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.