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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: August 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Dangerous "Yes But You..." Disease

Consider this: Jane and Jon have been married for three years. They generally enjoy each other's company and companionship and get along well. They are hard working, saving for a house, and maybe kids one day. She likes to take day trips to see interesting things on the weekends. He prefers to chill around the house. Maybe mow the lawn and play some ball with the guys. They work it out. Overall, things are fine. But its just that something subtle is brewing. Its sort of like a small hum. Their sex life is pretty good still. It has slowed down a little bit over the last year or so, but no worries, really.

Jon is a mellow guy. He doesn't talk too much, a sharp contrast to Jane's pretty constant chatter. In fact, sometimes, its not chatter, its more of a running commentary on her work, her family, her friends, her die hard belief in protecting animals. Jon actually likes Jane's banter most of the time. He found her interesting at first, and since he does not have a lot to say, he does not mind it that she fills the silence. And Jane does not seem to mind that Jon is a guy of few words, and fewer still, analyses of life and relationships.

Fast forward six years, one kid and one on the way. A slower than slow sex life now and that small hum has turned into an annoying buzz. Neither can put their finger on what it is, but they both hear it. Jane wonders what it is that wrong. She wants Jon to say more, talk more, emote more. She wants an emotional connection. Jon still listens to Jane's banter, but more and more he feels like he cannot say anything real to her because 1) her first response is usually negative and 2) she will argue him under the table if she does not like what he says.

Jon, who never really was big on conversation, feels both defeated and frightened. He loves Jane, and he enjoys her. And he would actually talk more to her about his own feelings and ideas if he felt safer, if he did not think she would immediately disagree, or present the opposite side of the issue. Or worse, yet, leave him. He somehow knows he fears this, deep down. And he is afraid to hurt her. He loves her. And he is grateful to her for being such a good mother and bearing his children.

So one day, when Jane tells Jon that she is not happy in the marriage and wishes Jon would open up more (a phrase that ranks high on a man's most annoying statements list), Jon, with great struggle, decides that he is going to brave it and tell Jane a truth about herself.

"Jane," he begins, "I find it hard to open up to you because you always seem to argue with what I say, or your first response is negative...." (Jon is looking at her tentatively and with hope and fear, and, surprisingly to him, eyes full of tears and an ache in his throat)...and here is what comes next:
Scenario 1: Jane (feeling resentful and angry, hurt and defensive, automatically sprays like a skunk, "Yes, but you never really listen to me, you have no idea what I need or want and you don't understand or have anything real to say. You would rather watch TV than listen to me, you never initiate anything except sex, and I hate how you do that. " you can imagine where this is going. And just to let the therapist in me mention that yes, and okay, we could, unpack here, all the reasons why Jane is Jane and Jon is Jon, and all their ideas about marriage, character and communication, but that's a therapy session or book, not a blog post, so I will leave it for now....

Scenario 2: Jon says the same thing...and Jane says: nothing. for a whole minute. She still feels hurt and angry and defensive, but she stays quiet. And then she says: Thank you for telling me. That couldn't have been easy. I did not know I come across this way to you.

And then Jon says. "I don't want us to grow apart. I like us. I love you."

Its not always so simple...but you get the drift. The Yes But You disease can be a relationship killer. It kills friendships, marriages, business partnerships. The good news is, its highly curable. With a bit of work and an open mind.

People offer suffer an enormous amount of emotional pain when trying to be understood by someone who has hurt them. Or trying to work out a difficult relationship. Its hard to own up to your own stuff, or to learn about how your partner experiences you, especially when you are pretty clear about what they do wrong. And especially when you are hurting, or have a tendency to be very hard on yourself, and not allow for human mistakes without going into self pity and despair (next post on this).

But when someone is brave enough to tell you what is in the way of the relationship being successful, you have to be brave enough to listen. You may not agree, but its always a good idea to try to hear what they are telling you before you spray. It may redirect you future, and leave you so much better off than you could ever imagine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surviving Break Ups or What Happened to Me?

"I don't know why they call it heartbreak. It feels like every other part of my body is broken too." ~Missy Altijd

It seems to me that when folks come through my door looking for help healing a broken heart, the whole of their face is a question mark. "What happened? What happened to me? How will I survive this? How will I function like this?" "Will I ever feel okay again?" One my readers recently emailed me and asked for some ideas, nothing heavy, just some thoughts on functioning while in pain. While in the aftermath of losing something - a relationship, and someone, who you love.

More questions too. "How do I grieve someone who is not dead. Who is walking around somewhere on this green earth, looking up at the same sky, getting caught in the same rain?" Maybe even living in the same house that was once "ours," taking care of the same kids, pets or projects. How do you also grieve all the little, and not so little, satellite losses. Places you used to go, jokes you used to share. Even, in our age of tech, designated ring tones. All the reminders, all the loss, and all the longing. It can all seem like too much.

"Forget about moving on. How do I even move?" writes one visitor to my blog. And "Forget about letting go, how do I even let up on myself?" I keep thinking about all the mistakes, the would haves, the could haves, and the if onlys."

There are many different kinds of grief. But broken heart grief, especially when you are not the one who wanted out, ranks way up there on the pain register. So first things first, I think. And easy does it. When you are in the first stages of grief, its hard to believe, or even fathom, that time itself will most likely help shape your pain into something livable, bearable, breathable. And that while you may never really forget, you will actually feel well one day, and interested in life again. Joy will return and you will get better.

There are some folks who do stay stuck in grief for a long time. Longer than long. And for this kind of grief, extra help is needed. Not to let go, or to forget, but to get interested in life again, to not sacrifice a good future because of a painful past. Those who also struggle with addiction, depression, or anxiety sometimes react to grief in more severe ways.

Perhaps one the biggest pieces of losing a love is losing part or parts of yourself. And knowing, only a little, about what really happened and why. Coming up for air amidst extreme sadness can seem impossible sometimes, but taking good care of yourself is always the way to go.

And underneath all the usual survival advice is this: Talk. Talk to someone who can listen gently. Talk to someone who can help you unpack what happened, at a pace that feels safe and sweet. Talk to someone who's voice feels like gauze around your insides. Talk to someone who can help you find yourself again. Talk to someone who can help you see your side of the street and learn a bit about yourself, both your needs and your character, so that you can grow forward and not repeat things that don't serve you well.

And if anger is a piece a of the pain, then talk about that too. Unexpressed anger can be toxic to the body and soul. Get to the bottom of the anger, which is often about fear, and sometimes about betrayal, no matter how long it takes. Give yourself permission to live in the meantime. Focus some time each day on someone else, your kids, your friends, a stranger. Giving can be healing.
Some good attention to the subtle but powerful thoughts playing in your head can help things along. If, in addition to sadness, there is a quiet but repetitive and convincing tape in your brain telling you that you are worthless, hopeless, stupid, pathetic or awful, or that you will never love again, all is lost, you can't survive this, that you must or will hide, shrink or worse, then you know that you've got to listen, to answer back. If that voice is attacking all that you are, and all that you have and do, then you have work to do. Acknowledging and answering that voice is crucial to surviving breakup pain and finding yourself and your life again.
Emotional pain can rival and trump physical pain at times. So we have to access all our possible resources. And employ the usual roll of "do's and don'ts" for healing. That is when you are ready to heal. Sometimes we need to hang to the pain for a while. But we also need to let some light back in.

It is hard to accept things as they are when pain is coloring everything. But I think a gentle note to yourself: "okay, so this is what it is right now," can help you turn the corner and walk in a good direction towards better feelings and better days.

There is more, of course, to healing a broken heart, but you can agree somewhere in your psyche to join the ranks of the walking wounded and take care of your responsibilities, and not slip away into the dark.