I recently had the pleasure of a visit from a former client. She had originally come to me in an effort to save her marriage. She dearly loved her husband. She liked his family, she respected his work, she found him handsome and fun, and he wanted to be with her more than any other person on Earth. She too was a very attractive person from many similar perspectives and she had spent years imagining having a family with him. So when you have two people who want to be together it truly does take a monster to rip something that solid apart.
Of course and as always, wanting becomes the problem. Because in a truly loving relationship the people don’t want to be together, they appreciate that they already are together. In this case, she wanted him to believe her once and for all that she was committed to him. And he wanted to be constantly reassured that she wouldn’t leave him. But that left a constant tension in the relationship and over time it had stressed it to its breaking point.
Having been raised in a quiet, straightforward happy home she’s a very straightforward person. This has lead to her climbing the corporate ranks about as fast as someone can. Her success afforded them a very nice lifestyle. They had a beautiful home, nice cars and clothes, and it also gave him the freedom to be the sort of stay-at-home painter that rarely tries to sell his work. She didn’t mind paying for everything, but it was starting to play on her mind that if she was going to do that it would be nice if he could contribute simply by making their time together more enjoyable. You can imagine how it would feel to make all the mortgage payments on a house that she almost saw as a torture chamber.
She loved her husband, but she was beginning to wonder when they could settle. When would it feel like they didn’t have to strive for their relationship? It always felt like they were battling to save it when there wasn’t anywhere else she wanted to be. Big circular arguments that were nothing more than a winding steep dangerous road right back to where she started from: with her husband. After a long day of difficult work she really wasn’t interested in climbing unnecessary psychological hills to get where she already was.
Now imagine his life. I don’t know much about his family because he and I never met, but I could easily tell from his behaviour that somewhere in his childhood he developed the idea that he either couldn’t trust sources of love, or that he possibly wasn’t worthy of love in the first place. It doesn’t really matter what the history was, the bottom line is that he was still thinking as though yesterday was today. He kept acting in his current relationship as though it was going to go the same directions that his previous relationships had, when in fact the only thing pushing it that way was his thinking that it might. Such is the law of attraction.
If the neural wiring you have from previous relationships features prominent experiences involving abandonment or an over-abundance of criticism, then it’s very understandable that once the person is in another relationship, potential abandonment or self-worth issues could arise. That’s because the moment they light up the part of their brain for relationships, they also light up the personal neural network that includes their fears. Of course there is no real reason to think that because one person did something that another necessarily will, but our brain is wired to learn from experience so until we have enough intervening experiences to change our wiring we will continue to behave as though today is yesterday.
What all this translates to is that she was essentially living in a form of terror. Every day she drove home from her office she would spend the entire drive worrying about what kind of mood her husband would be in. He was an painter and so he would have all day in his garage studio to paint and think and think and paint. And any time he thought about his relationship he also included thoughts about abandonment or insecurity. He could get himself so wound up that by the time she got home he would be furious.
Going out had ceased to happen. She simply couldn’t bear it. She had been alternately embarrassed and disturbed by his behaviour at parties or work functions to the point where she didn’t even want to go anymore. The events were just too fraught with potential fights. Even going to a restaurant was dangerous. What if the waiter was handsome and friendly? Her night would be hell. Her bathing suits got reviewed before they hit vacation beaches. If a guy even looked at her he talked about it angrily for weeks.
On top of all that he needed constant reassurance. He always needed compliments, so if they went out he would attempt to become the centre of attention as a way of bolstering his own sense of self. So that would mean at a bar he would want to dance with every pretty girl so that he himself could feel handsome and yet if any guy asked her to dance they would immediately be forced to leave, and she would be yelled at all the way home. I’m sure you can feel how tired she would get just by reading this. It was exhausting for me to hear about. And this went on for years.
When she finally pulled the plug on their relationship he said she hadn’t given him a chance. Hadn’t given him a chance?! What did he think motivated her to put up with all of that for all those years? It was a dedication to him. She had suffered a lot to be with him. He had unnecessarily created that suffering by trying to cling to someone who was already with him. The result was he suffocated her affection for him.
I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it: unhealthy relationships are like two hands clasped together. They are fighting and clinging to hold together against other compelling forces (thoughts). In a healthy relationship they’re more like praying hands. They are voluntarily coming together. There is no worried thinking so the binding force is the love itself. By appreciating each other rather than wanting something else they naturally move toward one another, creating an environment that is welcoming, warm and enjoyable. And if a relationship feels like that no one has any motivation to leave.
In the end she did leave her husband. She didn’t want to but she eventually realised that she did deserve a life with someone who was appreciating her more. She’s found that guy now and while she will openly admit that he’s actually not as good a match on paper as her husband was, the simple fact is that the relationship is fun. It’s light and easy instead of tense, heavy and cloistered. She likes coming home to her new husband. She looks forward to dinner and dancing, and holidays in sexy bikinis. And why shouldn’t she? She’s a grown woman.
The green-eyed monster of jealousy has ripped many relationships apart. But jealousy is ultimately just some stories we tell ourselves. We’re better to go quiet and just appreciate. Because adults can choose where they go so all relationships are ultimately voluntary. In the end the only thing anyone can do to help keep any relationship together is to be someone who is enjoyable to be around.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.