It Takes Two

Annah ElizabethLeave a Comment

 

It happens to all of us at some time in our lives.

Criticism.

How we dress. Act. Eat. Sleep. Chew our gum. Wear our hair. Write.

Somebody’s going to have an unfavorable opinion.

What’s that saying, “We can’t please everyone, all the time?”

Yeah. That.

When we choose to live in a way that puts us out in front of more and more people, we run the risk of more criticism.

It just stands to reason, for it’s all proportional.

We also stand the chance for more of those appreciative people to ooh and ahh about the things we do.

But here’s the greatest thing of all: We can take what we want or need from each of those things: Criticism and Praise.

If we choose, we can learn something about ourselves from both. Praise makes us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, but then sometimes we feel ourselves becoming stagnant, and sometimes like we are giving and giving but not getting anything meaty in return, like Idol worship (though I’ve no clue what that feels like.)

Criticism tends to make us question our thoughts and beliefs and wonder if what we thought we knew was right or wrong. It makes us feel cold and scared and sometimes immobilized and sometimes defensive until we look closely at the feedback and go, “oh, that makes me feel this way,” and sometimes we may say, “oh, maybe there is a hint of truth there.”

Either way, we are growing. I think we’re always growing, Journeyers. That’s how everyone who comes to this place here bears that name, for I believe we are all on a path to somewhere.

We have the right to say or feel That makes me feel so good and I don’t want anything but glorious recognition because I only want to feel good. I happen to find that to be a little shallow, for life is as layered as the onion that found its way into The Five Facets logo.

We also have the right to say That makes me feel icky and I don’t believe what you say has any merit whatsoever and I’m not going to give you the time of day.

And we have the right to find balance in the two. I’ve always told my children (among the masses of mantras): “There is This Side and That Side and the truth often lies somewhere in the middle.”

Which brings me back to you and the other readers who come here, who comment, and who share me with the people in their circles.

What I hadn’t anticipated is that Our Roots, the letter I wrote to Warren on our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary, a way to show myself and him that I am in touch with all the reasons I stayed—continue to stay—after his second affair, received mixed response.

Some people responded that they understood the message and were moved by it, while others went for that jugular, insinuating that any person who has been betrayed and stayed is a victim.

I feel that those people missed this vital point: We can redefine ourselves as A Good Person in the face of A Bad Choice.

This is the first comment I received to that men’s magazine piece:

“This makes me unspeakably sad. Is it wonderful that you can move beyond two affairs? There is so much more that defines a marriage than just the picture perfect or even the day-to-day grind. But are there some serious parasites eating away at the core of your tree? Don’t the leaves fall off in the winter? I will not pretend to know the answers and I definitely don’t judge you. People should put up with much more than they do before firing off that divorce cannon. I don’t think it is wrong to focus on the past good in the relationship or the good of the person sitting next to you. But two affairs… Will you forgive the third?”

These were my reactions:

Shock.

To learn more about her. She’s a divorce attorney, one whose livelihood depends on Divorce.

The realization that I couldn’t possibly craft a condensed comment addressing each of her questions.

But to try like hell to write those replies (even the flowery, rhetorical one about winter), and then to whittle it down. And down. And down.

To realize that a pared down 726-word response was still too long.

To use my Phone a Friend lifeline.

To appreciate my friend’s wisdom: “It’s too long. It seems as if you’re trying to get her to agree with you, and you can’t do that. Acknowledge that she asks some valid questions, and don’t give her the time of day on the rest.”

Ahhhhhhhhh……….sigh of relief…..

This is what I ended up saying:

Thank you for reading and sharing and for asking some valid questions.

One cannot sum up an entire relationship in a short essay, so what I hope readers come away with is this: A Good Man (or woman) can redefine themselves in the face of Bad Choices.

I believe it’s not The Action or the Surface Stuff that is the root of the problem, but the inner conflicts/confusion/lack of knowledge—the personal parasites–that drive individuals to make destructive decisions. Choosing to treat those afflictions lends itself to recovery and a healthier life.

“What if it happens again,” has been a question I’ve asked myself, more than once. What I’ve realized is that that question comes from a place of fear, and I don’t believe fear to be a good motivator.

And to that question, I’d also like to share this reflection. Twenty-three years ago, my firstborn died. Every single day someone says to me, “I could never survive it if one of my children died.” If I’d let the fear of death happening all over again dictate my action, I wouldn’t have had the glorious and infuriating experiences of Motherhood. And along my journey, I’ve also learned this: We never, ever know how we’ll react to a situation until we come face to face with it…

When the second person posed the question, “What about the third time?,” I realized that the title makes it seem as if I wrote that letter immediately following the affair.

Almost seven years had passed, Journeyers, seven years of soul searching and studying and learning and growing.

Warren and me, both admitting love for one another, both reaching back to the touchstone of our vows, both deciding that we wanted to do the hard, excruciating work of facing our conflicts and our demons, both knowing that if we divorced we wanted it to come from a place of love and acceptance as opposed to one of hate and vengeance.

We wanted those things for our children and for ourselves.

Though my personal journey did lead me to discover that I’d assumed a role of damselafter the last infidelity, I was not a victim, for I was always in control of where and how I was moving forward.

And to clarify one vital point, after the first affair with my best friend, Warren and I looked to all the wrong places as the cause: A business, children, family conflicts, Gavin’s death, Stress.

As such, we worked to improve all of those things and as a result I felt I had the best marriage on the planet when I literally stumbled across the indiscretion.

I was blindsided Journeyers, because we were, individually and together, seemingly strong and happy.

But here’s the thing: That exterior stuff wasn’t responsible for the affair, they were merely triggers that tapped into his angst and personal conflicts, they spoke to his inner discords.

One of the most complex realizations I came to was this: I bore some culpability there.

Now, before you go getting your panties all in a wad and screaming my name along with Huma Abedin (Anthony Weiner’s wife), please read on.

I bore some culpability in the dynamics that fed into his conflict, BUT I WASN’T RESPONSIBLE for his actions.

There is a very fine line there, one I spent a great deal of time dissecting and studying and one I don’t tread on lightly.

One thing Warren lamented after that second dalliance was this: It’s just all business anymore. The Marriage. Our Relationship.

In therapy—the one he requested—two things came to light:

He felt like I was always telling him what to do and treating him like a child.

He came from a close-knit family that did everything together, where Mom and Dad took care of everything and everyone, even when those around them were able and willing and wanting to take care of themselves.

Me? I’m a fixer and a teacher and a doer with perfectionist tendencies and a self-admitted control freak (if not me, then who?) and I hate doing things inefficiently or more than once.

You know what I did, I just know you do.

I managed everyone’s schedules and got us all to school and work and to doctor’s appointments and all over the world and back in one piece.

I told everyone what to do and how to do it and reminded them when it needed to be done.

That was my role.

Warren’s role was setting those things up again and again by forgetting his responsibilities or putting things off or not doing them.

Not because he didn’t know how, Journeyers, but because he’d never had to. He’d spent his entire life learning that he was supposed to be dependent on someone else. And though he despised it, he didn’t know there was any other kind of life out there.

Until I came in and upset the family’s entire apple cart. Literally.

So I lamented that I had to do everything and Warren complained that our marriage lacked spark.

My demons’ destructive nature turned inside to depression and withdrawal and suicidal thoughts while Warren’s turned outside, to someone who made him feel needed and loved and whole.

He was going to carry that dynamic with him wherever he went, as was I, unless we both decided to shine the spotlight inside.

My first brilliant therapist once said to me, “It takes two to make a marriage work, but only one to mess it up.”

Do you see that, Journeyers, it took both of us.
 
 
It’s so infuriating for us because it kind of goes in a circle, and as I say that I can’t help but think about the symbolism of the ring: I could have chosen to further “mess it up” by being unwilling to do my own hard work. He could have been the one to further “mess it up” by not being willing to do his own hard work.

Someone has to make the first move. And, yet, sometimes the other person is making the first move and we just aren’t seeing it as such…

In a scene from The Proposal, one of my feel-good-go-to films, Sandra Bullock’s character is crazily belting out these lyrics: “It takes two to make a thing go ri-ight! It takes two to make a thing go out of si-ight!!”

I believe that mine and Warren’s dedication to ourselves and each other, the hours we’ve spent talking and fighting and dreaming and hoping and working so damned hard are going to take our relationship to that next level, Journeyers, to one that is out of sight.

One by one. Two by two. In good times and bad…

Choice. That’s what builds relationships, Journeyers, people who come together and grow apart and agree and disagree and agree to disagree but somehow are willing to accept that we can all learn something from one another, that each one of us has some merit, even when what’s on the outside feels icky…

You and me and mine and yours become ours, with all of those things blended together…

That’s why I also consider you my magical friends, for together we are making a little magic, one word, one effort, one thought at a time…

And for all you inquiring minds who want to know the full response I initially crafted to that reader’s comment, here ya go. 

Dear Reader,
Thank you for reading and for the time of your honest response. Maybe my replies to your questions will help dispel some of your sadness, a feeling that may somehow speak to some personal association you have with divorce or infidelity, be it through friendship, work, or home…
It is not wonderful that I can move beyond two affairs, but it is a gift to me that I can move beyond the pain and reconcile those fears that caused my suffering: fears of failure, fears of not being good enough or worthy enough of love, and an overwhelming fear of being hurt…
There is so much more to marriage, things I couldn’t possibly convey in 1, 500 words, things like personal baggage and dysfunctions in our childhoods and coping and blending and adapting to each other’s growing pains. And then there are things like bravery, Warren’s choice to step out of his comfort zone, to choose therapy, a self exploration that he’d grown up being told was for, well, for lack of a better word, pussies, the stereotype that TGMP is working so very hard to deconstruct.
One cannot sum up an entire relationship in a short essay, thus what I’d hoped readers would come away with was this: A Good Man (or woman) can be redefined in the face of Bad Choices. Though it is ABSOLUTELY relevant and needs to be addressed, we tend to place too much emphasis on The Affair. Hubby and I made that mistake the first time around, believing that Life’s Exterior Stresses (Conflict/Family/Finances…) were the things that led to Adultery.
It is not The Action or the Surface Stuff that is the root of the problem, but the underlying, inner conflicts/confusion/lack of knowledge—the personal parasites–that most often drive an individual to make any type of destructive decision. If one can begin to treat those parasites, then the body becomes disease free, so to speak.
Winter is a time of respite, when the tree sheds its leaves, and sleeps, a necessary means of preparing for the next growth phase. One thing any farmer will tell you his just how hard those roots and leaves are working when the foliage is glistening.
We have become a trigger happy people, a society driven by instant gratification, a global species with greater access to more of those proverbial fish and greener pastures.  But here’s one of the things I learned a long time ago: We can run away from the place we believe to be the cause of our suffering, but since the pain is within us, we carry it  wherever we go, until such time we stop to understand what is at its very base. Addressing those deepest emotional reservoirs is some of the hardest work we’ll ever do, and too often, it is from those places of anger/bitterness/sadness/confusion/vanity/vulnerability that we fire those cannons.

I am happy that you picked up on those positive elements from both past and present. It is not only the effort, but the genuineness of his actions that is part of the reason I’ve chosen to fight one of the greatest battles of my life.

“But two affairs…will you forgive the third?”  Stereotypes such as “Once an adulterer, always an adulterer” and “Once a con, always a con,” and “Once an addict, always an addict.” imply that a person is neither willing nor unable to learn about himself and to grow and to choose different behaviors.
What if it happens again,” has been a question I’ve asked myself, more than once. What I’ve realized is that that question comes from that place of fear, and when fear is our motivator, we tend to react impulsively. Though I face fear every single day of my life, I try not to let her rule me, for fear is often an immobilizer.

I’ll part with one final reflection. Twenty-three years ago, my firstborn died. Every single day someone says to me, “I could never survive it if one of my children died.” If I’d let the fear of death happening all over again dictate my action, I wouldn’t have had the glorious and infuriating experiences of Motherhood. And along the way, I learned this: We never, ever know how we’ll react to a situation until we come face to face with it.

Hugs and healing, Journeyer…


Please do share…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.