When your relationship isn’t what you think it ‘should’ be

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Source: Atef Sougui on Unsplash

There comes a point in every relationship when you realize that something you think you need and “should” have is not available. What you do when you discover this can determine the future of the relationship and your satisfaction within it. Our partner will have limits, just like us. It could be something small and meaningless, or something more serious, like unrecognized anger issues. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if these are relationship breakups in the relationship.

Lily recently entered the bedroom to find her husband, Ken, asleep. Her sweater, which was covered in dog hair, was draped over her pillow. She wasn’t in the room but for a few seconds when Ken turned, turned to face her and started to unleash his anger. “Look at him,” he said accusingly. “It’s dog hair. She’s been here, sleeping in the bed. I had to change the pillow cases. His tone was furious and aggressive. There was also a pile of washed clothes on the side of Lily’s bed. “What is all this?” she asked. “Put it away,” he said dryly, then turned around and, after a few sighs, seemed to fall back to sleep. And no, he wasn’t dreaming.

Lily felt taken aback and completely confused. Why was he attacking her about the dog? Was he implying that she had left the bedroom door open? She had no idea what had just happened. But, since it was late, she attended to her nightly ritual, moved the clothes and the hairy sweater, and fell asleep.

Ken was already at the breakfast table drinking coffee when Lily stood up. She carried a lot of feelings as she sat down to join him. “What happened to you last night?” she asked. “I walked into the bedroom and you yelled at me, you attacked me about dog hair.” “Did I attack you? He said raising his eyebrows, making a face and other mocking sounds.

Lily spoke softly, “In my world it was an emotional attack.”

Ken replied, “I didn’t yell at you. In what universe did I attack you? You think it’s all an attack. Whatever you think, I’m sure it’s right. Lily said no more. But when their daughter arrived at the table a few minutes later, Lily humorously recounted what had happened the day before, mocking Ken’s rage and actions. As Lily said, “I spoke to Ken again, backwards this time, and let our daughter validate my feelings because he wouldn’t recognize anything that had happened.”

Lily and Ken had been happily married for 14 years. Ken had always been quick to explode over little things. But once his eruptions were over, which was also quick, he continued as if nothing had happened. He didn’t remember his anger. Anyone reporting it (which Lily had done several times) was then seen as distorting reality and attacking Ken. When these breakouts happened, Lily felt hurt and needed an apology, which rarely happened. She wasn’t “gassy” as she had no doubts about her experience in any way, but she still wanted Ken to acknowledge her behavior.

After the “dog hair attack,” Lily felt upset, closed and emotionally assaulted, albeit in a modest way. Perhaps worse than the attack itself was the feeling of being even more abused by what she believed to be her husband’s request that she pretend nothing had happened.

Lily desperately wanted to tell Ken it wasn’t OK, but she also knew that no apologies or empathy would be forthcoming. On the contrary, she would be judged for attacking him and inventing everything. She felt trapped and alone. At the same time, Lily was angry and disappointed that she hadn’t had the courage to tell Ken how she felt. Lily believed that in order to truly respect herself, she had to be willing to be honest about how she felt.

She also knew that letting the incident unfold and moving forward would be the best choice if peace was what she wanted, and indeed it was. For Lily, there was no good option. What she really wanted was a simple apology, an acknowledgment that he shouldn’t have spoken to her like that, even if it meant nothing to him.

For Lily, everything that was wrong with the marriage, a marriage she also enjoyed very much, was contained in this incident.

But his answer seemed inauthentic and incomplete; laughing at her behavior with her daughter didn’t take care of Lily – it didn’t make her feel more understood or loved. Was there a way to take care of her, she wondered, even though her husband couldn’t give her what she needed?

When Lily and I plunged into this experience together, we discovered some powerful “shoulds” operating in the back of her mind, which, while not the problem, intensified her pain.

For starters, Lily thought that she “should” be able to share all of her feelings with her partner and receive them with love. And that if she couldn’t share her truth all the time, she shouldn’t be in the relationship. Lily also believed that she “should” have the courage (and be willing) to share her feelings with her partner, whatever the consequences.

Together, we unpacked Lily’s suitcase of “shoulds”, exposing each to the test of light. Was it really true that Lily “should” be willing to share all of her feelings, no matter what consequences the sharing would create? Was sharing, even when she knew it would come up against defense and rejection, really the self-respecting choice?

Was it possible that in some cases the self-respecting and self-caring choice was to recognize and honor her experience – to herself – and not to her husband? Was it possible that the self-compassion movement was the one that took charge of her pain but protected her from further aggression and misunderstanding?

And was it really true that she “shouldn’t” be in a relationship that she couldn’t share everything in? Did Ken really always have to understand how she felt to make her feel good about himself? Plus, what if the story she was telling herself – that Ken had intentionally hurt her and now intimidated her to silence – was just a tale of her own making and not the truth?

It also occurred to her that when this happened in the future, she might just raise her hand “stop” to her husband, tell him that she didn’t like or endure his tone, or just quit. the room. She could choose to act in accordance with her displeasure rather than explaining it in words.

With her “shoulds” highlighted, Lily immediately felt freer. She realized that self-respect could come from not sharing rather than sharing – actively choosing to shield herself from her husband’s defensiveness and anger. This process was not meant to excuse her behavior but rather to see how her judgments about what the relationship “should” look like caused more pain not less.

She accepted that her husband’s defense was her problem and not something she could fix – and certainly not something that more disclosure on her part was going to change. She found that it was enough to admit her experience to herself and take care of herself in the moment; she did not have to share all of her feelings with her husband, even when they stemmed from her behavior.

She also saw through her belief that a worthy relationship is one in which everything can be shared and received with an open heart. This marriage meant a lot to her and worth staying there, and at the same time, it contained a difficulty that she could not change. And so, she started to accept her relationship for what it was and was not, which brought a lot of peace.

She had better take care of herself in the relationship that actually existed and with the partner that actually existed. Finally, Lily loosened her grip on the story she was telling herself about her husband’s intention to hurt her and her “request” that she pretend nothing had happened. She decided to let the meaning of her eruptions be the meaning he attributed to them and not the meaning she had constructed. When she let go of the idea that he was “doing this to her,” it all felt a lot lighter.

When what you want isn’t possible, yet you enjoy and want to stay in the relationship, it’s a good idea to investigate the stories you tell yourself about your partner and what’s going on in the relationship. Get to know the story you are writing in your head about your partner’s intentions. So, too, it is important to discover the silent “musts” that run in the back of your mind, the “musts” that continually fuel your suffering. Unwrapping your stories and “shoulds” isn’t a substitute for trying to change bad behavior or justifying bad behavior, but it will allow you to live more peacefully in your relationship as it is.

One caveat: if your relationship seems abusive in any way, it’s important to leave, not to learn how to work with it. This article is not intended to encourage you to find peace with what is constantly hurtful or to turn a blind eye to bad behavior. Leaving an unhealthy relationship is an option that should be considered. At the same time, every intimate relationship, even the best, has its challenges. Joy and difficulty. We often feel happy and want to stay in relationships that also have aspects that we don’t want and that are painful. In this article, I hope to offer a path and a little peace for whoever chooses to accept and stay in a relationship with things that are not doing well, and especially things that you cannot change.

Facebook image: fizkes / Shutterstock


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