Divorce is not an option!
Almost every couple having a Christian wedding is given that advice/warning by older relatives and the clergy. “This is it!” But the truth as I have found for myself is that this threat is the first nail in the coffin because it directly threatens individual autonomy. It is the subtle whisper in your ear that you are trapped. The rest of the marriage just ends up being proof of this. We can spend 40 years with someone seeking evidence of lack of freedom instead of enjoying moments. Truth is, divorce is a possible outcome of the endeavour of marriage. Because if marriage is a mutual agreement between two people to sacrifice some levels of autonomy in search of a different autonomy as a team, that agreement like any agreement can be broken by one person (or both), renegotiated by both and terminated by death. I will be honest. Even though I recognize it as a possible outcome, I am pretty tired of hearing separation stories. At heart, I have always been a romantic and even as my mind has evolved to become more mathematical in love, I still root for love to conquer all.
In Search of Sexual Trauma
A friend of mine told me a story about how when he was 9 years old, he and the maid (16 years old) would have sex. Back then, he didn’t think anything of it and was actually quite proud of it. He was like his older cousins and uncles who were always bragging in his presence about their sexual prowess. He was also “a man”! But it was later discovered this maid had been engaging in a similar relationship with several boys roughly the same age in the estate. Her MO was the same. Befriend, make promises to bring them things after travels (which she always delivered on) and “our special secrets” (the sex acts). The sex acts involved a lot of quiet and secrets. “If you tell, it will be bad for us. They will beat me!” This 9 year old hero would never let someone assault his princess, would he? So silence.
When he found out about the other boys, all he could think was what his mother said about the situation, “She was a stupid loose girl from the village!”, but to him, it was attached to a subsequent statement he told me as he was recanting the story. “She was a stupid loose girl from the village! That’s why she picked me.” To this day, he believes women who want him only want him because they are, in his own description, “loose” (and that’s a nice word to replace the one he uses). In relationships, he alternates between being very loving and unbelievably distrusting that the woman may be cheating. His sexual pattern is to dramatize shame by making sex secretive. In fact, the more secretive, the better. He likes it when the woman is quiet and doesn’t tell anyone. For her compliance, trips and rewards are given in plenty. He can afford it. I’ve heard stories praising his prowess but also stories of concern about his unfounded jealousy and rage. Perhaps, the biggest problem is that some of the women are not “his” to do these things with. The more secretive, the better.
We tend to look for the formative sexual experiences we encountered at a young age. Everyone hopes that our first times will be with someone who loves us and wants to be with us forever and ever. But we also live in a world with predatory beings who don’t understand their own traumas which make them who they are. So most of us have had pretty difficult formative sexual experiences. But, and perhaps more complex, we experienced physical pleasure in those experiences which felt good. Bad thing… Feels good. Problem!
So it is hard to separate the trauma from the feeling of pleasure. The emotions attached to them can drive very reckless behavior. Your partner needs a heads up in early discussions so that they know who they are dealing with. But even more important, you need to understand your sexuality and why you are attracted to the things you are. Finally, this is important, it’s OK. Someone may have inadvertently shaped your sexuality at a young age but they do not own it. It is OK to like what you like and to communicate these needs to your partner. In a healthy consensual context, your sexuality is yours to enjoy. You are not as weird as you think you are. There are many people out there just like you. So value yourself and your uniqueness more. Trust me, it helps to see the predators more clearly. The ones who try to stick a finger in your insecurity to get something.
Do the math! Is This What YOU Want?
For me, math was a subject that could be summarized by Linkin Park’s In the End chorus.
“I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter!”
But anyone who has to make major decisions has to think about the odds. These odds should not cripple us into not being able to make a decision. But they should not be ignored. RomComs and books inspire us to overcome the odds where love is concerned. This is a good thing. Love, particularly long term monogamous love, takes work. RomComs end before the work begins. In reality, there is hard work ahead. But the odds cannot be ignored.
Discussing childhood traumas and existing needs is just one of the pieces. But health conditions, high travel or risk jobs, debts and credit history, pre-relationship off-spring, lack of interest in having any or more children, physical self-care and mental health just to mention a few. The odds need a lot of openness and discussion because the odds are what do the most damage in relationships. If you both discuss and agree that the odds are worth the risk then put in the work on them. But if the odds are not worth the risk, then please bow out early. If you agree to something then break the agreement later because it wasn’t really what you wanted, that’s OK. But you are also an asshole to some people and that, for them, is also OK.
The problem with the odds is that we are supposed to overcome them and when we don’t then we are failing at love. What’s worse is that often the guilt associated with not overcoming the odds makes people pick fights about pointless things just to avoid saying something nobody would approve of. There are some things which cannot be predicted like accidents, unexpected medical diagnosis, sudden job loss, strokes e.t.c. But there are challenges you have to be careful not to get yourself wrapped up in if you know you can’t live up to it.
I used to regularly interfere in one of our couple friends’ relationship because I liked them and really wanted it to work. Her complaint? He had gotten lazy and gained a lot of weight. They did not go out anymore and he was too focused on “making money for the future”. She did not feel like he valued her enough to maintain himself for her. She started calling him fat and before long had cut him off sexually then proceeded to have an affair. This is a pretty basic story. But being a friend to both means I understood both sides. On his end, once they became serious, he knew he had to become serious.
What she refers to as “going out” was actually him being an alcoholic. When she met him he was the “happening guy” because he could always suss out drinks and a good time. But now, he was with someone who needed him to be better. To stop chasing alcohol until sunrise. He gained weight because he was actually eating after years of undiagnosed depression and self medication with booze and parties. But he did need to learn to take care of his physical body better now that he was happy. Still, imagine being happy then the person who is making you happy calls you fat and lazy then cheats on you… Problem!
Here is the unspoken thing neither of them wanted to admit. She wanted the drunk party boy. He was unpredictable, played by his own rules and confident. On his part he wanted a conservative homemaker to build a future with. But neither of them wanted to say to each other what they wanted because that would be changing another person. Selfish! So she punished him for evolving into what he wanted and he just went along with it because he believed if he demonstrated enough stability and loyalty she would wake up and realize he is a catch. Neither of them woke up.
Division of Friends and Family
Family is a live wire of it’s own because this is where you came from. Whether you were raised by Mr. Rogers or Jeffrey Dahmer (these are some very white references), the people who raised you have a place in your heart. We hope that place is earned by love but as we discover some things we assume are OK are actually trauma, the reality is that there will be a lot of mixed feelings. So even the lightest critique from your new love and lover could spark intense battle because sometimes you rationally know they are right… but loyalty! Loyalty to the feelings associated with the people. These people were home for decades!
The same can be said for friends. Friends are family without shared blood connection. Often friends are the ones you grew up with and did foolish troublesome things with. The term for that is “rites of passage”. Stealing food from the school pantry, fights, watching porn in each other’s houses, other hijinx and a lot of inappropriate relationship secret-keeping. Friends are your tribe. They help define you. So much like family, there is a lot of loyalty. A new love interest can be a very nasty challenge to that loyalty because often times friendships have a lot of codependencies associated. The new person can either reinforce or challenge that. Chances are, they are going to challenge that. Either way, for the relationship, it’s a rocky road.
This is going to be harsh but it’s true. Friends can often meld in a relationship and turn into a hybrid blob. It’s not my people and your people, it’s more of “our people”. But keep in the back of your mind that the ones you found are your love’s tribe more than yours. You don’t have to draw lines in the sand but try to maintain the sanctity of your individuality and your friendship circles. You don’t have to do everything together. This is important because in human relationships, people disagree and when they do, battle lines get drawn. Then it can be awkward if you are too in there. Because you end up being either a diplomat or unwitting combatant.
When it comes to family, remember who your family is in the relationship. Some compromises may have to be made and boundaries will definitely need to be drawn. But remember you only have to see one of those people every day.
Stop “Walking Away” and Learn some Emotional Intelligence
People do not think about you!
Everyone has a bill they need to pay, a lover they think is cheating, a sick child, an angry boss and a universe of self-image issues. Yes, your conundrums may provide a temporary distraction but even the juiciest gossip loses its luster when compared to ongoing challenges.
Neil deGrasse Tyson once said in a CNN interview that the reason we fear the idea of aliens so much is that we are terrified that they will come and behave like we do. Human beings are basically walking anxieties wrapped in bones, flesh and fluids. Our anxieties can make us unbelievably selfish because they are our anxieties. If anxious enough about what the other may do, we tend to become rather evil about what we do to protect ourselves in advance. Have you ever been cruel to someone because you were anxious about something only to have to apologize later? Sure you have! We all have!
Emotional intelligence can save many relationships if both parties calm down and talk with compassion. The trouble is that we are proud creatures and our pride is reinforced by societal norms aimed at creating predictability. Emotional intelligence is not “walking away” from people who hurt you as the memes say. It is the ability to confront these people with an aim at resolution if the issues. The resolution may be dissolution of the relationship. But it may also be an honest and compassionate discussion which leads to changed behavior.
But “changed behavior” does not mean you getting what you want. It means a mutual agreement of mutual changed behavior. Most of the time we are also participating in the situation in some way which is causing undesirable results. Emotional maturity is being able to identify our part in the game and agree to change our part then invite the other person to evaluate their part. If changing our own habits which cause undesirable results is good for us, then the other person may change theirs or not. But this does not negate our own growth and, if there are no changes, our decision to not engage in the situation anymore.
If you are a grown man or woman and believe you don’t have to apologize or that your feelings matter more than the other person then understand that you are actually just being childish. Compassion is the most important thing in any relationship. The ability to understand that people are not stupid or gullible. We are all trying our best the best way we know how. This may not always be perfect but between two people, it can be magic. If you are into the idea of being a parent, having a child really reminds you that you are not as important as you think you are. Sometimes all your anxieties need to take a back seat for someone else to see their way through the dark.
Tactics of Control
Conflict resolution is a skill that depends heavily on emotional intelligence. Without self awareness and challenge to maladaptive core beliefs a lot of us engage in conflicts within relationships in very unhealthy ways. Maladaptive behaviors begin at a young age in early interactions with caregivers. For a lot of us, our parents were working extremely hard to maintain image and income so they were stressed and stretched thin. Add addictions, depression, excessive extended family obligations and the consistent African mother’s threat of physical violence to that mix and the end result is children who end up managing the parents’ emotions from a young age instead of the other way around. You learn to stay quiet, get good grades, keep your head down and do your time. Your conflict resolution style becomes to give in as early as possible so that the conflict ends.
On the flip side, there are others of us who had “weak willed” caregivers. They did not shout and they did not hit but they were also stretched thin by one thing or another. So they were passive rather than reactive. Which means we learned to be reactive to get attention. Tantrums, emotional volatility and eventually bullying became tools of manipulation and control. We did not know our primary caregivers loved us unless they dropped everything and catered to our unique problem at the time. When they didn’t, we sulked, cried and threw tantrums well into adulthood. In adults, tantrums are not wailing and flailing in supermarket aisles because mom has said no to sweets. They tend to be illogical outbursts, pointless arguments with shifting reasons, silent treatments and many other things aimed at wearing the other party down into compliance. It sounds strange, adults throwing tantrums but right now, think about one friend who throws tantrums to get what they want. You have one, don’t you? Their conflict resolution style is to know the conflict is over if they get what they want. If not, the conflict has not ended.
The two paragraphs above described opposites but they find each other like jigsaw puzzle pieces. One has a need to fix and serve and the other has a need to take and use. It works well in the beginning of a relationship but after one year it becomes exhausting for both of them. One feels like the other is always taking them for a ride and the other feels like the former never listens. But what they both want is COMPLIANCE! Behave yourself according to what I want!
They are not always complete polar extremes. We grow and evolve. But who we learned to be stays with us to large extents. In times of stress is when others see who we really are. Unless we are self aware, we are too busy being it to see it for ourselves. Money, sex, time and physical touch all becomes tools in manipulation or, and I have heard this term be used before, “disciplining” the other person. Best believe we find circles and people to reinforce our ideologies rather than challenge them. The boys who high five you and encourage affairs because “you deserve it” and the girls who encourage you to believe your significant other is insane for not being able to anticipate your every emotional landmine. Both cases are trying to help while simultaneously throwing petrol on a matchstick… Sometimes on purpose! Be very careful about that.
Pay very close attention to who you are in conflict. Not all of us can afford therapy or desire counselling but having open conversations with your loved one about things you do that you can be better about while asking for things you desire to be different is preferable to compliance. But it takes two to compromise!
- Esther Perel – Mating in Captivity
- Jesse Bering – Perv
- Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson – The Elephant Brain
- Shawn T. Smith – Tactical Guide to Women