners. The addict’s primary linkage is to the substance, not to the partner.

Not only do we see a loss of connection between the partners, but there is an additional consequence of excessive drug or alcohol usage. The user loses boundaries (and judgment) and often links energetically with others in an inappropriate way leaving the partner feeling even more alone and abandoned.

Pay attention to the quality of the connection between your partner and yourself when you have a few drinks. Do you tend to lose one another? You may need your partner to help you to figure this out. Our partners are often more sensitive to these changes than we are. Because of this, your partner may be able to tell you about a loss of connection that is not noticeable to you.

Challenge 9: Becoming a Psychological Know-It-All
Unfortunately, there can be a downside to all this self-exploration and psychological work. It is entirely possible for us to lose our vulnerability as we gain knowledge and to eventually become a psychological know-it-all. As we accumulate information about our relationships, our partners, and ourselves, we move very naturally and smoothly into the role of the expert or advisor. And just as smoothly and naturally, we lose our linkage to our partners.

This means that we are no longer equals. We are no longer partners in a relationship where both people feel a bit vulnerable and both people are trying to find the answers. There is an expert and a novice. This is a foolproof way to break an intimate connection.

These experts simply cannot make a connection to others. That is not what they do. Instead, they instruct others. It does not matter one bit that their information may be brilliantly insightful and precisely on target. Accuracy is totally irrelevant! The energetic linkage is lost and so is the intimacy. The relationship withers from lack of connection. This is truly ironic because the harder that this psychological know-it-all works at fixing a relationship, the worse things get.

The best way to figure out whether this has happened to you is to look at the reactions of the people around you, particularly the reaction of your partner. Do people’s eyes glaze over when you begin to share your insights with them? Do they become defensive, argumentative, or rebellious? If so, you have probably — unwittingly — become a psychological expert who approaches others with a great deal of information, but without any real connection.

Challenge 10: Maintaining a “Perfect” Relationship
Sometimes we work too hard to keep everything in our relationships perfect. We try to see eye-to-eye with our partners on all matters, we are impeccably empathic and understanding of one another, there are no problems, everything is wonderful, we are always linked energetically, we are indeed blessed, and we do everything together all the time. We put all of our energies into keeping the partnership trouble free and do our best to ignore any feelings of discomfort. The rule we hold in our minds is something like “in a really good relationship, everything runs smoothly, both partners always agree with each other, and they never separate but always do everything together.” Unfortunately, when we try to keep the relationship perfect in this way, we actually break the connection between our partners and ourselves because anything that does not work smoothly is ignored and too much gets left out.

Since relationships naturally ebb and flow and life is not always wonderful, perfection is not exactly an attainable objective. As a matter of fact, if this goal is attained and there is never any friction, we might suspect that something is being overlooked. This does not mean that relationships are always a mass of difficulties. What it does mean is (1) people are different and have different needs, (2) two partners invariably experience some areas of disconnection, disagreement, or misunderstanding, and (3) there is always a need for some separation as well as a need for togetherness.

This is why it is so important to be able to include in the partnering relationship some space for the consideration of what is not working either in the relationship or in your life. If you were running a business and you never looked at what did not work, you might find yourself in deep trouble. For instance, you run a freight service. Everybody knows that you only like good news, so no one tells you that there is a small knocking sound in the refrigerated truck that does your long distance runs. If you knew about it, you could have the problem fixed. But you do not find out about it because nobody wants to bring you the bad news and they tell themselves that since it is only a small knocking sound, it is probably not very important. So the truck breaks down in the middle of the desert with a full load of perishable lettuce.

It is the “small knocking sounds” that tell us what could be improved upon, what could grow into a problem, or what needs fixing. We all need time — and permission — to look at what is not working in our lives and in the relationship. In the partnering model of relationship, it is accepted that each partner can, and will, bring to the conference table “reports” of what is not currently working. This is not a gripe session any more than a business meeting to review the workings of a business is a gripe session.

What might you bring to the table? You would bring your dissatisfactions with your partner or your life. This might include talking about your attractions to others, attractions that pull you away from the relationship. You might include your fantasies, such as opening a new business, or having another baby, or running away to Fiji. You might talk of your fears about money, work, health, or even about the relationship. You might talk about your discomfort with always being together and express your need for time alone, or for a space in the house that is just yours. All these issues keep us from becoming too complacent or stuck in old patterns that no longer suit us, they all open doors into new thoughts and new possibilities.

We feel that it is important to have time set aside to look at these matters. It is not necessary to be formal about this, after all you are not running a business, but it is important to keep current. Keeping current with dissatisfactions or negative feelings (1) helps us to keep the connection with our partners alive, even if the connection is not pleasant at that very moment, (2) prevents a backlog of complaints from building up, and (3) helps us to deal with matters creatively and quickly. We fix the truck before it breaks down. That is what partners are for.

Each partner notices something different and contributes something unique to the partnership. You may become irritated when your partner gets too preoccupied with work and ignores you. Your partner may become irritated with you because you did not follow up on the business opportunity that presented itself last week. You may be great at noticing when the car needs repairing and your partner may be great at noticing when the bank accounts are getting too low. You can see how partnering as a model for relationship brings us the possibilities of using our full human potential as a powerful team.

Meeting the Challenges
The basic theme in all ten challenges is the underlying challenge to maintain the connection in your primary relationship. Most of the time this connection will be pleasant, but there are times, when you are dealing with unpleasant matters, when it will be a bit uncomfortable.

What must you do on a day-to-day basis to maintain the connection to your partner? First, you must make your relationship — and this connection — a priority. All the challenges mentioned in this chapter have a single common element. Each of them threatens to replace your relationship as a priority.

Second, when you feel uncomfortable with your partner or the relationship, or when you sense your connection weakening, don’t ignore your feelings. This is a warning, it is like a fire alarm going off. You may be tempted to think that the alarm is faulty and you may wish to turn if off because you can’t bear the sound, you don’t see any smoke, and you’re too busy to go looking for trouble. But pay attention. There is a gift of disowned energy somewhere in this discomfort.

The third, and perhaps the most important, ingredient in the recipe for a healthy, intimate, and loving relationship is time. The best way to meet all the challenges to relationship is to take time for one another and for your partnership. You cannot run a business without giving it proper time and attention, and you cannot expect to have a successful relationship without doing likewise. Take time for meetings, for work, for play, and for passion. Take time to be happy with each other and time to be irritated with each other. Take time to look at what works and makes you feel just great and time to listen to the small knocking sounds in your relationship and your lives that will tell you what doesn’t work. Take time to enjoy today and time to plan and to dream about tomorrow. Take time to hang out, just to be and not to do anything at all.

Most of all, take time away from the daily distractions and challenges we’ve been talking about to establish and to keep the delicious energetic linkage between you and your partner. It’s a good idea to make regular plans to break your daily routine and get re-acquainted. These breaks can take any form, so be creative.

If partners can keep their linkage, they will keep their relationship. Anything that breaks this linkage can damage the relationship. No matter how sensible, worthwhile, or absolutely necessary the distraction seems to be, it should be handled with great care and not allowed to break the essential connection between partners. It is very easy to ruin even a good relationship. It is also very easy, once we know about linkage, to preserve a good relationship and to make it even better. So go for the linkage, and good luck!

Partnering ©2000

psychology of the selves


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