Fourth Place on the Blog of the Year Countdown was actually written by request. A common thing for me to work on with couples is to help them get through those junctures in life where the changes that are being considering include the relationship itself. Especially if people have been together for long periods of time this decision can have far-reaching effects in their lives so it’s worth really making sure it’s what’s best for the parties involved.
Early in life many of our attractions exist to help us hone what it is we’re looking for. Experience might cause us to value kindness over beauty, or we might decide that similar political or social views are more important than we thought, or you might need someone who will agree to meet the challenges presented by your career etc. Eventually we narrow our sights down to the point where we’re interested in people who are simply better matched to our personalities and lives. So ending one of those sorts of relationships is worth looking at carefully. Because I’ve seen more than a few people leave and then deeply regret it.
Relationship based postings have made up the last three Blog of the Year winners and this one makes it four. Clearly the subject is a popular one. I’m not sure precisely what it was that caused this particular one to take off with such enormous popularity—but it clearly struck some kind of a chord with readers. I certainly hope you find it similarly worthwhile. So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen I am pleased to present to you the 4th Most Popular Blog of the Year:
I have a client who learned about reality the hard way. As you read this, it is important that you remember that she is a very nice person. She came to me with her husband almost ten years ago. She felt their marriage was lacking.
When I asked her what sort of issues had arisen and when and why, she said that it really had always existed but she was simply worn out and tired of it. She didn’t want to accommodate it anymore —she needed her husband to change.
He was sitting right there, but I asked her to describe her husband to me. She gave a couple of perfunctory compliments, and then she talked about how he lacked drive and motivation to “better their family.” He was too content with where they were at.
I asked if he holds doors open for people. She said yes. Did he speak kindly to street people? Unfortunately yes, she told me. Was he an angry or violent person? She adamantly said no —if anything he was too passive, including in bed. How was he as a father? She wasn’t entirely confident, but she would give him that the boys loved him a lot. He sure didn’t take care of the things on the lists she gave him though.
Sitting there that day he was on very good behaviour, you could tell. I asked him to describe his wife and he gave a couple seemingly sincere compliments about how she helped keep him organized, and how he thought she was a good influence on their kids. And then he apologized for not having the same drive and determination around work that some of his friends and co-workers have.
His wife’s response to that admission was to list those people and the increases they had achieved in their salaries or job status, in the time she and her husband had been together. She noted that the difference between them and him was, in her estimation, the distance between success and failure.
I have taught lots of people to truly, deeply and actively love their current life and who they are. And they often do make all sorts of changes that are seen as being ‘good’ in the ego world too. But cheetahs run and turtles crawl and that should be respected. My job isn’t to turn people’s loved ones into completely different people, it’s to help them see what’s lovable about the person as they already are.
What I do isn’t so much about change as it is acceptance. I mean, think about it: how awesome is it that people can get the feeling they’re seeking without actually having to do all of the work to be someone else, or to make someone else into someone else? Instead we can all simply realize that everyone was already awesome the whole time!
Okay, so back to the couple. He is who he is so she eventually leaves. He doesn’t ever date again. He’s not bitter but he’s definitely suffering with a broken heart. She almost immediately dated a very successful professional, but he turned out to be a stalker. Two years gone.
A few years after that and she connected with a wealthy British businessman. At first she loved the lavish lifestyle and the attention he showered on her, but over time the cheetah got back to cheetah-ing and he wasn’t so available because his empire needed tending.
Also, he was aggressive, he had a hot temper and he could be mean. Of course our personalities are really just chemical addictions in a way, so the same thing that gave him a temper also gave him the drive that allowed him to be so successful in business –which was the thing she valued. Life’s tricky, isn’t it?
Once, when they were outside a restaurant with another couple, she felt horribly embarrassed when her new ‘wealthy and successful’ man made fun of an injured beggar. Seeing that was a turning point.
In the end her trappings were nicer, but her life as a set of experiences was much less pleasant than with her ex-husband. And the rich guy eventually left her for a younger woman anyway. Boom. A decade gone and it wasn’t even a lot of fun.
Now, the woman in my example had sons, but imagine if she had a daughter. Can you imagine listening to her give that little girl a talk on how to find a good man? “Okay, if you find a guy that’s kind and patient and caring and helpful, a guy who’s a bit boring but he thinks you’re great and loves his own life –you cast that guy aside and you go get a driven, aggressive, work-first wealthy man who has a nice house and cars but who will treat you like property. Got it?” It’s nuts.
While the language is fancied up to make it sound more obviously egotistical, you hear parents coaching their kids this way every single day in supermarket lineups. It’s all over screens too. Remember, the show wasn’t Who Wants to Marry a Nice Guy Who Loves You? It was: “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?”
Since her realization that day on the street with the homeless person, that wife was finally able to see the value in her ex-husband. In fact, it was actually her request that I write this. She has a friend about to do the same thing she did and she wants to print this off and leave it on her desk at work.
She’s tried to warn her co-worker. She explained how, after a decade of dating and having it not work over and over, she’s come to the realization that not everyone is ambitious about being kind, or about accepting her, like her husband was. Those are qualities that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Being both ‘present’ and ‘grateful’ are the skills her ex-husband had that she now understands are are all too uncommon.
If you’re going to be with anyone, appreciate who you’re with. If you’re doing that, and you are able to see the awesomeness within the person and you still don’t think it’s the right match for your life, then that’s how you know to move on.
It is always better to identify a good fit based on our daily life experiences, not abstract values like wealth, popularity, or appearance. If someone gift wraps us a life of kindness and love, we should be careful not to turn it away just because we don’t think the box is tall enough, or because we don’t think the wrapping paper is shiny enough. Many a shiny box has contained that of little value.
For his part, it’s a-shame –though not surprising– that such a kind and caring man would now be less trusting, more defensive, and therefore alone. When I’m hearing about truly dangerous husbands I often think back to this fellow as one of the three sanest, kindest and warmest clients I’ve ever had. A zillion women would value him, but unfortunately the one he was with didn’t see that value until it was too late.
In an ego-less world, that sad, lonely guy would be a king. And that’s the point of all of this. She missed that. And she was really hoping that if she got me to write this, that some of you wouldn’t make the same mistake she did. So there you go.
Enjoy your day.