Can’t versus Don’t Want To

Annah Elizabeth2 Comments

Last fall I discovered this amazing little app.


Couch to a 5k.

I started the program with great gusto.

But this underlying attitude ensured a quick demise. “I’m not a runner.”

Can’t Never Could

And then a friend asked me if I wanted to try and lose weight with her. “You’re the only one I can do it with,” she pleaded.

Two years ago I helped her sister with the swimming phase of a triathlon, and we’ve been talking about trying a run of our own ever since.

Talking being the operative word.

My friend’s weight loss desire, coupled with my own need to shed more than a few pounds and become more fit nudged me to try again.

Though I haven’t been following the three-times-per-week routine, and we took two weeks off during the Christmas holidays, I have been adhering to each new task.

When the assignment jumped from a longest jog of eight minutes to a non-stop twenty-minute run, “I can’t do that” is what I thought.

How many times have you heard this expression, used it yourself, even?

“Can’t never could,” the moxie side of me chided.

I completed that workout by stopping for two ten-second intervals.

Honestly, I recognize those pauses had nothing to do with my physical ability and everything to do with my mental state.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t have been happier or more inspired to take on the next challenge.

Coinciding with my return to this exercise regimen was the reemergence of my in-laws controlling and thoughtless ways.

Which always leads to bickering or fighting between Warren and me.

But this time I felt the full weight of the fact that they aren’t going to change.

That I’ll never be accepted, let alone treated, as a bona fide part f the family.

And for the first time I can recall I truly began to doubt that Warren and I could overcome the strife.

And fear resonated in the deepest part of my soul.

Fear that Warren just isn’t capable of seeing his family’s behavior for what it is, and thus make a lifelong change that would prevent them from continuing to come between us.

And fear that if they continued to undermine him at the root of his being, he’d end up having another affair.

Or worse. If there is such a thing.

“I can’t do this anymore!” I shouted till I was hoarse.

During one such screaming match, that little phrase echoed.

“Can’t never could.”

And a new clarity took over.

“Actually, I’m sure I can, because I’ve been doing it—living it—for twenty-some years,” I said with less projection and more resolve in my voice.

“I. Don’t. Want. To.”

Our language and actions reflect our innermost feelings

Two weeks before I had this epiphany, I realized a subtle, yet powerful change in the way I’d been acting since Warren’s last affair.

Without even realizing I was doing so, I’d been acting like a damsel in distress.

Practically powerless.

Unable to make even the simplest decisions without consulting my spouse.

The result was a plethora of resentment I’d been mistaking for anger.

And a great deal of inner conflict and confusion about who I was and what I wanted.

Once I identified the behavior, I began unraveling those traits that had been virtually holding me hostage.

Additionally, I began to notice other emotions and subconscious thoughts with regard to Warren’s behaviors.

When Warren’s family acts inappropriately, somehow he ends up being upset with me, instead of them. “Why do I feel like you’re angry with me when you should be mad at them?” I’ve lamented more times than I can count.

But the exasperation has been a fleeting feeling until I realized the depth of the emotional fallout of the dysfunction we’ve been dealing with for so many years.

Awareness is infectious and success breeds success.

This past Saturday, my exercise assignment was to jog twenty-five minutes without stopping.

I replaced my initial “I can’t do this” thought, with “How can I do this?

With some calculated and careful planning, I not only accomplished this physical feat, I gave a little Rocky-style jump for joy when the end timer chimed.

And here’s the beauty of the contagious energy.

Over the past two days, there was another situation with Warren’s family. I’ll spare you the details.

But before it could affect Warren and me, he came to a stark realization of his own.

“My initial feeling was, We wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t called and invited Mom to dinner for her birthday,” he confided in me.

“And then it dawned on me that you didn’t do anything wrong. You took the initiative to do something nice for Mom. My sister’s nose is out of joint because she’s not the center of attention.”

“I guess I’ve always shifted the conflict to you because I’m more comfortable arguing with you,” he said.

That willingness to explore and face the hard truths and subliminal programming is one of the biggest reasons I chose to stay married to him after his affairs.

I’ve had a sense all along that he didn’t want to live attached to his parent’s apron strings, that he wanted something different for himself.

Maybe he, too, simply hadn’t reached the point of being able to acknowledge the difference between can’tand don’t want to

And so we march on, learning and growing…together…

Later this week I’ll tackle the next phase of my 5k training. A twenty-five minute jog.

How about you? Can you identify a situation where can’t has held you back or suppressed your true desire? Are you cognizant of the differences between those two feelings?

2 Comments on “Can’t versus Don’t Want To”

  1. Really powerful post, Annah. There is a huge distinction between can’t and don’t want to and I’m so glad you discovered it in your own way.

    I see it as the difference between being a victim and a survivor, and you’re clearly the latter. I hope your relationship with Warren continues to strengthen and grow with these realizations on both your parts. His epiphany was profound.

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I am happy to report that the momentum has continued. 🙂 There is much to be said for coming to our own conclusions and separating the victim from the survivor…thanks for that analogy. 🙂

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