Real Relating  —  Finding YourSELF

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Real Relat­ing

Real Relat­ing  —  Find­ing Your­SELF  —  Most peo­ple enter rela­tion­ships either for what the oth­er per­son will (end­less­ly) give them, or to ‘help.’ Nei­ther approach works.

Note: If your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well…
check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.
It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!

Just a note: I’m pulling quotes from Pas­sion­ate Mar­riage, by David Schnarch.

Relationships are funny things. Or, at least the reasons people enter them seem funny.

Our opin­ion is that rela­tion­ships are the per­fect learn­ing and prov­ing ground for fig­ur­ing your­self out. Yes, you read that right. YourSELF. 

Because like it or not, you are the only per­son on the plan­et who can fig­ure you out.

This flies in the face of the tra­di­tion­al belief. Which has always struck me as weird. Many peo­ple get mar­ried either to have some­one to look after them, or to have some­one to blame for who they are and how they are screw­ing up.

It’s a hard thing to give up on blam­ing oth­ers for what isn’t work­ing in your life  —  our soci­ety loves vic­tims and encour­ages them to keep being vic­tims. Peo­ple love vic­tim-mode; it’s a way to avoid con­fronting them­selves. David Schnarch describes one mode of this as “ther­a­pist shopping.”

It often goes like this:

  • Client comes in and lists off a tale of woe. Said woe is emphat­i­cal­ly exter­nal.
    • They were par­ent­ed wrong (who wasn’t?)
    • Their part­ner dis­agrees with them (whose doesn’t?)
    • They’ve had ther­a­py and done a pile of work­shops, but their cir­cum­stances won’t change (why would they?)
    • They’re phys­i­cal­ly or men­tal­ly anx­ious (part of life)

Now, you’d think that a person in therapy would be there for the long haul, and be would willing to deal with their issues by changing how s/he is acting.

This is often not the case. For many, no mat­ter what brought them to ther­a­py  —  rela­tion­ship break­down, phys­i­cal symp­toms, men­tal dis­tress  —  what­ev­er  —  what many clients are look­ing for is jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to stay the same.

The goal for them is not self-regulation through discipline. Their goal is symptom removal.

As Schnarch puts it in Pas­sion­ate Marriage,

…we nev­er doubt that ther­a­pists have clever tricks to get us around our prob­lems with­out going through them. Few of us enter ther­a­py to change our­selves  —  we are usu­al­ly seek­ing ways to change our sit­u­a­tion or our spouse, while we remain the same. We seek out sim­ple tips, tech­niques, and bene­dic­tions that tell us how to com­mu­ni­cate and be com­pas­sion­ate (read: easy ways to feel under­stood and receive com­pas­sion.) pg. 322

Many peo­ple get mar­ried either to have some­one to look after them, or to have some­one to blame for who they are and how they are screw­ing up.

I remem­ber hav­ing one ses­sion with a cou­ple. They were sep­a­rat­ed. He described him­self as “con­trol­ling,” and as the ses­sion went on, all he would talk about was what he need­ed from his wife.

He was lone­ly, he was unhap­py; he need­ed his wife to end the sep­a­ra­tion, come home and look after him. He told me that he had done 2 ses­sions of anger man­age­ment… and now he had been to cou­ples ther­a­py. He fig­ured he had done his part

He concluded with how badly he needed her to look after him, to affirm him, and to tell him he was a good and worthwhile person. Oh. And how she needed to let him be as he was; angry, unstable and controlling.

I was pleased to note that she was not bit­ing on his need­i­ness, and was not rush­ing home. She was hold­ing her ground.

He had pushed her a few months ear­li­er, and she want­ed to talk about her fear of him.

He laughed it off. Said she was paint­ing him as being vio­lent. That nor­mal­ly he only yelled and threat­ened  —  the push was a fluke. He remind­ed her that he had done “2… 2! anger man­age­ment sessions!”

She went inside, calmed her­self, and said, “I hear that you’re hurt­ing, and I’m not com­ing home until I feel safe.”

Boy, did he piss him­self off over that one. (I guess those 2 whole ses­sions of anger man­age­ment had­n’t “tak­en,” eh?) He yelled, he cajoled, he paced.

Then, he decid­ed to come after me. He told me in no uncer­tain terms that he was angry with me because (it had been 30 min­utes, after all…) I would­n’t help him get his wife to come home… to under­stand that she should have noth­ing bet­ter to do than end­less­ly try to make him happy.

It was clear by then that I was head­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion  —  I’d sug­gest­ed a 3‑month tri­al sep­a­ra­tion, with each of them doing indi­vid­ual ther­a­py. I’d said that I thought that both would ben­e­fit from grow­ing up, get­ting over them­selves (she was­n’t off the hook  —  she was an enabler and need­ed to look deeply at her enabling behav­iours) and stand­ing on their own two feet.

The man paced the office: out to the wait­ing room, back and forth. He shout­ed that all of his friends thought that his wife had an “imbal­ance of pow­er.” (He meant: “I’m sup­posed to be in charge here. How dare she assert her­self and not look after me?”)

I said that I got it that he did­n’t like the sit­u­a­tion: that his wife was learn­ing to look after her­self. I then said that it was not her job to look after him… it was his job to look after himself.

He said, “This is not how ther­a­py is sup­posed to be going! She’s sup­posed to see that I did what she asked (2 anger man­age­ment ses­sions, 1 ses­sion of ther­a­py…) and come home.” (Read: “Wayne, if you were doing your job, you’d tell her to come home.”)

He knew I was a for­mer min­is­ter, so he trot­ted out, “Show me in the Bible where it says that I should stand on my own feet, and that my wife should­n’t look after me!” I just smiled and repeat­ed myself. He kept shak­ing his head and mut­ter­ing, “You’re not doing this right!”

They booked another session. Quoth the woman, “This has been great!!!” Husband glowered.

Sev­er­al days lat­er he called and can­celled the next ses­sion. He had decid­ed that they would get coun­selling at their church, where, I am sure, he hoped to find a Min­is­ter who had read the same Bible he had invented.

My only regret was that she went along with him. I would guess that his manip­u­la­tions final­ly caused her to give up on her self and return to “doing it his way.”

Prob­lem is, as long as one part­ner tries to con­trol the oth­er, the rela­tion­ship is doomed. Or as Schnarch puts it,

Long-term inti­ma­cy with­in mar­riage hinges on val­i­dat­ing your­self rather than “trust­ing” your part­ner to make you feel safe. Pg. 113

To repeat what I said above, my life is not about me under­stand­ing oth­er peo­ple. Nor is my life about demand­ing that oth­er peo­ple under­stand me. My job is to fig­ure myself out.

I can lis­ten as oth­ers choose to self-reveal. I can even attempt to help oth­ers cut through the bull­shit they tell themselves. 

One of the biggest is, “I just got­ta be me!” Noth­ing holds you back more that “being your­self.” Being your­self is code for “I refuse to do the hard work of shift­ing what isn’t work­ing. Being your­self has led you to where you are right now. 

We all need to get over “being me,” and decide to grow up.

Grow­ing up means hear­ing hard truths about our­selves (which our part­ners def­i­nite­ly will point out to us  —  this is the real rea­son for being in a rela­tion­ship in the first place  —  for the feedback!) 

  • Rather than get defen­sive and run around whin­ing about being ill-treat­ed, I go inside, and self-soothe.
  • Once I’m calm, I choose to look at the crit­i­cism and decide if my behav­iour needs changing. 
  • I then choose to change, not for the oth­er per­son, but for myself.

Schnarch: My point is: com­mu­ni­ca­tion is no assur­ance of inti­ma­cy if you can’t stand the mes­sage. “Good com­mu­ni­ca­tion” is often mis­tak­en for your part­ner per­ceiv­ing you the way you want to be seen or under­stood. “We don’t com­mu­ni­cate” is code for “I refuse to accept that mes­sage  —  send me a dif­fer­ent one! How dare you see me [or the issue] that way!” pg. 102

In my book, This End­less Moment 2nd. edi­tion, I wrote:

The Kayak

This is one of my favourite sto­ries and is my take on an illus­tra­tion David Raith­by used in a work­shop at The Haven.

My life con­sists of me, sit­ting in my one-per­son kayak. I am bob­bing along, pad­dling along, on a rel­a­tive­ly calm ocean, in the dark. I do not know where I am, or where I am going. I am “present” in the pad­dling, and nowhere else, as there is nowhere else.

Every now and again, I meet up with anoth­er pad­dler, and we get to choose whether to pad­dle togeth­er. We still don’t know where we are or where we are going, but we are no longer lone­ly. I am, how­ev­er, and this is key, still alone.

A sin­gle kayak is an inter­est­ing boat. There is only room for one. No one can climb in with me, no one can take over for me, and no one can pad­dle my kayak for me. I am alone in my kayak, even if oth­er boats sur­round me. Whin­ing about how unfair all of this is, how I need help, how I want some­one to please take over for me, isn’t going to accom­plish any­thing, as no one can step in and bail me out.

What I can do is watch oth­ers pad­dle, and they can watch me. I can learn from oth­ers, and oth­ers can learn from me. Now, some­one watch­ing me pad­dle will see how I do it, and then they might try to dupli­cate my stroke, from their boat. The best they will ever do, how­ev­er, is their ver­sion of my pad­dle stroke. They can’t be me; they can’t be like me. They can only watch and learn and do it their way.

This is the real­i­ty of life: we are born and die alone, and the rest of life is a solo job in a crowd. This is either ter­ri­fy­ing or free­ing. I’ll scare myself with it pre­cise­ly to the degree that I refuse to accept respon­si­bil­i­ty for my life. I will free myself pre­cise­ly to the degree that I allow myself the per­son­al sat­is­fac­tion of pad­dling just a lit­tle more effi­cient­ly and effort­less­ly each day.

There will be calm days and stormy days, and days when I’m swamped and flipped over. I can drown or I can get right side up. Whin­ing about how unfair that is only delays get­ting back to pad­dling, which is the only “truth” of my life.

In oth­er words, I can see my life as a les­son in ele­gant pad­dling and I can learn all there is to learn about pad­dling well. A sil­ly choice would be to feel sor­ry for myself that I must pad­dle. Anoth­er sil­ly choice would be to spend my days assign­ing blame to oth­ers for not res­cu­ing me or teach­ing me “right,” or for “abus­ing me” by not treat­ing me as spe­cial or what­ev­er. For the ulti­mate in sil­ly, I can sim­ply give up, depress myself and stop pad­dling-and get blown wher­ev­er the wind takes me.

Decid­ing to pad­dle well, to accept that “the way it is, is the way it is,” is the enlight­ened choice. I want to be the best me I can be, and that’s total­ly about me-about what I choose to learn and do.

Fur­ther, I can choose to pad­dle with oth­ers who get this, and the pad­dle will be full of shar­ing and com­pas­sion and learn­ing. Or I can choose to pad­dle alone and learn more of me.

I mean, what oth­er option is there? It’s not like grip­ing about “how life is” changes any­thing, after all. You have noticed that, haven’t you??

There’s the joy of the pad­dle and smart vs. dumb choic­es. The dumb choice is to make a dra­ma out of the pad­dle and make myself miserable.

And isn’t it fun­ny that most peo­ple pick dra­ma over the joy of the paddle?

In my lit­tle boat, I am alone, and self-respon­si­ble. No one is “sup­posed” to make it all bet­ter for me. That’s my job.

Given that, what of relationships?

Dar­bel­la is in her boat, too. I can’t do any­thing for her. We can, how­ev­er, choose to pad­dle along togeth­er, and keep each oth­er com­pa­ny. I reveal to her what I know about myself, and espe­cial­ly the embar­rass­ing, stu­pid, messy parts.

She may choose to do the same, although it’s not a requirement.

Here’s the impor­tant part: I choose who I pad­dle with… and I choose to be with some­one who is choos­ing to self-reveal to me.

It is impos­si­ble to live life free of anx­i­ety. There is the anx­i­ety of relat­ing  —  which requires change, and pain. There is the anx­i­ety of try­ing to stay the same, in denial, pretending.

The fire of true relat­ing, to me, seems the bet­ter choice.

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