Category Archives: marriage

Good at Tests

Have you ever been faced with a truth about yourself that at some point becomes patently obvious, even though moments before you never would have considered it? That’s a shocker, and it probably doesn’t happen on its own. There was some catalyst, seen or unseen, that opened your eyes and made you different than you had been before.

It’s very surprising when it happens.

Take this quiz.

For each of the following questions, please answer yes or no.

In your love relationships:

If you showed your partner what you really want and need from him, do you think that you would lose his love?
Do you feel compelled to do everything for your partner, but resent it deep down?
Do you end up working so hard in your relationship that you ultimately collapse?
Do you feel you can never really depend on your partner?

At your job:

Is it difficult for you to collaborate with others on a project?
If you work in a group, do you tend to do the lion’s share of the work?
Does it make you nervous if you have to rely on a coworker for some of your work?
Do you wish that someone would take care of you so you would never have to work again?

About your body:

Do you think a lot about getting sick?
Do you often get strange aches and pains that don’t seem to be due to a known illness?
If you get sick, do you find that you feel kind of relieved?

This is a portion of a personality quiz in Gail Saltz’s book Becoming Real that I’m reading and my results were very shocking and disconcerting. There are things happening in my life that helped the results of this quiz speak to me, but it definitely has been an eye opener. Take the quiz, answer honestly yes or no to each question (because they won’t all apply to you) and I’ll tell you tomorrow what Gail thinks it means.

True Story

Well, that is surprising.

I’m working my way through a book entitled Becoming Real by Gail Saltz, and her premise is that we have all been telling ourselves stories since childhood to help us deal with life stuff. With things that are difficult or impossible for children to process, she says we create stories about ourselves and our lives that help us get through. For example, perhaps if you had a parent that was absent a lot for one reason or another, you would make up a story about how when you were “good” your parent would spend time with you and when you were “bad” you would be neglected. In other words, it was something you were doing wrong, not your parent.

Fast forward to adulthood, and you’re still living that story. You’re in a relationship with someone who neglects you and you’re still telling yourself that if you were “good” you would have the type of relationship you really want. But one day you realize that you keep repeating the same behavior and living the same story over and over again. That’s the day, hopefully, that you decide to get brave and face up to the fact that you have outgrown your story and it’s time to let it go.

So. Of course I have a story. I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book if I didn’t. I don’t even remember when I bought it, but it’s been a while. Want to know my story?

I have superhuman powers. Not the one I really want, which is flying. Mine is that I can deal with any problem and smooth it over until it looks pretty damn good. No matter how bumpy and crumbly the cake is, I can come up with enough frosting and wield my knife so skillfully that it will look just right.  At least on the outside. I am a problem solver, even for problems that can’t be solved and even for problems that aren’t my problem.

But that’s not the surprising part. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Back to Kindergarten

July 27, 2014

Compromise was something that I didn’t consider a challenge for me. I believed myself to be a champion compromiser, to be sure. A smoother-over, a feather-unruffler, a furiously efficient enabler, that’s me. I felt like I had made a career of compromise.

Here is the question for me: Is it compromise if one party feels compelled to acquiesce all the time? Or almost all the time? If I think that nothing can run smoothly unless I am willing to tamp down on my wishes and plans in order to allow another to fulfill his (or her) plans, how is that compromise?

When you are part of a young family, compromise is the name of the game. Someone has to be willing to give in. It becomes a sort of a ping pong game, with each person taking a turn getting to be the compromiser or compromisee. And the lesson for kids is invaluable. None of us gets to be the King Decision Maker all the time. It’s give and take. That’s life, get over it. Or as they say in kindergarten, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Later, when the little chicks have all flown the coop, you become a couple again. Hopefully. And that give and take should be even more simple now. Hopefully. No childish obstinacy to deal with anymore. No unrealistic expectations about how fair life is supposed to be. We’re all grown-ups now. Right?

Maybe some more time in kindergarten boot-camp is called for.

Visualize compromise as a person reaching her hand out across a vast divide. She is leaning forward as far as she is able to go and stretching out her arm and fingers in an attempt to touch the fingers of the other person, who is doing the same thing in order to grasp the hand that is offered. Maybe they are even standing on one leg in order to close a little more of the distance. That is a picture of two people giving their utmost to achieve a common goal.

There may be times when one or the other of the two has an easier time with the stretching and the reaching. One partner may be willing to exert more effort; one partner may have difficulty making an equal effort. That’s how successful long-term relationships work. They are flexible, they ebb and flow, and partners understand the give and take. Some mornings you’re the happy barista. Other mornings you might be the sullen customer.

Sometimes we get stuck feeling like we always have to play the part of the happy barista, even though it would be nice to be served our coffee once in a while.

Sometimes we get trapped in a relationship that is all give on our part, even though we all need to be takers some of the time.

Sometimes we find that we have become master contortionists, twisting ourselves into pretzels to try to accommodate a partner who can’t be bothered to even offer a glance.

At some point we have to ask “Why?”

How did I get to a place that I was sure that our world would fall apart if I put myself first? It’s been such a complicated journey that retracing it would be like unraveling overcooked spaghetti. Here is where I find myself and here is where the new journey must begin.

Functional Dysfunction

July 21, 2014

What I’m having so much trouble understanding is why, at the point in my life that I have the freedom to do whatever I want (within reason), I can’t seem to figure out what it is that I want. Maybe I liked the yoke of responsibility. Perhaps I need something, someone to blame for not getting out there, getting moving, getting something DONE. I’m a coward.

That’s what it comes down to, I’m ashamed to say. I liked having an excuse for not following my dreams. For not even looking very closely at my dreams. For not even checking to see if I still had dreams.

My Third Epiphany was (I’ve had five epiphanies so far. More about that later.) Anyway, The Third: Anyone can do anything they want, as long as they want it badly enough. So once I realized that, there no longer was a viable excuse for not going after what I wanted. I just stopped thinking about myself as a living, breathing human who had wants and needs and DREAMS. I just became The One Who Takes Care of Others.

And now that I have removed the cap of the nurturing caregiver (whatever that looks like), I don’t recognize myself. I forgot what I like to do. Except read – I like to read. If I could go away to a deserted tropical island stocked with an endless supply of books, a comfy chair, my friend Mischief (canine), and a teapot that was always full, I’d be there in a minute. Just kidding, I can’t do that. Reason One: Sick mom. Reason Two: Needy Husband. Reason Three: My Kids Might Need Me. Reason Four: See Paragraph Number One, Above.

Before you say “Empty Nest Syndrome,” be aware that my kids are 21 and 27. This nest has been empty for so long that there is nary a feather remaining. However, my husband and I managed to develop a comfortably uncomfortable dysfunctional relationship known as co-dependency. Simply put, he depends on me to always be there for him, down to the smallest measurement of time you can think of. And in return, I gave up my individuality and became an extension of him. It didn’t happen quickly; we’ve been married 32 years. It was so subtle that we didn’t notice, especially him. Not until the last couple of years when I started pulling back a little, started looking for myself again. And so here we are in the middle of a robust mid-life marriage crisis, the depths of which we have just begun to plumb. In other words, it’s going to get a helluva lot worse before it gets better.