For the past eight days I have sent about three text messages per day to a dear friend, all with the same message: please remember to drink and eat. Why did I do that? First of all, of course I asked this person beforehand if these reminders were appreciated (which they were). So then what makes a person need to have daily reminders to do such basic things as drinking and eating? The answer: a really horrible relationship situation. I will (of course) not write about the details of what’s happening in my friend’s life, however I believe you understand that I’m writing about a person in a state of total shock.
What I will write about and what I am wondering at the moment is this:
People, what is happening in our relationships??
Eleven years ago my husband and I had a deep crisis in our marriage and I decided I wanted a divorce. I took off my wedding ring and wandered around feeling like I was in a movie. I lost 10 kg. in one week (hence why I am so keen on reminding my friend of continuing to drink and eat). During that week I felt I had no feelings left for my husband. No love. It was just gone. I can safely say that this was one of the darkest and lowest points in my life.
Fast forward eleven years and I find myself still married to the same man (we’ve been together 24 years now). So how did that happen? The long answer, I believe, requires me writing a book so I will keep to the short answer, which is this:
We started to move our focus away from each other and instead began to focus on ourselves.
As I have written in my previous blog post About romantic love, I think one of the biggest problems we face in our relationships is that many of us seem to believe the other person is there to complete us. The movie Jerry Maguire surely didn’t help in killing this belief, with Tom Cruise storming into Renée Zellweger’s living room telling her that she completes him and it all resulting in a happy end, cute kid and all.
Just this morning I realized once again how deeply rooted this belief is, when I read a Dutch magazine called Psychologie Magazine. Most of the time I have enjoyed reading this magazine but what I read today made me really upset because I feel the advice given by what the magazine says is a relationship expert is, according to me, absolutely wrong and totally crazy. So what was it about? Well, the magazine has a part called Consult where people can ask questions and (what according to the magazine are) experts give their answers.
So here was a woman who wrote the following:
Five years ago I divorced, for another man. By now I have my own house, but he still lives with his ex and children. I understand his reasons, he is still very close to them. But we have almost no time together. Our relationship does not take form. When I want to talk about this, he says mainly what he doesn’t want (feeling claimed, nagging, fixed structure, institutions). He thinks I should have faith in him, but this situation makes me unsure about what we truly have.
And here is what the expert answered:
Perhaps he’s keeping you on a string? The sad thing about your situation is that you don’t have a way out. Because if you hold your ground, by for example telling him that you want to be taken seriously, then you are the nagging mistress who forces him to choose. And if you continue like this, you are the weak doll who lets herself be fooled with. Even the most obvious solution, to leave in order to keep your self-respect, you will not choose. Because you love him.
What to do now? Be smart. The man clearly doesn’t know what is good for him (you), so someone (again: you) will have to coach him. That is easy: if he moves a bit towards you, you give him attention and love. And if he does something you don’t like, you give neither. Psychologists call this conditioning. You don’t give a good reputation to the female species when you do this, that’s true. Women always are portrayed as manipulative. But your man does the same thing at this moment, does he not? Take hold of the strings yourself.
WTF?!?!? I am telling you, this answer made me so incredibly angry! Which of course is interesting in itself because why does it affect me so much, right? But anyway.
Oh, where to begin. First of all: you don’t have a way out? Seriously? And then: is a woman who states she wants to be taken seriously a nagging mistress? Is that something we normalize in society now? Also: why will she not choose to leave? Note his answer:
BECAUSE SHE LOVES HIM.
My point is: are we so conditioned as society that we accept that loving a person means giving away our self-respect? And that we see the solution to it all to start manipulating each other in order to get the other to behave the way we want?
As Rob Lowe’s character Sam Seaborn said in my favourite TV series the West Wing: this is wrong on so many levels. How can a person write in this year 2019 women are always portrayed as manipulative and how can what I believe to be a well-respected magazine in Holland print all of the above? It truly baffles me.
To the woman who wrote to the magazine I’d like to say: I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation. It’s interesting to me why you have chosen to be in a relationship with a person who behaves this way towards you. What is it inside yourself that makes you want to be with a man who treats you like this? How has your life been up to this point, is this a pattern you perhaps recognize in your life?
You see it has, I believe, nothing to do with the man she’s with. And manipulation of the other person in the relationship surely isn’t the answer according to me. It’s inside herself she will find all the answers she needs. At least that’s what I believe.
Exactly this is what my husband and I both did. When we found ourselves in a deep crisis in our relationship, we found great therapists who assisted us in exploring our inner world, each on our own. It took us years and involved a lot of tears, shouting, spit and vomit. Because it turns out we store our experiences in our bodies so it is through our bodies we have to move. At least that’s what I have found. Talking about our issues is great and useful, but I believe the truly transformational stuff happens when we involve our bodies in our exploring.
I have learned so much about myself this way and for this I am so grateful. I have also made a commitment to myself to never stop learning as I truly believe this is a never-ending process. In the process I have found lots of tools to help me live my life and be real. One of these tools is meditation, which has turned out to be a major key.
I want to state that by writing the above I do not believe all couples are a good fit if they just work on themselves. Some people are just not suited to be in a relationship with each other I think. But whomever we are together with, I feel the least we can do is to be honest about ourselves as well as be aware and take ownership of the motives that lie behind our actions and choices. Are our relationship problems really about the other person, or might they be about ourselves and our own wounds and trauma in life? True love for me includes showing each other a willingness to work on ourselves, and daring to be real, honest and vulnerable in the process. However difficult that may be sometimes!
If my husband would come to me today and tell me he’d rather be with another woman, I immediately don’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore. Because why should I? I don’t want to spend my life in a relationship with a man who’d rather be with someone else. I believe I deserve to be with a man who truly wants to be with me, every day. I trust him to be open, honest, truthful and real with me, and I do the same vice-versa. My commitment to my husband is that I promise to take care of myself. That’s not selfish I believe, it’s healthy and also grown-up. Just like they say on airplanes: always put on your own oxygen mask first, before assisting others…
You want to know what’s printed on the front of the magazine that published the advice above?
Lessons in self-love.
Photo: Jamie Street – unsplash.com
-Do you feel stressed, tired, burned out, numb, have difficulty to focus or feel joy?
-Is the voice of your mind running your life?
-Do your past experiences affect your daily life?
-Do you wonder if there is more to life than sleep-work-entertainment-sleep?
As of august 2019 I offer holistic counseling sessions in Swedish, English and Dutch, in person and via Skype. A holistic counseling session with me gives you space to take a break from this hectic world and be present with what is.
Interested? Read more at:
poolside.se (in Swedish)
poolside.se/en (in English)
poolside.se/nl (in Dutch)