Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Why do people hang on to unhealthy relationships? Fear! I watch the back and forth that goes on between couples. They get to a point that they call it quits, but as the anger subsides, they gravitate back to one another. Some of it is fear based, but like any addiction, a large part of it is the comfort of familiar territory. One or both will try to draw the other person back in. What though, is going to be any different? Once you have tried everything (and every combination of trying to make it work) and call it quits, it's not going to be different. The same two people are involved. Some people are like a matchstick and lighter fluid together. You can't erase the negative history you have together. It's better to move on and apply what you learned from this relationship toward the next one. As you grow and evolve, your choices will be healthier anyway.
I hear comments from clients and friends, "But I still love him" or "I still have feelings for him/her." You may always have feelings for them. Bottom line, you have to love yourself first. If the relationship was all bad, you would have left long ago. In fact, if all unhealthy relationships had no redeeming factors, no one would stay in them. Does the bad outweigh the good? Some common concerns (excuses) can be health issues, finances, and fear or guilt that the partner would not be able to make it on their own. It's amazing the justifications the human brain will come up with in order to remain in a dysfunctional relationship.
What does love have to do with it? Look at some extreme cases. People have been beaten and killed by their mates that loved them. If you wait to not love someone, you could stay stuck forever. In fact, people tend to become more and more like the environment they are in. Isn't there a saying, 'take healthy actions and then the feelings will follow?' When you say you want to stop drinking during a moment of clarity, you have to take actions. Just a declaration alone won't suffice. You can't keep hanging out in a bar and expect to stay sober. Couples have learned how to push each others buttons. They know how to manipulate one another.
My marriage had digressed to the point that almost every day I worried about whether or not my husband was going to call it quits. Looking back, whenever I felt secure with myself and my relationship, he would make a comment either directly or covertly that implied he wasn't sure our marriage would work. I would panic and refocus my attention to try to please him, or get angry and rebel. It was always a no-win situation and my body was always in fight or flight mode. I felt like I was constantly on probation. I wanted clarity on what part was my responsibility and what was his. I increased my twelve-step meetings and went into therapy. I began to distinguish the difference between my stuff and his. I didn't want to be at the end of my life looking at the 'would have, could have, should haves.' I wanted my life to change, but I wasn't willing to say good-bye to him in order for that change to occur. It was time to put my belief of a 'higher power' into practice. The next time my husband initiated an argument and took off in his car, I didn't pursue him by calling and taking all the blame. I decided to stop enabling him. There was no communication for ten days. He went to our Palm Desert condo and moved everything out.
He called to set up a meeting with me. I chose to meet in the park because it was a neutral place. He told me to hold off on filing for divorce. What was going to be any different? We both needed individual counseling in order to make this relationship change. He agreed to go to counseling. The short of it is, he never did go and I filed for divorce two months later.
He used the kids as a way to draw me into the game again. When he scheduled visitation and came by to see them, he brought lunch and would try to kiss me 'hello.' That was inappropriate. It gave me and the kids a mixed message. I had made my decision to divorce and had to set strong boundaries to protect myself. I didn't want to waste more time thinking it could be different. At the risk of looking like the bad guy, I left the house before he arrived for visitation and came home after he was gone. He tried other ways of getting my attention. The divorce got nasty because he no longer had control over me. Loving and honoring me became more important than keeping him happy. I no longer needed to keep the peace with him and win his approval. After a couple of months away from him, I realized how much I had compromised my soul. I felt like I was no longer in spiritual confinement.
I did what I now counsel others to do. Work the twelve steps on the relationship. You can apply the steps to any type of relationship. During your moment of clarity, or to get clear, make a list of all the things that don't work and are unhealthy about the relationship. How do you feel physically in it? Are you sad, angry or depressed more than feeling happy and nurtured? Is there always a tug of war going on? Are you both more committed to punishing each other rather than making a contribution to the relationship?
The next step is to have a support system in place. Make sure you have a few friends that you can call on when you begin to have the dialogue in your head that tells you 'it wasn't so bad - there were some good times. Maybe we can still work it out.' Our mind can always make a meal out of a few crumbs! It's the same stuff that comes up when getting away from any addiction. It is so important not to act out on those feelings. Feelings are not facts. Fear is false evidence appearing real. Redirect your mind. Pull out your list. Don't look at old photos or videos of you and your significant other. When people you knew together want to tell you what your ex is doing, tell them you don't want to hear it. It won't support you in moving forward. When you take back your power, it might alienate some people. It's okay to take care of yourself. One common fear is that you will never meet anyone else. Another is that your ex-mate will find someone else immediately and live happily ever after. What if we were the whole problem? All my ex's have stayed the same. The new person gets to deal with their baggage now.
Shortly after removing myself from an unhealthy (dishonoring) relationship, I can be more objective and see why it was time to exit. There are four stages: emotional struggle about ending the relationship, clarity and confidence to end it, fear and second thoughts, and then anger toward oneself at staying in it so long.
Protect yourself. With some people, you can't just set up boundaries. You have to set up barricades. Remember, you won't find comfort from the source that caused you pain. It stopped being there long ago. There is a cliché, "You don't go to the hardware store for flowers." Get back into reality. Make your mantra, "Keep moving forward. Don't look back. Look ahead."

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