One of the gifts of divorce has been the opportunity to look at some of my past decisions and behaviors and decide whether or not to make them again in my new relationship. A few of them no doubt helped get me that divorce and a couple more probably helped me survive it.
Though it isn’t easy, it is always a noble goal to be an adult in any given situation. Rare is (or should be), the person who looks back on a moment in which they chose to be a jerk and congratulates themselves for having done so. Being human, all of us get caught up in the heat of a situation and react before we give ourselves the chance to reflect on the best move for all concerned. It is also unfortunately all too easy to justify our jerk moments by thinking that the other person deserved it. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t, the point is that getting hysterical, or ranting doesn’t solve anything and when I did it it didn’t change the outcome and only made me feel worse.
I don’t care how much you love someone, there are going to be times you bump up against each other’s needs, wants or desires and are going to have to decide whose get met and whose get neglected. Hopefully you can find ways to compromise or at least take turns so neither of you feel under valued. I spent years thinking this or that little slight wasn’t worth fighting over and then more years fighting over everything, and neither of those ways of being made me happy or ultimately got me the relationship I wanted.
Upon reflection after leaving my marriage one of the things I figured out was that in very few of the instances where I felt hurt or slighted was that his actual intent. He wanted to get what he wanted when he wanted it (and who doesn’t?), and not specifically to hurt me. Ultimately, his intent didn’t matter. The bottom line was we couldn’t figure out a way to make our relationship be mutually satisfying. It might have been more effective and less damaging for us both to deal with the way we behaved toward each other and not slide into the murky waters of “How dare you do, or say, or act like ‘X’.
So now here I am in my not so new but still young relationship. I know that attempting to remake a partner is folly. I have no desire to do that and even if I did, now that we are well into middle age and have been sporting our hard candy shells for a while, it seems unrealistic to try. That doesn’t mean I can’t ask for what I want or register displeasure or disappointment when I don’t get it, and I am certainly willing and able to do that. What I am trying to do is express myself in a respectful, adult manner.
Which brings us to a short time ago when a situation occurred between My significant other and I that could have gone any number of wrong ways. Again, never was there a thought that either of us was trying to do harm to the other, but still, a misunderstanding occurred and my feelings got hurt. Inside my head I was livid. All manner of outrage and vitriol filled speeches were written, to be delivered in justification of my anger at being treated so horrendously. Fortunately for all concerned, before I could get the poison out of my head and into the world I took a moment to reflect. I asked myself if anything that happened had been intentional. As we have discussed, the answer was a resounding, no. I asked myself if there were anything I could have done to prevent the problem from occurring. The answer was, probably yes. I asked myself if there were anything he could have done to prevent the problem from occurring. Well duh, absolutely yes. Then I asked myself, because he had not kept the problem from occurring had that rendered him unlovable or no longer worth my time. The answer was of course not. I mean the first thing I needed to do was maintain perspective. The last question, and the one I am proudest of, was how was I going to approach the problem in a way that would appropriately express my upset while leaving room for a mutually advantageous solution, which is to say, everyone could walk away with dignity intact, feeling like we both gave some and got some.
The questions were not answered as quickly as I outlined them here. It took me an afternoon and sleepless night to consider all of them and come to any conclusions. The bad news is that the afternoon and evening were very quiet and no fun at all for either of us. The good news is that by morning we were both anxious to put the problem behind us and work together to get back to being happy .
I am very happy to report that with lots of kind and carefully chosen words, a tinge of snark, some laughter, hugs and absolutely no yelling or nastiness of any kind, we managed to right the ship and sail off into the sunset, secure in the knowledge that even though we would no doubt find rough seas again, we were equipped to handle them like loving adults. And really, I can ask for no more than that.