Friday, 17 July 2009

Changing the Habits of a Lifetime

"It sounded so depressingly female, this pity for someone who treated you badly, the desire to show them that you won't behave as badly as he did. That you are empathetic even if he is not."

Anna Blundy, The Times, Saturday 11 July 2009

It was a strange day.

First, two articles on the same page of the previous weekend's The Times that were so relevant to my own position: one about the benefits of benign neglect as a parenting style and the second highlighting the difference of perspectives vis a vis a mother's view of a family holiday and a father's.

But the second piece was also about how women deal with personal relationships that make them unhappy. By trying to understand and rationalise. Making excuses for bad behaviour, rather than hitting out and calling the offender to account so that it doesn't happen again... and again. Because in so doing, you save up all that repressed rage and self-pity which, eventually, has to come out somehow, perhaps in the form of an eating disorder, depression, or just a general dislike of yourself. It is a trait that is very familiar to me and, over the decades, I have watched it destroy any possibility of saving my marriage.

And then, later, a conversation about what we should tell our younger children concerning our impending separation. The agreement that things should be not about blame but about positive steps to improve relationships for the future. As well as the decision over the best time to impart this piece of information that, if done in the wrong way, could adversely affect the rest of their lives.

It was my Husband's assertion that he was sure 'we would get on better as a result of our new separate living arrangements' - that 'we' is exclusively me and my children, rather than him because he believes he has an excellent rapport with them.

When he then went on to explain that he was totally sincere in that wish and would never deliberately undermine me with the children in my absence found me thinking 'You arse' as I repressed a wry smile at his earnestness.

For a man who has spent the last 16 years consistently and persistently doing just that right in front of me, as well as behind my back when he was with our offspring. Mocking my hobbies and my foibles to their conspiratorial laughter or just deliberately fudging my boundary setting by disagreeing with my parenting in their presence.

It was most bizarre, and yet not really surprising, that he couldn't even recognise this horrendous character flaw when he did it habitually.

But the strangest thing about that day was that inner smile, as opposed to the familiar repressed fury that normally bubbles up inside me as a result of such an incident. I no longer felt upset at the knowledge that he thought this was acceptable behaviour.

Things have reached a point where I have changed my own habits and accepted that there is no point in taking umbrage and becoming stressed by his disrespectful attitude. I now understand that you cannot change the behaviour of another, you have to deal with your own reaction to it. That no one can make you feel a certain way unless you give them permission and allow it to happen in your own head.

So, what has been done has been done but the future can be changed.

I am able to move away from it and start again.

I can draw a line under the past and look towards the years yet to come which will, fingers crossed, start to include some real happiness. Where I can be much more open about the people in my life that give me pleasure and remove the power from those whom I have allowed repeatedly to cause me pain.

With the help of the Counsellor and my Readers, I have learned not to hold on to the hurt. Yes, I do still try to understand and rationalise but I won't permit another's actions to make me feel bad. Sometimes, it really isn't all about me :)

Above all, I have come to understand that you need to deal with emotional problems within a relationship as they occur. Not making a fuss because you are keeping the peace by 'understanding and empathising' with your partner will only allow pent-up negativity to colour your view of the past, promoting and reinforcing a continuing interaction that is purely destructive and serves only to perpetuate your lack of self-esteem.

So, do something about it now and you won't need to look back in anger x


BigBen said...

Good post. Good attitudes. I expect your husband will find things a bit different whenhe has to deal with the consequences of your children's behaviors. In my experience, parents who try to be their children's "best friends" fail as parents. best wishes.

Loving Annie said...

Very wise, Joanna. I'm glad you see and feel and know these truth now.

Nolens Volens said...

That's the way to go. Then you can serve your revenge on a dish best served cold. ;)

Polar said...

Thank You My Friend,
You are indeed Very Wise!
I have learned a lot from You, when you hold that mirror in front of my face. It causes me to see were I am at fault in my marriage, then causes me to make a choice to make the changes, or ignore them.
From what you have shared, if I continue to ignore, then I can see the results, I honestly do not want.
Thank you,

Gorilla Bananas said...

I think you should have calmly, and even affectionately, called him an arse and explained why he was one.

Dark Side said...

It's very interesting this post cake because you have just described how I react in relationships, which is don't take any shit and too often take umbridge at things which are part of peoples personalities.

All of the above is probably why I am single because I don't just think how I feel about something I say it out loud....just trying to decifer whether I have it right or not???..xx

Ro said...

All very sensible and sane :-)

I'm a great believer in not bottling things up, not putting up with destructive behaviour. Yes, relationships are all about compromises (on both sides, I should hope!) but there have to be lines that Cannot Be Crossed. Better deal with the issues when they arise than watch them eat away at your soul over the months and years ...

Just remember that knowing all this doesn't mean it'll always be easy to act that way. Remember this, and then when you realise you're slipping back into the old ways, you'll be able to stop and smile at your silliness.

That, too, helps :-)

nitebyrd said...

Excellent post, Cake. Your outlook and hindsight are very good. Don't ever let someone else's faults make you feel badly. A lesson I need to learn.