How to keep on loving someone when loving them just isn’t enough
Author: Tatenda Sithole
I was inspired to write this article following 2 particular conversations with friends of mine that really touched me. The first conversation was with a married friend of mine. She has been with her husband now for six years. They are both in their early thirties and have no children. They live in a pretty nice neighbourhood, have decent cars, good jobs, and a mortgage. Recently though he was made redundant at work. The company was downsizing and his job was one of the ones to go. In these ‘current economic’ times it is not unexpected, but it was still a blow as he had felt his position was relatively secure. He was meeting all his targets, and was hoping to put in for a promotion shortly. He was devastated. Understandably. That had been over four months prior to our casual conversation. She was worried that he was sinking into a reactive depression over the whole matter. He had withdrawn into himself and was not going out much or doing the things that he used to enjoy. Whenever she tried to bring up the issue with him he would either give monosyllabic responses or completely shut her off. Sometimes they would have screaming rows over it. She was worn down by it all. She loved him but she felt she could not get through to him.
The second situation involved a friend of mine who had been with her boyfriend for as long as I can remember. You know that couple that seems inseparable? They did everything together! They had known each other since we were teens, and had started dating in their early twenties. He is her world. Recently though he had told her that he needed a break. He felt under pressure apparently. She says she has never put any pressure on him consciously. But he had said he ‘felt’ that she wanted more than he was able to give her. She deserved a husband, a child, a home. And he felt that his desires and capabilities were not heading in the same direction. He wanted her to go and discover herself and find someone who could give her what she deserved. Might I add that all this happened less than a month after he had asked her to move in with him.
Now, I’m not saying that life is as simple as these two scenarios. And I am sure there was something that my friends omitted to tell me for whatever reason. Maybe they felt it wasn’t relevant. Maybe they felt it would paint them in a bad light. Who knows? All I know is they felt pushed out of their comfort zone. Their bliss that they had been working towards was so very suddenly shattered and it seemed there was no way of getting it back.
When we are in a relationship it can so often be the case that we lose a sense of reality. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all. But humour me this. Before we enter a good relationship we have our share of kissing frogs right? And even if we don’t we are pretty much sceptical about any potential partners that we meet. But once we have ‘screened’ them we settle into a happy bliss. It can be so easy when things are going well – relationship or none – to forget that this is not the normal state of things. Initially we are so grateful to have found someone that ‘gets us’ that we revel in the joy of this. But inevitably we settle into a state of complacency. We all do. In one way or another. Whether this is a romantic relationship or a platonic one. And eventually we take it for granted that the other will remain constant and will always be there no matter what. We start to make less of an effort to get to know them more. We sometimes ‘forget’ to tell them how much we care, or just assume that they know. (Because we said so all that time ago?) We might even forget birthdays, anniversaries, even to spoil them every once in a while. If we are honest with ourselves, after a while life just gets in the way and we forget to touch base emotionally with the people we care most about.
But the only constant thing about human nature is that it changes. And even while we think we are ‘staying the same’ we are probably changing in our own small ways. But when that involves our trying to relate to another individual we cannot assume that the person we fell in love with all those months or years ago will still be the same person we are dealing with now.
I imagine when my friend with the boyfriend first got together with him they might have been happy with a no-strings or no-pressure relationship. Maybe he felt she was dropping hints yet he was still happy to carry on the way things were. Maybe after he had asked her to move in with him it had jarred him into realising that the no-strings relationship was very much complicated and could lead potentially to commitment. Maybe he realised just how committed their relationship actually was without having the formality of being named as such. Maybe he was not ready for that. So many maybes…
As for my friend whose husband was now redundant I suggested that maybe he was still in the very initial phases of dealing with his shock. He was obviously still angry and resentful of having been let go so suddenly by his employer. Especially when he had been anticipating the exact opposite, I imagined he was grieving such a huge loss to his life. Not to mention the fact that his sense of identity was linked to what he did professionally and as this had changed without his control it must have been a difficult thing for him to come to terms with. It would probably have been easier if he had been called in and given some sort of warning to prepare him, but the sudden about turn would have been a shock for anyone.
The situations were different but the essential core of the concerns centred around loss and coping in an emergency or life crisis. The things that I find helpful when dealing with a loss or a personal crisis in myself or with other people is to aim to find something that you can keep as consistent as possible. An anchor so to speak. Consistency in this case would be trying to maintain a constant environment or a routine. Either for the affected partner or my friends. But keeping a routine that you stick to no matter how hard it might seem does help. It doesn’t have to be a massively complicated routine either. Just something that you can achieve that you used to enjoy. Or you have wanted to do for a while. The first few days might be the most difficult as we want to wallow in our misery, but the more we push ourselves to get out there or do one thing that was consistent before the crisis hit, the more likely we are to start to find some joy in the activities eventually.
Talk. Find someone who you can talk to who is able to listen. It doesn’t have to be the person closest to you. Sometimes it is harder to be objective or entirely honest when we are trying to tell those closest to us how we really feel about particularly difficult things. Try to find someone who is neutral and won’t immediately try to ‘fix’ you. I cannot begin to tell you just how important being able to ventilate stress is. When I was a student Nurse I met a woman who had lost both her husband and her mother in a relatively short space of time. She had not been married long, and had two young children to raise. She had just ‘gotten on with it’. She said she had to keep herself emotionally tight just so she would be able to do what was expected of her to raise her children. When I met her it was over thirty years after the events and she was receiving bereavement counselling. The departure of her youngest child from home had forced her to face the anguish she had bottled up all those years ago. It had been as though she were newly bereaved. In short, pretending the feelings aren’t there and trying to banish them to the closet of our minds isn’t going to make us feel any better. Acknowledging they exist helps us to cope with them.
I know men aren’t always the best for airing their feelings and having heart-to-heart conversations with anyone. But if he cannot – or does not want to – talk to you then find someone that he will talk to. It could be a charity like the Samaritans or a friend who is not directly affected by the crisis. Either way someone who he feels he can be open with without any fear of being judged.
Finally, this is a great time to actually get to know your partner. By allowing him to vent in a neutral environment you help to rebuild the friendship that you had. Allow him to be who he is without fear of your judgment or your ulterior motives. Resist the urge to become petty, or manipulative, or cruel. When he talks, listen. Really listen. Let him say what he really feels without seeing this as a personal attack on you. Even if an argument starts don’t give in to the temptation to use the venom that every tongue has so readily available. If he was to remember just one thing about you when this is all over, do you really want it to be that you were more concerned about getting your two cents in versus listening? Even if you are breaking up it does not mean that what you had meant nothing. Sometimes accepting change is accepting that you cannot win them all.
And finally… Take time for yourself. You are no-one’s emotional crutch, and you are most definitely not anyone’s wet nurse. So even though he is hurting so are you. Accept your feelings around this.
-What have you learnt from this experience? The good as well as the bad.
– How does it make you feel?
– How did you handle the situation? Could you have handled it any differently? What difference do you feel that could have made?
-What issues does this open up in terms of your sense of self-identity? Your role as a girlfriend, a lover, a friend?
-What are you learning about how you relate to someone you care about when things aren’t working the way they should?
-Are you ready to love them unconditionally despite what their feelings or thoughts lead to?
– Can you accept not having the relationship that mentally you have been wishing for?
– How has your perception of relationships and your partner changed as a result? Can you continue to love him even knowing that he is not perfect?
Relationships are great as long as they are not coping with some sort of crisis. Or a situation that forces us to think and assess where we stand in someone else’s eyes. But as with every relationship that is worth fighting for we must acknowledge that ‘growing pains’ are the key to growth. Just as we did not ‘break up’ with our parents or siblings every time we had a difference of opinion, so too must we aim to embrace wholly the good and bad in our romantic liaisons. Our partners do not become perfect because we fall in love with them – our lives become a little more ‘perfect’ for having them with us. So it is crucial that we do not try to cling onto this paradise that our mind created to the exclusion of the reality in front of us.