Love, Marriage and Fairy-Tales

 

until I knew what love was not

A few days before dying of ovarian cancer, the writer and filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal submitted a moving essay to the New York Times. In essence, it was a love letter about her husband, Jason, a man with whom she’d shared the last 26 years. “He is an easy man to fall in love with.” she begins. “I did it in one day.

What Rosenthal penned was truly beautiful. She painted a picture of a man who was kind, caring, attentive, fun-loving, intelligent, artistic, a great cook, a great father, and so on.

Amy was 51. The couple had recently become empty nesters. There were new career opportunities. Exotic places to visit together. All the usual kind of wonderful things.

And then tragedy struck. A gnawing pain in her right side turned into a lethal diagnosis. Amy and Jason put their calendar away, and focused their attention on today.

Life-interrupted. A devastating story. But what lingers on is the depth of their love. Both Amy and Jason describe their marriage as having been a fairy-tale relationship. At least, as much as it is possible – in real life, and in the real world.

A fairy-tale relationship. A fairy-tale marriage.

Isn’t that exactly what we wish for ourselves when we tie the knot, and repeat the words “I do”?

We enter the relationship with hopes and dreams. We picture a long life of love and happiness. And that’s not so naïve. It’s the way things should be.

But what if there’s deception and broken trust? What if there’s betrayal and infidelity?

If this becomes our story, is it still possible to describe our marriage as a fairy-tale?

The cynic (or the partner who’s been traumatized) would probably say no. It is not possible. It isn’t even close to being possible.

In the childhood fairly-tales, love’s intense and magical. It usually culminates in a wedding, and some “ahhs”.  There’s no mention of the struggles, of the ups and downs of life. There’s no talk of the heartaches, or the trials we might face.

But being tested in the fire can reveal a genuine love. A love that’s plumbed the depths, and a love that has survived.

So perhaps this kind of love can be a fairy-tale as well …

Yet, what we really wanted was that other fairy-tale.

Oh My Gosh! Will this Never End?

I think recovery from anything.png

Do you ever wonder if you’ll ever recover? Do you sometimes despair of the roller-coaster ride?

If you do, then you’re normal. It is what we all go through when we’ve been traumatized, and experienced betrayal.

What should you expect when you’re trying to recover?

  • Triggers happen all the time, and they happen unexpectedly.
  • You’ll have flashbacks, broken sleep and anxiety attacks.
  • You will lose your motivation and your zest for life.
  • You will cry and feel depressed a lot of the time.
  • You will feel you’ve lost your smile, and your sense of humour.
  • You might feel like you are starting to be yourself again – and then you have a meltdown, and you’re back at ground zero.
  • You’ll have powerful thoughts and feelings that will shock and frighten you.
  • You will feel ashamed of your feelings and reactions.
  • You will constantly wish that you could put the past behind you.
  • You will long for the days when life was simple, good and happy.
  • You will feel mad as Hell for the way that you were treated, and for the way that it has damaged and wounded you.
  • You will have low self-esteem … and then rebound and feel indignant … and demand that you’re respected, and are valued in the future.
  • You will find it hard to trust, and believe in love again.
  • You will feel sick and tired of this roller-coaster ride

It’s a long and painful journey that never seems to end.  You think you’re getting better – and then you find you’re triggered.

But eventually you’ll notice that there is some kind of progress. It’s tentative and fragile. But, still, it gives you hope.

 

When Paths Diverge

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Today we learned that two of our friends had separated, and intended to divorce. The second set of friends in the Christmas season.

None of these people expected this to happen when they tied the knot many years ago.

But life rarely gives us what we expect.

And I think that makes it especially hard.

There’s no script for the future as the map has been destroyed. It’s like being in limbo, immersed in hurt and pain.

But we humans are resilient, and that engenders hope. Who knows what will happen once the trauma’s been worked through, and they find the strength and courage to re-create their lives.

Attachment Bonds and Relationships

all of us blossom

Most people will have heard of attachment theory. This explores how we form close relationships with others – based on our attachment to our primary caregivers.

When Hazan & Shaver (1987)[1] researched these bonds in adult subjects they were able to identify the following four styles: secure attachment, anxious-preoccupied attachment, dismissive-avoidant attachment and fearful-avoidant attachment.

Secure attachment: These adult partners will generally be trusting, trustworthy, available to their partner, and have a healthy self-esteem. They do not fear being abandoned, rejected, or alone.  Also, they tend to view themselves, their partner and their relationships in a hopeful, optimistic and positive way. Furthermore, they are able to balance their need for independence with their healthy need for intimacy.

Anxious-preoccupied attachment: These people worry that their partners will abandon and reject them, or won’t love them quite as much as they, themselves, love. They have a strong need for their partners to be responsive and show caring, and they continually push for intimacy. Thus, they tend to be more anxious and to trust their partner less.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment: These partners usually pull back from being close and vulnerable. They are highly independent, and may not attach at all. They view themselves as self-sufficient, and will repress and deny feelings. Also, they tend to deal with conflict through distancing.

Fearful-avoidant: These adult partners have mixed feelings about emotional closeness. Hence, they tend to mistrust and will pull back from being open. They will suppress and repress feelings, and are fearful of attaching – even though, on some level, it is something they desire.

How does this relate to infidelity?

It has been suggested that dismissive-avoidant partners are most likely to engage in affairs and casual sex.

It has also been suggested that those who’ve been betrayed are more likely to become either anxious-preoccupied or fearful avoidant in close relationships. This is generally true even if they had formed secure attachments to their primary caregivers.

If you’d like to learn more about your attachment style, then check out this link, and complete the questionnaire: http://www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl

[1] http://adultattachmentlab.human.cornell.edu/HazanShaver1987.pdf

When I Grow up I want to be a …

if love turns lonely let it go.PNG

One of the questions adults often ask small children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And, honestly, this is a really stupid question. You’re asking a young child who is 5, or 9, or 10 to try to imagine what their adult self will be like, and to picture possibilities that may not yet exist.

For example, my older daughter was sure of her career. She said she was going to be a carpet layer after watching us restore an old English home  (and slowly replace the carpets, room by room). She didn’t know when she was six that she’d really love to travel, and would want a career that would keep her on the move. Well, of course she couldn’t know that – for she didn’t know herself.

And my younger daughter told us that she wanted to be Barbie (despite the fact I hated, and discouraged, Barbie dolls). Yet she now has a career in an area of science that hadn’t been invented when she was a preschooler. So how could she predict the job that she would have today?

This inability to picture who our future self will be is something that psychologists have researched in some depth. In fact, there’s a great TED talk on this subject by Dan Gilbert. You can check out this link if the topic interests you: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing/transcript?language=en#t-7795

One comment Gilbert makes is we all make some decisions that take us in directions that our future self regrets – and that is a disturbing and a sobering fact.

But if it’s hard for us to know if and how we’re going to change (our interests, personality and – sometimes – even values) then how much more is this the case when we’re “judging” someone else. We have certain information we can base our judgments on; but no-one really knows what’s going to happen down the road.

So, the best that we can do is to work with what we have. We can only take a guess at who that person will become. We don’t have crystal balls, and there are no guarantees.

So, don’t question your good judgment if your partner changed on you. The shock and pain you live with is hard enough to bear.

It is likely that there were no signs, no noisy warning bells. In fact, they may have been sincere and didn’t think they’d change.

But, how sad it is for you that they didn’t know themselves!

Once Upon a Time

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Once upon a time there a girl who dreamed about being desirable and beautiful. She had married her prince who had told her she was great. They made love all the time – wild, passionate love. And the girl felt confident, and good about herself.

And sometimes the girl would go off to the mall and look through the lingerie in cute little stores. She would picture how she’d look if she wore this or that, and wondered if her man would like satin or lace. She really loved them all. It was a hard to make a choice.

And the girl so loved her prince. She felt safe and good with him. She knew that she was lucky. Her life was like a dream. He said he felt the same. She was all that he could need. His princess held his heart. He would never do her wrong.

Then, one day the girl discovered that her prince had looked at porn. And not just once or twice. He spent time on lots of sites.

The young girl was in shock. Surely this could not be true. Her prince would never lie. He would never break her heart.

The prince was full of shame. “It is over” he declared. Remorse would make him change. He would never look again.

They knew it would take time to rebuild the broken trust. And but both worked really hard, for they knew love could survive.

But still, the tears would flow when she saw young pretty things displaying all they had beneath tight or skimpy clothes. She had wanted to be his. To be special and unique. Not me, plus other girls he had searched and met online.

And now she felt deep shame when she reached into her drawer to find a flimsy piece that she thought might turn him on. Her confidence was gone. Her self-image, now destroyed. She hated how she looked, and she dreaded having sex.

But maybe things will change and her broken heart will mend. Perhaps as time moves on, they’ll forget the anguished days – and find that tender love has sprung up and grown again.

But the Times They are A-Changing

You dont find the happy life. You make it..PNG

60 years of marriage and never a cross word, and never a serious argument. We never went to bed without making up. We always sorted out our little differences. And any differences were, really, insignificant.”

So said my Dad when he and my mom were celebrating their ruby anniversary.

Now I grew up in that very same home, and my recollections differ somewhat from my Dad’s. But, to be completely honest, their marriage is inspiring. It would be hard to find a couple who have loved so honestly. So, I’ll allow my dad to have his select memories.

But, still, it leaves me wondering how many young adults will be able to look back and say they, also, knew true love. Is it still possible to be so faithful to another, and to always love that person, and treat them with respect? I’d really like to think that the answer is yes.

But today we all have cell phones, and we have the internet … and I fear that this has altered and changed relationships. But maybe that’s not true, and there’s room for idealism. Perhaps there is no need for that dash of cynicism.

So for my daughters, and the daughters of my friends and relatives, here is what I still wish, and hope, for you:

I hope that you will marry, or partner, with someone who will always be faithful – in every way – to you.

I hope that you’ll find someone who cares about your heart, and chooses not to hurt you, or damage, or betray you.

I hope that you’ll both choose to admit if you feel tempted – because you have resolved to keep the promises you made.

I hope you won’t have secrets that hurt and separate – but you will choose to value and practice openness.

I hope that you’ll feel cared for, protected, safe and loved.

And I hope that you can say that your partner was your friend, a lover who was loyal and caring to the end.

 

Please don’t Tell me to “Forgive” Again

you may have to fight a battle more than once.PNG

Forgiveness is a difficult, and somewhat touchy, topic. It’s something we are ‘told’ that we ought to offer others. But ask anyone, and you’re likely to hear that forgiveness is a struggle if you’ve been hurt and betrayed.  And perhaps its not surprising that this should be the case.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

  1. Feeling that it’s hard to forgive and start again (even if, in your mind, you really want to forgive) is a primal, instinctive, self-protective response. The reason’s not surprising: if we let the barriers down and open up our heart, then our trust could be betrayed. So our brain seeks to protect us from further injury.
  2. We fear that forgiveness – or too quick, or forced, forgiveness – could have the effect of minimising the betrayal, and the extent of the damage and the pain that it has caused. Irritations and annoyances don’t really damage us so it’s relatively easy to move on, and let those go. But betrayal devastates us, and changes who we are. It’s a wound that’s hard to heal, and a serious injury.
  3. When we’ve been wounded by betrayal, it is not a single wound. Yes, there’s a major breach of trust; but there are other losses too. There’s the loss of hopes and dreams, of reputation and respect, the loss of peace of mind, and the life you thought you had. Also, there may be serious risks to health due to unwanted STDs, to PTSD, or stress-related illness. So the losses can feel endless – which makes them hard to forgive. It can feel too overwhelming when you’re in a fragile state.
  4. Related this, there are triggers we are battling, and which stop us in our tracks. They remind us of the fact that our healing’s NOT complete.

Although being able to forgive is liberating in the end, as it means we’re less attached to the emotional pain, it’s ridiculous to think that it should happen “just like that!”

It’s going to be a journey, and will take a lot of time, and it won’t mean that the anguish won’t resurface constantly.

Let me finish with some final thoughts from the book Out of the Doghouse:

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it is usually given only when earned, rather than when it’s requested. So if you want forgiveness, you can apologize a million times hoping it will appear, but you won’t get it until you’ve earned it … Forgiveness is not something you should ever expect or demand from anyone, let alone your betrayed spouse. Forgiveness will come when she has done hating you and when trust is restored.

For you, forgiveness may mean, ‘Phew. She loves me again and we are moving on.’ To her, though, it means letting you back into her heart that once again puts you in a position to either love or hurt her. That’s a pretty big difference … You will have to feel the pain you have caused, experience your consequences without becoming defensive, and become rigorously honest in all aspects of life. If you can do that, she will eventually forgive you.”

Maybe …. Hopefully …. Eventually.

“And They All Lived Happily Ever After”

to love a person is to see all their magic.PNG

One of the things I like about “The Buried Giant”, a novel by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, is it explores married love across a couple’s lifetime. So it’s not about romance, or the early dizzy years. Its subject is a love that has been tested in the fire. A love that has survived some really serious hurts and trials.

One of the interesting features of the book is a mist that envelopes and permeates the world. This is both frightening and comforting. Essentially, the mist hints at buried memories, and the need to forget, and the decision to forget (for otherwise relationships could not survive.) You see this in the fear that the characters display when they sense that the mist is beginning to rise, and they start to worry about what they might learn.

Indeed, as the story progresses, we learn of the betrayal that is part of the narrative of Beatrice and Axl, the two main characters in the book. Nevertheless, they have managed to renew and rebuild their love; and on the journey that the novel mainly focuses upon, they display a tenderness that is somewhat enviable.

At the end of their journey, and the end of the book, when they’ve reached the river, and the final crossing point, each is questioned individually about their love. The questions they are asked leave the other wondering, “Has our live been sufficient; have we loved enough?”

I would venture to say that there’s no couple on this earth who’ve loved perfectly and who don’t carry buried wounds. We have all known betrayals – and some of these are serious. But maybe this enables us to build a stronger love. A love that is informed. A love that’s deep and genuine. A love that can forgive, and can accept forgiveness, too.

And maybe this is actually a truer kind of love.

 

The Problem with Little White Lies

 

tell me lies.PNGI once heard the story of a guy whose wife divorced him after he lied to her about putting out the trash. He said he had when he hadn’t – and that was enough to tip the scales.

Over the top? Maybe. I suspect a lot of people would see it that way. But you might feel differently if you’ve been betrayed. Why is that the case?

If you’ve been betrayed then you’ve been deceived. And that betrayal was a serious breach of trust. It’s also very hard to recover from.

If you are the betrayer then you’re likely to think: “I never deceived you about anything else. It was only about sex. And you can understand why. I was afraid to be honest. I was afraid that I would lose you. That’s why I didn’t have the courage to tell you earlier.”

Yes, it makes sense on some level, and perhaps we understand it. But that doesn’t change the effect that lying’s had on us. And if you chose to lie about the really big, important things I don’t feel I can trust you with anything at all.

Rational and reasonable, wouldn’t you agree?

That’s why you must be honest, and absolutely honest. Even when it seems either ludicrous or petty.

The sex therapist, Rob Weiss, puts it this way[1]:

Relationship trust is not automatically rebuilt just because you stopped cheating, nor is it rebuilt because you managed to stay stopped for a certain amount of time. Instead, relationship trust is regained through … being rigorously honest about pretty much everything, all the time, from now on … With rigorous honesty you tell the truth and you tell it sooner. You keep your spouse in the loop about absolutely everything: spending, trips to the gym, gifts for the kinds, issues at work, needing to fertilize the lawn, and, on yeah, interactions she might not approve of. If your spouse would want to know, then you tell her. Period.”

So, after betrayal you can’t peddle in white lies. If you do, then prepare for the relationship to end.

[1] Weiss, R. (2017). Out of the dog house: A step-by-step relationship-saving guide for men caught cheating. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.