Sunday, 6 October 2013

We need to talk

Yesterday I talked with someone who had gone through a marriage breakup many years ago, and is still very sad and angry about it, despite life having turned out pretty well (including finding love again). She talked about the feeling of failure that still lives with her. I asked, what part do you think you played in the breakup? What did you learn from it? She literally took a step back and stared in disbelief.

''To this day I take absolutely no responsibility for it. I did nothing wrong. Nothing. I was literally a perfect wife. It came completely out of the blue''. I, somewhat stunned, said, ''but surely you must believe you contributed to your partners unhappiness? Surely?''  She said, "NO it wasn't me. It was never me!"  I was completely blindsided.  How could someone not want to take any responsibility? Makes no sense to me.  After all, there must be literally thousands of books, blogs and websites dedicated to helping people find and keep love, and at least that many again that are all about getting (probably many of the same people) insight on why relationships fail , how to ''get over'' them. AND how to learn from your mistakes, no matter who the initiator of the breakup was.

In all that I have read, coupled with my own hard earned experiences, it seems to me that one of the fundamental reason that things ''don't work out'' is that one person starts to feel a sense of separation - perhaps under appreciated or misunderstood, and the other one misses the signs. Usually through no fault of their own, in fact I'd almost say, nearly always through no fault of their own. And from the people I know that have been through a breakup, most can say hand on heart that they believed they were doing all they could to keep their relationship happy and healthy, and found out much too late that they had missed an important cue from their then unhappy partner.

Of course I believe that it is not the total responsibility of one person to create or sustain happiness for another. But if someone thinks that it's you making them unhappy then it's you making them unhappy. Whether it be an action, an inaction, an attitude or just a vague ''feeling'', it's real to them. If they tell you nothing, it's pretty difficult to know where to start to address a problem - but in retrospect I bet most of us could say there was a vague hunch of some unease, even if it couldn't be absolutely pinpointed. The reality is of course, that the unhappiness probably doesn't  truly stem from the partner. Yes I know it might be about situations present being seen through the smudged lens of the past. Of course I know that, but perception is reality right? The tricky part, is that if you, as the unhappy one, OR the unsure one, say nothing and hope for an improvement - or accept it with resignation, then neither party is being fair to each other. Ironically most people tend to keep these feelings close for fear of their impact on the relationship, until its too late (it's that damn vulnerability/fear/nakedness thing again).   Or, as I've talked about before, one or the other of you reaches out for help from outside of the relationship and it is either misguided, or worse, not forthcoming (don't get me started...)

If I look back with an impartial eye over my own relationship ''non-finishings'' I have to take responsibility for missing cues.  I am guilty of not paying enough attention to whether or not my actions and behaviour were contributing to the unhappiness of my partner, and remain deeply regretful of hurt I caused - always without intention - to the people who cared for me. Yes, there's two people in every relationship - but the reality is that in mine, I was one of them.  After all, isn't the common denominator in these non-successes, me?

At its deepest level its about fear. Simply being afraid. For the minute you ask someone ''what is wrong'' you risk hearing that the problem is you.  The minute you say ''what do you need'' you risk hearing ''not you''. NO-ONE wants to hear that do they?! And so the outcome...No matter how much I wanted to fix my mistakes, no matter how remorseful, no matter what the issue was (a simple misunderstanding at one end of the scale to a total inability to be reconciled at the other), ultimately, to date, I have not been able to successfully negotiate a relationship as I want to, (and believe I am capable of doing).  This is not about self pity, or defeat. I cannot, and do not take 100% responsibility for the non-success I have had so far. As I said, there's two people in every relationship. But I remain a student of my own shortcomings. Dress it up however you like, but at the end of the day, I have to accept that I have not met the (admittedly un-articulated) needs of my partner/s.

The lessons to be learnt?  To never assume. And to be brave. It's that simple. If there's a little problem, or even a little question mark, I hope that I can have enough courage in the future to address it.  Gently and without judgement, but with courage, ownership and commitment to successful resolution.  Assume success absolutely, but don't assume it will happen without work and change and maybe just a little pain.  I hope I can be trusted with such thoughts from my SO, and that there will be enough honesty and vulnerability from both of us to move forward through what ever obstacle we face. And that my partner will feel safe enough with me to bring up what ever small hurt is causing some pain, before it turns into a massive wound.

Why is it that we turn away from each other when faced with pain, rather than to our greatest source of potential healing? (A question for another post perhaps). As every currently unpartnered person knows - the totally stupid thing is that all too often we see leaving the problem as a whole lot more attractive option than fixing it. Sometimes it is. But in the spirit of everything I write about in this blog, I simply can't accept that there is any obstacle too great, any problem too insurmountable, any hurt unhealable, if both people are willing to face it together.

Idealistic?  Probably, it's one of my best qualities;)...But I'm also tempered with the reality that none of us are perfect - and when the first shiny flakes of crazy love rub off to reveal reality, we need to exercise a huge amount of courage, grace and compassion to each other to achieve success in our relationships.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

ah...THERE you are!!!

Following on from my post about ''getting involved'' a couple of  weeks ago, I am pretty stoked to learn that (in part) as a result of my sticking my nose in, the couple I talked about are getting themselves on track. How awesome is that!

I've had cause to talk about that particular post with a number of people, and almost without exception they have agreed that whilst the ideal is to be brave enough to have an opinion, most don't do it.  There's a variety of reasons, but largely it's simply that - and no one would actually admit to it - most people are pretty busy with their own lives and really don't have the time, or inclination to get involved with someone Else's. It involves risk, it involves commitment, and it also just might mean some inconvenience where you really don't want or need it.

But here's the thing.  Experience tells me that one of the perils of social and electronic media (and I've written about this before) is how easy it is to offer the commitment of non commitment.  Things like ''well come and visit me sometime'', or ''you know I'm here at the end of the phone if you need me''.  It invites the troubled person to make the first be supportive without actually giving real support.  Not always a bad thing, granted, as there are plenty of times that a person hurting just needs to know that there is someone there if they need them.

But, and for me this is a BIG but...for the person who is hurting, especially when it is as a result of a problem in a relationship (IE the person you are closest to is now no longer the one you can call on for support), there can be a real reluctance to actually ask for help or support from outside.  Fear of what you might be told, fear of having to talk about something painful, whatever, its really easy for the hurting person to retreat within themselves. I know, I've done it.

I've read a number of things that describe love as an action. That it's about ''showing up'' emotionally, not just going along for the ride.

Well, actually I think it's also as much about showing up physically.  I was told recently by someone newly separated that I was the only person who had actually checked in regularly -the only one who had actually ''turned up'' physically in this persons life.  That both shocked and saddened me.  Where were the friends? They had offered support, absolutely - call me, text me, visit me. But none had actually got on the phone, or in the car, and showed up.  I even asked a couple of them...did you call yet? Visit? And if not why not? And I got the same response...oh well, it's not really my journey...they know where I am...I don't really know what to do/say (as per

Yes there's a risk.  There's a huge risk that the person you doorstep will tell you to go away. The person you phone will say ''I don't want to talk about it''. The opinion you give (if asked for it or not) will be rejected or denied.  You might even find yourself being rejected in the moment - for whatever reason, your presence, at that time, is not welcome or needed.  Maybe you represent something the hurting person doesn't want to see or feel. Maybe they are talked out.

Frankly, I don't give a damn.  People who are hurting need people to show up.  Regardless of the ending and who did it, someone who has just left a relationship is sore - they are probably feeling unloved or unlovable. As the supportive friend, you're probably not the one they want to feel loved by but that doesn't mean you shouldn't love them anyway. They might not appreciate it at the time - you might not be the right person, and the timing might really really suck - but at least they need to know that someone - maybe more than just one - actually cares about them. Sometimes it means giving an unpopular opinion - sometimes it means just listening (personally I'm in favour of the unpopular opinion, because I reckon 99% of the time, that's the truth. Listening and empathising does little more than make a hurt person feel better about their hurt - often necessary, sometimes the easy option ).

Yes, I've been told I'm unwelcome. Yes it hurts.  And I know when to take my leave. But in my world, it is about showing up. Putting your money where your mouth is, and actually being there for someone when they need you, even if they don't admit to it.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Everything changes, everything stays the same

Last night I took some time to read through the diary I  started when I was doing some counselling a couple of years ago. It was a time of self discovery for me, and with the aid of a fantastic counsellor, I was able to really define the things that were important to me - my values, the narratives that guided my life - and also to actually articulate the secret goals I had for myself. The piece of the diary I read last night spanned about 18 months and finished in June last year, the week of my birthday, when I was feeling at my loneliest, and yet also, my most hopeful, having been largely single for 4 years at that point.

I had made the comment that whilst all the advice columns tell single people to have a full and busy life, to not concentrate on finding a partner, that my own feeling was that when the rest of ones life was going well, as mine certainly was (eg great job, friends, hobbies etc) it was only natural to have a focus on the thing that wasn't. And I wasn't looking, I was just aware that this was the piece of MY puzzle that wasn't in place. Just as a niggly sore back might inhibit your pleasure in life, the constant reminder of being alone in a world of the coupled  - my entire circle of friends at that time in fact - was painfully obvious to me.

Fast forward two years and nothing has changed in terms of what I want in life with regard to a relationship.  I have had the absolute best of times - blissful is the word that comes to mind -  and more recently the absolute worst. But those goals and dreams remain the same. To love and be loved. To form a future with someone who loves me in spite of my flaws and insecurities, and whom I love in the same way, in spite of theirs - and with a healthy regard but fearless optimism to face any obstacles that might need to be overcome. To delight in the company of another. To feel safe. To feel that I matter. To give someone else the security to know that they do.  There's a reason that we refer to partners as significant others I reckon..and that's because we all want to feel ...well..., significant.  The pain of feeling I am ''not enough'', for me, is the worst of all - and that has nothing to do with my feelings of self worth, which are strong and defined, but somehow plucks at the very heart of what vulnerability opens us up to.

I am keenly aware of my shortcomings - in particular, the fear of failure that all people who have experienced it before carry with them.  The challenges that come with love.  (I know that love might be easy but, relationships take work, and the older we are, the trickier it can be, for all kinds of reasons). The risks that are inherent with being vulnerable with another person are scary, no doubt about it.  In fact in my diary I had noted that someone had told me some years ago ''you literally wear your vulnerability - men... can see it. You will be taken advantage of.''.  Well, so be it. I would rather be vulnerable than hard, rather be open than closed, even if that does mean risking pain and or heartbreak. To be vulnerable is to give another person a gift, and trust that they will hold it carefully. And the day that I no longer trust will be a sad one indeed.

I don't care how many people pronounce that life is ''better'' as a single. Sorry, I don't buy it.  Absolutely, it is a part of life that everyone probably needs to experience - in much the same way that one only appreciates good health after a bout of illness.  And yes, I absolutely agree it is perfectly possible to be happy and fulfilled as a single person, of course it is - our own happiness should not be that tightly reliant on another person or it is bound to end in tears. Its that horrible cliche that says one must love oneself, and trust oneself before being able to love and trust another.  But the risk of love (if that's what you want to call it), the gift of vulnerability, the stepping forward into an unknown future with someone equally as broken as me - I confess, for me, that's a good portion of what life is about.

To love and be loved. To be, and have, a soft place to fall.  No, nothings changed for me.