Relationship Tip #15 — Don’t Blow It

A friend of mine recently got me hooked on the PBS series Downton Abbey, which takes place in the early 1900’s.  The parents of three daughters are often host to potential suitors for their oldest, Mary.  The heir to their vast estate is Matthew Crawley and seems a logical match for her.  Yet upon arrival to Downton his ungentlemanly, unrefined behavior is unattractive to her.  Over time, Matthew embraces the aristocratic culture in Downton, befriends Mary and she begins to genuinely fall in love with him.  One night at a dinner party, the family was entertaining another potential suitor for Mary, Sir Antony.  Only Mary wasn’t interested in him.  So, she turns her full attention to Matthew while her sister, Edith, engages in conversation with Sir Antony.  After dinner, in an arrogant act of impulse, Mary insists to Edith that she could get any man.  To prove it, Mary at once turns her back on Matthew and begins to flirt with Sir Antony.  After being snubbed by Mary, Matthew promptly leaves the party.  From the window, Mary watches Matthew walk away, clearly regretting her actions toward him.  Watching all of this unfold from the sidelines, Mary’s father says quietly to his wife, “She thinks if you put a toy down it’ll still be there when you want to play with it again.”

I’ve played the role of Mary countless times in my own life.  What Mary’s father said about her was true about me too.  I had been operating with the selfish notion that the men in my life were at my disposal and I had infinite chances to “blow it” with them.  My wake up call came when I actually had someone in my life with whom I could see having a future.  Instead of nurturing the relationship, I broke up with him with little explanation.  Six months later, he gave me another chance and I did it again.  Time went by and he gave me yet another chance.  At this point, I had destroyed any trust he had in me.  Our relationship, or even friendship, was never the same.  While Mary acted in her arrogance, I acted in my insecurity.  Call it “the grass is greener syndrome,” sabotage or whatever.  We both had our reasons, but the reasons don’t really matter.  The bottom line is that I took him for granted.  I didn’t appreciate having him as my boyfriend until I had lost him.  There was no recovering from that – the consequence being I killed the relationship.

What would I have done differently? I would have:

  1. Acted on the vision of my future with him, not my past with other men.  Stated differently, I would have dealt with my baggage.  By treating him as if he were every other guy who had hurt me, I was making him pay for their wrongs.  This was a new relationship with someone who loved me, therefore deserving of a clean slate.
  2. Shared with him the issues with which I was dealing at that time.  He was a very tender-hearted man and told me at one point that he could tell I was dealing with something.  I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to be v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.
  3. Appreciated everything that he was for me, rather than indulging in my insecurities.  I was admittedly obsessed with what could go wrong in our relationship.  How could I possibly enjoy being with him with that constantly running in my head?
  4. Given him credit for being an adult.  That means trusting him to be able to handle bumps in the road with me.  Of course, to do that requires communication.  He didn’t know because I was unwilling to share it with him.  In hindsight I can see that he’s dealt with plenty of issues in life, many were just as difficult as, if not more than, mine.  He could have managed it.  Also, being outside the situation, he probably would have done so more skillfully than I.
  5. Moved on after breaking up with him the first time.  To repeatedly go back and forth with him served only me – selfish.  It kept him in limbo, fueled his insecurities because he never knew where he stood with me and completely ruined his trust in me.  I wasn’t respecting him or his heart.

Having a love worth keeping really is like winning the lottery – it seldom happens and doesn’t happen for everyone.  Playing games like Mary or I did, regardless of your reasons for doing so, will always have its consequences.  I’m not saying that there are no second chances.  Plenty of people get married after a second chance.  What I am saying is appreciate your first chance in a relationship and treat it as if it’s your last because it could be exactly that:  your last chance.

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Relationship Tip #10 — Take The High Road

It was never my intention to start the new year off with a post about breakups.  Do any of us ever really like to talk about it unless we’re actually going through it?  Of course not.  Nobody likes to talk about breaking up, or go through it, or even consider it.  Yet, nearly all of us have experienced it at some point.  Hopefully you and I will be making such great choices in the men that we date that we won’t ever break up again, but just in case we do here’s my advice:  take the high road.

Breakups hurt.  Pain from a breakup can stir emotions like rejection, abandonment and/or disappointment, all of which most of us don’t like to face.  When emotions are running high, a knee-jerk reaction might be to retaliate in order to ensure that the other person experiences some degree of pain along with us (we naturally assume that he doesn’t).  In a situation like that, I’m telling you to stop, run the other way and practice some self-control.  Here’s why:

1.  You’ll be above reproach. Retaliation has but one intention, to harm another.  Taking the high road involves choosing not to hurt someone else even when you know that you can.  Being in relationship means that you become privy to someone else’s soft spots.  Therefore, you know where you can fire a shot that can cause damage.  There’s a lot of power in that.  Knowing that and choosing not to exploit someone else is even more powerful.  Remember that your ex- chose to share things with you that made him vulnerable, as you did too.  Being vulnerable to another is a gift not to be abused, even when you’re hurting.

2.  You’ll maintain your integrity. In other words, you won’t do something for which you’ll be sorry later.  There’s nothing like lashing out in the heat of the moment, behaving like crazed maniac only to realize, after the dust settles, how stupid you were being.

3.  You’re actually hurting yourself. Have you ever been so angry about breaking up that your first course of action was to do something that made your ex- jealous?  We want him to think that we are completely unaffected, better off in fact.  Even I have been guilty of that a time or two – maybe more.  I’ve also witnessed some of my friends (both men and women) do some crazy things to “get back at their ex-”  I put that in quotes because you trick yourself into thinking that you’re getting back at him, but in reality you’re only hurting yourself.  Some examples are, sleeping with someone else, excessive partying, jumping into a new relationship, sport-dating.  Deep down inside you don’t really like what you’re doing, it’s not fulfilling and there’s no joy in it.  Realistically, you are adding to your own wounds that have not yet healed.

4.  It’s irresponsible. Nobody wins the blame game.  Yet, after a breakup we’re so desperate for reasons why it didn’t work out so we churn up all our hostility, aim it at our former partner and fire  away at everyone who allows us to bend their ear.  Last I checked, it took 2 people to be in a relationship and each had to make a choice to be in it.  He chose you; you chose him.  Acknowledge that you made a choice to be in a relationship with someone that wasn’t right for you and move on.

5.  There’s the possibility of reconciliation. Look.  Couples break up then get back together all the time.  Obviously there was some difficulty you both encountered that caused the breakup.  That’s enough to overcome.  Hurt caused by revenge is just one more thing to fix later.  I’ve known people who ruined all opportunity to reconcile by hurting their partner so badly during the breakup, the trust between them was destroyed.  If the possibility of getting back together appeals to you, exercise some self-restraint.  There will be less of a mess to clean up later.

6.  You love him. Remember, he was your boyfriend because there was something about him that you loved.  It’s easy enough to do things unintentionally that hurt someone you love.  Intentionally hurting someone you love, or anyone for that matter, is selfish.  Think about it.  You’re doing it because you actually want the other person to hurt.  Examine your heart.  Do you really want someone you love to hurt?  Tell the truth.  There’s likely something in your heart that is unresolved because you’ve been unwilling to deal with it.  It’s up to you to get to the source of that so you can be free to love and be loved without that baggage.

The bottom line when it comes to relationships is to choose wisely so you don’t have to go through a break-up.  Choosing a partner isn’t like shopping, even though Match.com would like for you to think so.  There’s no “returns and exchanges” counter or “undo” button.  I’m talking about seeing, thinking, feeling people just like you who want to be unconditionally loved and appreciated just like you.

Let’s tread gently so as not to add to the hurts of the world.  If you do break up it may be painful, but it’s okay.  You’ll still be breathing air.  Just stay in control of yourself and take the high road.

* Header photo courtesy of Andrew Wheeler – AutoMotoPhoto