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Adele Theron | The Naked Divorce - Part 3
Cling On – or let go? Pt1

Cling On – or let go? Pt1

They take no notice of me. They don’t support me or show any interest in my job, or my passions, or my interests. They don’t listen. They seem bored when we’re together. I don’t feel they’re proud to be with me. They don’t call or text to see how I’m doing. They’re always too busy to talk. I feel I’m last on their list of priorities. It’s like we’re not even a couple.

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe. They’re jealous. They want to know where I am all the time. They hate me doing anything that doesn’t involve them. They call constantly while I’m out with friends. They want to know exactly when I’m going to be home. If I have to work late, they sulk about it. They want to do everything together, all the time.

On the face of it, these two sets of problems sound like polar opposites, right?

You might have even heard the same person say these things about two different relationships. Or about the same relationship at different times.

At the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

Perhaps you thought they were being fickle – that they don’t know what they want. Perhaps you heard yourself saying something like:
“What are you complaining about? I wish my girlfriend was that laidback!”
Or:
“Count yourself lucky. At least he cares enough to get jealous!”

But the thing is, at the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

These things are hard to reconcile. But if you don’t strike the right balance, or understand how these needs fit together you will drive the other person away.

A great way of understanding this is through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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Maslow pictured our physical and psychological needs building on each other like a pyramid. You need each type of need to be met before you can worry about the ones at the next level:

 

Let’s start with the basics.

At the bottom of the pyramid you have the survival stuff. You can’t focus on anything else when you’re scare about going hungry, just as you can’t function properly if you’re sleep deprived. If you’re reading this, you’re probably fortunate enough to have access to resources to tackle these fundamental needs. But to get by, even at the most basic level, we also need to feel safe and secure.

 

Safety and security are complicated

Safety and security are more complicated than they seem at first glance.

You might not be living in a warzone, but if you’re afraid of or intimidated by your partner, you will obviously not feel safe. You might not be in a physically abusive relationship, but if your partner cuts off your financial access, or makes it clear that they will kick you out / threaten your home life if they don’t get your own way, you can’t possibly feel secure.

What’s more, people often try to persuade their partners, outsiders and even ourselves that what we are doing is for their benefit, even when our motivations are actually selfish. When it comes to safety and security, these are easily translated for emotional blackmail.

 

Fine line

This means that there can be a very fine line between one person’s idea of being made to feel “safe and secure” and one person’s idea of feeling precisely the opposite.

These distinctions can be subtle. Sometimes only you and your partner really understand each other’s motivations. Sometimes only you know if you’re really doing something to make the other person feel safe, or to make sure they know you’re in control.

Take my friends Tia and Rob (not their real names).

From the outside, they’re adorable. Tia had a rough time growing up, she’s teeny-tiny, and she’s spent much of her life feeling vulnerable. She desperately needed to be in a relationship that would make her feel safe.

When you see her with Rob, he always has a protective arm around her. He boasts on Facebook about running across town in a thunderstorm to pick her up when she was in a crisis. Her friends joke that they wish their boyfriends sent so many messages saying “I love you” throughout the day. Rob is always looking after Tia, doing little things make her feel safe.

Or so I thought.

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met. Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

Until I found her crying in the bathroom of a bar and she admitted she was exhausted and wanted to get a cab home, but Rob controls the money and wouldn’t let her leave alone because it was ‘unsafe’ – and he wanted to stay out all night. Until she told me that, when they fight, Rob reminds her he’s the only thing keeping her from the streets. That she feels trapped and depressed, but she can’t really complain, because he’s just like this because he loves her, right? That she should be grateful that he wants her to feel safe and secure, even if it’s having the opposite effect.

Uh-uh. Nope.

 

What matters

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met.

Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

 

The key

The key is honest communication. It’s listening to each other.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

If your partner’s actions seem possessive rather than protective, explain this to them. If you feel harassed because they keep messaging you while you’re out, set boundaries. If you feel their aggression is targeted at you instead of whatever might hurt you, or that their “concern” makes you worried, stressed or dreading the next fight, you need to make this clear.

And If your partner says this to you, don’t flip out and tell them they’re ungrateful. That you only care about their safety. That you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. After all, if you claim you’re doing something for their benefit and it turns out not to, why keep foisting it on them? Listen to what they actually need from you – and what they don’t.

 

Out of reach

Equally, if you feel your partner is always out of reach when you need them, or you genuinely feel unsafe and unsecure because of their behaviour, tell them. It’s fair to expect someone whose reckless, dangerous or destructive behaviour undermines your peace of mind to tone it down.

Just make sure you’re being honest about which needs are actually being unfulfilled. Don’t claim, for example, that being alone in the house makes you feel unsafe if really you just feel bored or neglected. These are valid feelings too, but it’s a different type of problem, as we’ll discuss in Part 2.

Our basic needs for safety and security are fundamental to everything else in our lives. No matter what else is great between you, if your partner’s behaviour consistently makes you feel less safe and secure, or if they refuse to do simple things that that would help you fulfil this need, your relationship will turn toxic fast.

 

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Part 2 is coming soon, once released you’ll be able to access it here.

 

We’ll look at the psychological needs behind clinging on and letting go.

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Time heals. Really?

Do people keep telling you to give yourself time to heal? That you just need to put some distance between yourself and your trauma? Simply wait for long enough and you’ll feel much better, get over it, and move on.

Well… tell them to get stuffed.

Time is not a healer

Time doesn’t do anything, in fact. It’s passive. It just passes by. Everyone’s seen the elderly person that’s still bitter and angry about something that happened decades ago – clearly time didn’t heal for them. I’m sure you know yourself that old rejections and cruelties and breakups still smart years on, whereas the fights you strive to make peace over straight away are barely remembered a week later.

That’s because healing is an active decision, not a passive one.

Be proactive about tackling the problem head-on

If you want to get over an injury, you have to be proactive about tackling the problem head-on. You clean it, dress it, fix it and make sure it heals properly, so that it doesn’t keep giving you trouble for the rest of your life. We know this about physical ailments. Why pretend it’s any different for psychological ones?

Do you have emotional scare tissue?

If you don’t come to terms with your trauma, it just sits there, like a festering wound. Eventually scar tissue might grow over the top, covering over the cut, but it’s still the same old untreated wound.

Worse, this emotional scar tissue is incredibly damaging, because it acts as a kind of “false healing” that prevents you from ever getting to the root of the problem. If you keep telling yourself that you’re fine when you aren’t, if you keep waiting in hope that the anger or pain or dysfunction you’re experiencing will simply diminish over time, you not only deny yourself the healing you so desperately need – you will also keep repeating the same self-destructive behaviours and mistakes that caused the trauma in the first place.

The chances of divorce increases each time they get married

Did you know that the chances of divorce increases each time they get married? As in, you were to marry a second, third or fourth time, there’s less hope of it working out every time you do? You might think that someone whose first two marriages had gone tits-up, who had lived through the awful trauma of divorce twice already, would learn from their mistakes, get better at choosing the right partner and become more adept at navigating the issues that damage or weaken a relationship. But statistically speaking, they don’t.

Why? Because they trample from relationship to relationship with the same baggage, the same hang-ups, the same issues in tow. The more you repeat an action or way of responding to something, the deeper it becomes ingrained as a habit. The more instinctive that behaviour feels to you. Ironically, it makes you feel safer to repeat a behaviour or a decision you’ve made in the past, purely because you recognise it – and even though it hurts you.

Feels safer to repeat a behaviour or a decision you’ve made in the past – even though it hurts you

False healing doesn’t address these problems. Waiting around until the ache isn’t as sharp as it used to be won’t stop you doing the things that caused the ache in the first place. It doesn’t help you to walk into your new life or your next relationship with the skills, self-awareness and confidence to do things better. It might give you a brief feeling of reassurance that your past misery is behind you, but it doesn’t place happiness firmly on the horizon.

Brighter future

If you want your future to be brighter than your traumatic past, false healing just won’t cut it. Don’t wait for “time” to fix things. Take control. Decide it’s your time to heal, right now. And commit yourself to doing the proactive, practical things you have to do to make it true.

 

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Second marriage mistakes…

Second marriage mistakes…

Starting a Second Marriage? Don’t Assume You’ve Learned from Your Mistakes.

No doubt you already know these depressing statistics: nearly half of all marriages in the US and the UK end in divorce.

What you might not realise is that this number doesn’t decrease as we get older and wiser and (theoretically) better at figuring out what we want in a life partner. In fact, it goes up and up every time people try again.

In America, divorce rates for second and third marriages stand at 67% and 73% respectively.

How can this be?

Let’s just think about that for a moment. It’s scary enough to imagine that, statistically speaking, your first attempt at lifelong commitment is equally as likely to fail as it is to succeed. But for your third attempt to be three times more likely to screw up than to work out…? That people actually get dramatically worse at keeping a marriage together the more chances they have to get it right?

It’s a common and entirely natural compulsion to leave a relationship swearing to yourself that you will never, ever, fall for someone like that again. That, next time, you’ll go for someone utterly different.

And then, in your rush to prove to yourself that you won’t fall into the trap, you find yourself charging headlong into a relationship with someone that, on paper, is the polar opposite of your ex.

Becomes a purely superficial exercise

Now, I’ve talked before about how the main problem with this way of thinking is that, far too often, this becomes a purely superficial exercise.

That’s because the thought process tends to go something like this:

“My previous partner was a total workaholic who never had time for me and it made me miserable – so now I’m going to go for this super-carefree-seeming person who is mostly interested in having fun, and I’ll be so much happier!”

Root of the problem

But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It doesn’t address the communication issues or the self-defeating psychological habits and kneejerk reactions to problems and conflict that, in all likelihood, dominated the decline of your relationships.

It doesn’t help you to recognise the destructive cycles of behaviour that you and your ex were exhibiting. It doesn’t help you to heal and change.

Instead, it externalises the issue in a way that almost dooms you to fall into the same traps, time and again.

Let me explain.

Take the example I gave above. No one really divorces someone because they work long hours and are deeply involved in or passionate about their job.

You might divorce them because you feel feel hurt, neglected or even jealous that your emotional needs seem always to be secondary to something else in your partner’s life.

Or perhaps because you hate feeling shut down or belittled when you try to make demands on your partner’s time.

Or maybe because your partner is actually pretty miserable and resentful about having to work so hard to pay the bills – and that’s translating into aggressive or unpleasant behaviour at home.

Or even the real reason your partner is pouring so much energy into their work is because there’s been a breakdown in communication between you, or there’s a fundamental lack of connection in your relationship, that neither of you have been willing to address.

In which of these cases would it help to avoid a career-focussed partner and opt for a carefree hedonist instead?

Zero, is the answer to that. Zilch.

Just because the hot party animal bartender you’ve hooked up with on the rebound bears no obvious resemblance to your investment banker ex doesn’t mean that your problems and hang-ups will magically disappear. That they’ll treat you or relate to you any differently. Or that either of you will be better equipped to handle conflicts when they inevitably arise.

You aren’t going to feel less hurt and neglected because they’ve ditched you to go on a 5am bender than you did when your ex called to say they had to stay in the office until 10pm.

You aren’t going to be any less upset when they tell you you’re being clingy, dismiss your feelings out of hand or start taking out stress and frustration on you, whatever the cause.

And you aren’t going to be any better at expressing your emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. Or preventing either one of you becoming domineering or bullying in the way you communicate.

Change or expect the same outcome

In short, unless you do the hard work of interrogating your own feelings and behaviours, figuring out where and how to draw boundaries and facing up to the ways that you, too, might have contributed to your breakup, you will not begin to heal. And until you heal, you are dooming yourself to repeat (and to accept) the self-destructive behaviour or coping mechanisms that killed your first marriage, again and again.

And each time you do, you’ll wind up feeling even more helpless. Even more confused. Even more fearful, on some level, that you are unlovable

And each time you do, you’ll wind up feeling even more helpless. Even more confused. Even more fearful, on some level, that you are unlovable.

And even more likely to start pre-emptively sabotaging your next marriage before it has even had a chance to succeed.

This is a seriously important issue. These days, nearly a quarter of people in the US who are currently married have been married before. That’s a quarter of married people potentially carrying around the baggage of a previous marriage. A quarter of married people who, based on divorce statistics, aren’t learning from their mistakes.

A quarter of married people who, if they don’t get their act together and start taking control of the situations, are 67% likely to end up going through the pain of another divorce.

Divorce is traumatic

Divorce is a truly traumatic event. It is psychologically devastating. It harms your physical health and wellbeing. It’s financially catastrophic. And while, when divorce is necessary, you have to find the strength to survive it, you never, ever want to put yourself through that pain for reasons that you can absolutely avoid.

No matter how left of field you think you’re being in your dating choices, there is only one person in your new relationship that you can ever be sure will behave differently this time around – and that’s you.

Focus on how you will do things differently

So focus on how you will do things differently. Instead of shifting all responsibility for making the relationship work onto your next spouse, focus on how you yourself will grow, change and adapt your behaviour.

Be honest with yourself

Work on pinpointing the specific ways you react to problems that might escalate and exacerbate them, or on the other hand, that allow them to fester unchecked. Work on recalibrating the instinctive behaviours that are hurting you and the people you love.

Focus on figuring out what you really need from someone and how you will communicate that to them.

Think about how you’ll really figure out if the next person you fall for really meets the criteria you need – and how, if they don’t, you’ll spot the danger signs and change course long before you find yourself walking down the aisle.

And then, listen to yourself. Learn from the past. Break the cycle. Give yourself a chance, this time, to really be happy.
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Later life divorce…

Later life divorce…

Congratulations!

You made it all the way through to retirement together. You survived all those early fights, the nappy duties, the teenager tantrums, the little jealousies and resentments, the financial strains, the never-ending couple conflicts, and now…

Now you’ve decided enough is enough. You don’t want to grow old together, after all. You’re getting divorced.

Average age of divorce

In fact, the average age for divorce has been rising steadily since the mid-80s. Three decades ago, people tended to wed younger and hit that crisis point in their marriage by their mid to late 30s.

Traumatic as divorce is at any age, that’s well and truly young enough to bounce back. After all, you’re less than half way through your working life. You might have split everything you own straight down the middle, but you have years and years to pay off a mortgage on your own, to build a new home and a new life. To meet someone else and lay down a history with them.

After all, life begins at 40, as a million fridge magnets will attest.

But shift that divorce to your late 50s, 60s, or even later, and the situation can feel very, very different.

Big changes are coming

No matter whether you are male or female, whether you are the primary caregiver for your kids, whether you paid the bulk of the mortgage – going through a divorce means that you are highly likely to lose your home, your current standard of living, or both.

Unless one of you has the funds to buy out the other outright, it is highly likely that you will need to sell your house and split the money. Minus, of course, the formidable legal and admin costs that come with this process.

If you were lucky enough to be living in house that’s worth a fortune, or you’re willing to move away and start again somewhere a lot cheaper, you might still be able to buy a home of similar proportions by yourself. Far more likely, you’ll downsize dramatically.

After all, these days, it’s hard enough for two relatively young people working full time on a decent wage to get onto the property ladder. Trying to get a mortgage when you’re nearing retirement is seriously tough, regardless of your financial situation.

This particular sacrifice can come as an unexpected blow to many people who decide to divorce late in life.

Yes, you may have come to the painful decision that you do not want to spent your golden retirement years with the person you’ve lived with all this time. Yes, you might be terrified of loneliness after so many years of sharing your home with someone. Yes, you might have prepared yourself for the emotional punch of breaking the news to your children and/or grandchildren, who may have assumed, always, that you would be married for life.

But you might not have seriously considered the practicalities of separation. When you’ve spent years and years feathering your nest in exactly in the way you love, it’s easy to be caught out by the pain of walking away from a home that has become an expression of who you are.

Don’t forget the kids (even if they are parents too)

You may be caught out, too, by how traumatic your kids find the loss of the house. Even if they grew up and left home years ago, this house probably still represents their childhood to them. It’s an enduring thing in their lives, a trove of memories, and they may be far more sentimental about this than you could have expected.

I’m not saying this because you ought to feel guilty about your divorce. Far from it.

I’m simply saying this because many people who divorce late have become so comfortable and complacent in their lifestyles that they simply aren’t mentally prepared for how strong they need to be.

They assume, deep down, that getting divorced means continuing their lives in the same way, minus their spouse.

To put it bluntly, they often assume that the only thing that will change is that they no longer have to put up with this person.

That they will be able to do away with a relationship that they find hurtful, or a hindrance, or that no longer gives them what they need emotionally – but that all other elements of their lives will magically remain intact.

Divorce changes everything

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Divorce changes everything.

You don’t only decide to divorce your husband or wife. You decide, in the same breath, that you are willing to be financially and emotionally independent. That you will start again. That you will, in all likelihood, give up your home. That emotions will run high and you will fight with your family. That you will have to divide up your friends.

That, ultimately, you will shelve a lifetime’s worth of shared memories and plans and accept that, now, you are responsible for your own happiness – there’s no one else’s failures to pin it on.

Survive

This is scary. It’s terrifying. You can only survive it if you are willing to let go of everything you assumed would be a constant before.

Clinging to your past existence, resenting your partner for taking this away from you, turning the breakup into a bitter war over the scraps, forcing your children to take sides, chastising yourself for throwing away the “good” life you enjoyed before – these are the emotions that will drag out your suffering and make it impossible to heal.

Divorce doesn’t mean cutting a person out of your life. It means embarking on an entirely new, different life. It’s essential to go into this with your eyes open, and to focus on healing and rebuilding. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to weather the loss, and create a new home of your own.

 

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Compromising who you are?

Compromising who you are?

Midlife crisis alert!

Relationships are about compromise. Right? I mean, we hear that a hundred times a day. It’s drilled into us non-stop. If you want to make your marriage work, you have to be willing to compromise.

Compromise?

But what does “compromise” actually mean?

There’s a huge difference between accepting that you won’t always get your way and feeling you have to crush a piece of who you are to please your other half. 

world of difference between letting your partner pick tonight’s film on Netflix, or dropping a pointless argument because it’s not worth the drama, and letting your partner tell you that your feelings, interests, beliefs, passions or needs are invalid.

… Between letting go of the things that don’t matter and putting up with things that chip away slowly at your soul.

Common mistake

This is a mistake that so many couples make, and it can be fatal to a relationship in the long run. If one of you always has to be right about everything, if one of you feels like you had to settle for something that wasn’t right, if you were pressured to give up a career, a dream, a friendship group or a part of your personality (or you pressured your other half to do so) – beware.

Because that battle isn’t over. That sense of loss is still there, simmering under the surface.

You might ignore it for years. Decades.

But it hasn’t gone away.

And if “compromising” in your relationship makes you feel genuinely diminished, there is only so long you’ll be able to cope with this. Essentially, you’re a ticking time bomb.

Midlife crisis time-bomb

You’re a midlife crisis waiting to happen. When we talk about midlife crises, what we’re really talking about is this time bomb finally going off. A midlife crisis is the inevitable outcome of a lifetime of compromising on who we are – turning parts ourselves off, brushing over things that really matter to us, saying that these things are ok when really, they’re not.

Perhaps you’ve come to just accept your partner’s rudeness or bad behaviour, even though it cuts you and slowly erodes your confidence and self-respect. Perhaps you find yourself justifying a vanilla sex life that bores you to tears as an evitable part of a long-term relationship. Perhaps your parents and your other half hate each other and you’ve never managed to resolve it, even though it brings you out in hives every time there’s a family dinner. Perhaps you act as if you’re perfectly happy to sacrifice things that matter deeply, be they career opportunities or personal passions, just to keep the peace back home.

Eventually, you’re going to crack

Eventually, you’re going to crack. You’re going to make a crazy grab for your freedom or to take back control of your life or resuscitate that part of an identity you thought you’d lost forever.

Midlife crises are the butt of many a joke. Often, we see them as superficial or pathetic in some way – an unseemly grab at a youth that’s starting to fade away. But downplaying their emotional significance is a mistake; these crises are symptoms of a genuinely traumatic time in many people’s lives, a time when they are suddenly deeply aware of their own mortality and petrified that they have failed to live the life or be the person they’d hoped.

It’s an experience which is often exacerbated by years of feeling demeaned or belittled by the person you’re facing the rest of your life with – and if that person responds by dismissing your fears just as you feel most vulnerable, that reservoir of resentment can break its banks.

For many people, the fallout is enormous, leading to a reassessment of your relationship, or even divorce.

As divorce support expert Cathy Meyer explains, a midlife crisis can manifest as:

  • Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided you with happiness for many years
  • Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to you before.
  • Feeling a need for adventure and change
  • Questioning the choices you made in your life and the validity of decisions made years before
  • Confusion about who you are and where you are going
  • Anger at your spouse and blame for feeling tied down
  • Inability to make decisions about where you want to go with your life
  • Doubt that you ever loved your spouse and resentment over the marriage
  • A desire for a new and passionate, intimate relationship.

These are big, painful, scary emotions, for you and your spouse. It’s no wonder that so many midlife crises lead to the breakdown of a relationship.

What’s more, a lot of people whose partners are heading for a midlife crisis don’t even realise it’s happening. Later, they say that their partner seemed to change overnight, switching from a seemingly content person to a stubborn, selfish a**hole who no longer cared about anyone else, including them.

The worst thing is when everyone can see it coming – except you

What they don’t realise is that this unhappiness has been building for years. It’s just that their partner failed to assert their identity in meaningful ways sooner and/or they failed to realise that they were pushing them too hard to change.

The worst thing is when everyone can see it coming – except you.

Case study

Take my friend Harry.

He’s an awesome, outgoing guy that met and fell in love with a vivacious, larger-than-life woman who the thought was the one. She was desperate to have kids straightaway and even though he wasn’t ready, he went along with it. Then, once the baby was born, she started demanding more and more “compromises” – she became increasingly controlling, as well as cold and bitchy to his friends and family.

In little stages, Harry’s ended up agreeing to compromise so many little pieces of who he is, what he wants and the kind of relationship he was looking for that there’s hardly any of him left. These days, he looks like a shell of himself. Already he books himself on every work trip he can, as a chance to escape from a home life he feels trapped by and blow off steam. Each time, it becomes harder and harder to return. Each time, he’s more and more resentful of having to push himself back into that little box called “compromising your personality”. You can just tell that eventually, he’s going to snap like a twig, and I hate to imagine what ill-advised or self-destructive cry for help will constitute his personal mid-life crisis.

Because the trouble is, your midlife crisis isn’t genuinely tackling the problem; it’s superficial.

Buying a flashy car, pursuing an extra-marital affair or experimenting with drugs (or all three, if you’re Kevin Spacey’s character from American Beauty) might give you a temporary sense of reclaiming your youth, but it’s not going to help you feel at peace you are in any real way.

To do that, you need to actually reassess what’s been lost. What parts of you that have been compromised.

Did you use to…

Did you used to have the confidence to speak your mind? Were you once spontaneous and open to trying new things? Did you always dream of being able to travel and have an adventure but somehow ended up going on the same package holiday every year? Do you resent your other half for talking down to you, for acting as if everything you say is nonsense, for refusing to recognise your needs?

These feelings and frustrations won’t evaporate now that you’re the proud owner of a Harley Davison or tattoo.

You might have a nice shiny distraction, but it’s your relationship dynamic that you need to address. Rather than escaping into a fantasy world where your partner can’t dictate your behaviour, the important thing is to start setting boundaries in the realworld. Getting used to asserting yourself, calmly and rationally – and breaking out of the cycles of behaviour that see you ceding too much ground on the things that really matter to you.

Otherwise, what are you doing except lashing out at your other half? Having a teenage tantrum at the tender age of 50? This is not going to give you the peace and happiness you’ve missed out on all these years. It is not going to give you the tools you need to establish a healthier dynamic in your current relationship, or in your next one.

Too late?

Of course, if you’ve left it too late, it might not be possible to fix things with your partner. This feeling that “Enough is enough, I’ve lost too much of myself already” is a common enough reason to go through a divorce.

But like any midlife crisis or reassertion of independence, divorce itself is not the cure

But like any midlife crisis or reassertion of independence, divorce itself is not the cure.

Once that person is out of your life, you won’t have someone to resent or blame anymore for your failure to be yourself. Suddenly, you’re exposed and vulnerable, and it’s all down to you.

You now need to find your way back to that person you were before and re-learn how to live in their skin. You need to figure out how you hold on to your principles or the things you value the most, even when someone pushes you to drop them. Otherwise, you’ll soon find yourself making the same compromises again and again – and there are only so many times you can go through a crisis and survive.
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Midlife Crisis Divorce - image

Compromising Who You Are? Look Forward to that Midlife Crisis Divorce

Relationships are about compromise. Right?

I mean, we hear that a hundred times a day. It’s drilled into us non-stop. If you want to make your marriage work (and avoid divorce), you have to be willing to compromise.

But what does “compromise” actually mean?

There’s a huge difference between accepting that you won’t always get your way and feeling you have to crush a piece of who you are to please your other half.

There’s a huge difference between accepting that you won’t always get your way and feeling you have to crush a piece of who you are to please your other half.

A world of difference between letting your partner pick tonight’s film on Netflix, or dropping a pointless argument because it’s not worth the drama, and letting your partner tell you that your feelings, interests, beliefs, passions or needs are invalid.

… Between letting go of the things that don’t matter and putting up with things that chip away slowly at your soul.

This is a mistake that so many couples make, and it can be fatal to a relationship in the long run. If one of you always has to be right about everything, if one of you feels like you had to settle for something that wasn’t right, if you were pressured to give up a career, a dream, a friendship group or a part of your personality (or you pressured your other half to do so) – beware.

Because that battle isn’t over. That sense of loss is still there, simmering under the surface.

You might ignore it for years. Decades.

But it hasn’t gone away.

And if “compromising” in your relationship makes you feel genuinely diminished, there is only so long you’ll be able to cope with this. Essentially, you’re a ticking time bomb. And your midlife crisis might be heading your way.

You’re a midlife crisis divorce waiting to happen.

When we talk about midlife crises divorce, what we’re really talking about is this time bomb finally going off. A midlife crisis divorce is the inevitable outcome of a lifetime of compromising on who we are – turning parts ourselves off, brushing over things that really matter to us, saying that these things are ok when really, they’re not.

Perhaps you’ve come to just accept your partner’s rudeness or bad behaviour, even though it cuts you and slowly erodes your confidence and self-respect. Perhaps you find yourself justifying a vanilla sex life that bores you to tears as an evitable part of a long-term relationship. Perhaps your parents and your other half hate each other and you’ve never managed to resolve it, even though it brings you out in hives every time there’s a family dinner. Perhaps you act as if you’re perfectly happy to sacrifice things that matter deeply, be they career opportunities or personal passions, just to keep the peace back home.

Eventually, you’re going to crack. You’re going to make a crazy grab for your freedom or to take back control of your life or resuscitate that part of an identity you thought you’d lost forever.

Midlife crises divorce’s are the butt of many a joke. Often, we see them as superficial or pathetic in some way – an unseemly grab at a youth that’s starting to fade away. But downplaying their emotional significance is a mistake; these midlife crises are symptoms of a genuinely traumatic time in many people’s lives, a time when they are suddenly deeply aware of their own mortality and petrified that they have failed to live the life or be the person they’d hoped.

It’s an experience which is often exacerbated by years of feeling demeaned or belittled by the person you’re facing the rest of your life with – and if that person responds by dismissing your fears just as you feel most vulnerable, that reservoir of resentment can break its banks.

For many people, the fallout is enormous, leading to a reassessment of your relationship, or the dreaded midlife crisis divorce.

As divorce support expert Cathy Meyer explains, a midlife crisis divorce can manifest as:

  • Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided you with happiness for many years
  • Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to you before.
  • Feeling a need for adventure and change
  • Questioning the choices you made in your life and the validity of decisions made years before
  • Confusion about who you are and where you are going
  • Anger at your spouse and blame for feeling tied down
  • Inability to make decisions about where you want to go with your life
  • Doubt that you ever loved your spouse and resentment over the marriage
  • A desire for a new and passionate, intimate relationship.

These are big, painful, scary emotions, for you and your spouse. It’s no wonder that so many midlife crises lead to the breakdown of a relationship and divorce.

What’s more, a lot of people whose partners are heading for a midlife crisis don’t even realise it’s happening. Later, they say that their partner seemed to change overnight, switching from a seemingly content person to a stubborn, selfish a**hole who no longer cared about anyone else, including them.

What they don’t realise is that this unhappiness has been building for years. It’s just that their partner failed to assert their identity in meaningful ways sooner and/or they failed to realise that they were pushing them too hard to change.

The worst thing is when everyone can see divorce coming – except you.

Take my friend Harry…

He’s an awesome, outgoing guy that met and fell in love with a vivacious, larger-than-life woman who the thought was the one. She was desperate to have kids straightaway and even though he wasn’t ready, he went along with it. Then, once the baby was born, she started demanding more and more “compromises” – she became increasingly controlling, as well as cold and bitchy to his friends and family.

In little stages, Harry’s ended up agreeing to compromise so many little pieces of who he is, what he wants and the kind of relationship he was looking for that there’s hardly any of him left. These days, he looks like a shell of himself. Already he books himself on every work trip he can, as a chance to escape from a home life he feels trapped by and blow off steam. Each time, it becomes harder and harder to return. Each time, he’s more and more resentful of having to push himself back into that little box called “compromising your personality”. You can just tell that eventually, he’s going to snap like a twig, and I hate to imagine what ill-advised or self-destructive cry for help will constitute his personal mid-life crisis.

Because the trouble is, your midlife crisis isn’t genuinely tackling the problem; it’s superficial.

Buying a flashy car, pursuing an extra-marital affair or experimenting with drugs (or all three, if you’re Kevin Spacey’s character from American Beauty) might give you a temporary sense of reclaiming your youth, but it’s not going to help you feel at peace you are in any real way.

To do that, you need to actually reassess what’s been lost. What parts of you that have been compromised.

Did you used to have the confidence to speak your mind? Were you once spontaneous and open to trying new things? Did you always dream of being able to travel and have an adventure but somehow ended up going on the same package holiday every year? Do you resent your other half for talking down to you, for acting as if everything you say is nonsense, for refusing to recognise your needs?

These feelings and frustrations won’t evaporate now that you’re the proud owner of a Harley Davison or tattoo.

You might have a nice shiny distraction, but it’s your relationship dynamic that you need to address. Rather than escaping into a fantasy world where your partner can’t dictate your behaviour, the important thing is to start setting boundaries in the real world. Getting used to asserting yourself, calmly and rationally – and breaking out of the cycles of behaviour that see you ceding too much ground on the things that really matter to you.

Otherwise, what are you doing except lashing out at your other half? Having a teenage tantrum at the tender age of 50? This is not going to give you the peace and happiness you’ve missed out on all these years. It is not going to give you the tools you need to establish a healthier dynamic in your current relationship, or in your next one.

Of course, if you’ve left it too late, it might not be possible to fix things with your partner. This feeling that “Enough is enough, I’ve lost too much of myself already” is a common enough reason to go through a midlife crisis divorce.

But like any midlife crisis or reassertion of independence, divorce itself is not the cure.

Once that person is out of your life, you won’t have someone to resent or blame anymore for your failure to be yourself. Suddenly, you’re exposed and vulnerable, and it’s all down to you.

You now need to find your way back to that person you were before and re-learn how to live in their skin. You need to figure out how you hold on to your principles or the things you value the most, even when someone pushes you to drop them. Otherwise, you’ll soon find yourself making the same compromises again and again – and there are only so many times you can go through a crisis and survive.

Know someone who you think might be heading for a midlife crisis divorce? Or have you been through this process with your own partner? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Are You a Therapy Junkie?

Recently I had a client in her 60s (I’ll call her Tammy) who had spent 12 long years in therapy, trying to figure out what was wrong with her and searching for ways to improve.

Tammy had tried every self-help, positive thinking, mind-opening, behaviour-correcting course you can think of. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? Check! DBT? Check! EMDR? Check! PTSD therapy? Couples Counselling? Weekly check-ins with a depression specialist? Check – check – check!

I’m not saying there’s no value in these approaches. For some people, they can really help. But clearly, it just wasn’t working for Tammy.

After all, if you’ve tried out “talking cures” for over a decade without getting anywhere, it’s probably time to admit that this isn’t the path for you.

So why did Tammy keep plugging away at this, jumping from course to course, trying new variations of the same thing, without ever getting results?

It’s not because she’s gullible, or irrational, or an eternal optimist.

It’s because these dalliances with therapy were never about getting better.

Deep down, Tammy wasn’t interested in finding a cure.

She was going to therapy to wallow in her disease.

Being damaged made her feel validated. Talking about the ways in which she was broken gave her an iron-clad excuse for talking about herself at all.

Tammy was a therapy junkie.

Why is this such a bad thing? Well, let me put it like this.

Being a therapy junkie is a bit like having Munchausen Syndrome.

If you haven’t heard of Munchausen Syndrome, it’s a very damaging psychological condition where people feign the symptoms of a serious illness.

Often, sufferers will actually find ways to induce these symptoms in themselves. Sometimes, they’ll end up going from hospital to hospital demanding care or treatment, even undergoing dangerous surgical procedures that they know are unnecessary rather than admit that the symptoms are fabricated. When they get caught out, they disappear and move on to the next doctor or hospital that will give them the time of day.

There are a number of reasons people are thought to develop Munchausen’s syndrome, but one commonly cited cause is that, early in life, sufferers were struck down by a real illness. They were fussed over. They were important. Perhaps it was one of the few times that their parents, or someone important like a doctor, paid them any attention. As a result, they’ve come to associate being sick with being a person who actually matters – maybe even with feeling loved.

In their explanation of Munchausen Syndrome, the NHS sums up the three things that sufferers are trying to get out of faking an illness:

  • They have a compulsion to punish themselves (masochism) by making themselves ill because they feel unworthy
  • They need to feel important and be the centre of attention
  • They need to pass responsibility for their wellbeing and care on to other people

Sound familiar?

Let’s think about this for a minute. If you’re running from therapy to therapy, continually looking for new ways to improve yourself, what are you actually doing?

First, you are constantly reinforcing this idea that there is something deeply wrong with you. You’re revisiting your failings over and over, dwelling on them, exploring them from different perspective. But you’re never actually coming to peace with who you are. You’re not healing from the pain or trauma that actually underpins your self-destructive behaviours. You’re not taking action to make things better – you’re just holding the wounds open for different therapists to rub with their preferred variety of salt.

That sounds like masochism to me. That sounds like the actions of someone who things they’re unworthy. That they deserve to stay sick, to suffer – not to heal.

Secondly – and this might be hard to admit, even to yourself – by dragging out your therapy, you’re creating a situation where you can legitimately focus on yourself, demand the total attention of a professional, and make the conversation 100% dedicated to one subject: you.

In any other situation, this would sound like narcissism, but by calling it therapy, you get to take the moral high ground. You’re above criticism. That can be intoxicating. If, secretly, the chance to feel important is what’s motivating you, of course you will never find closure. The minute you do, your free pass to be the centre of attention will expire. No more special treatment for you.

And then, of course, there’s that glorious sense of abandonment that comes with placing your wellbeing in another person’s hands.

Rather than having to take responsibility for your own wellbeing, you get to pass the buck to someone else. And, when one therapist doesn’t succeed in providing a magic cure, you can just move onto the next. You’re always the victim. You’re always the one that’s being failed. You’re always the long-suffering patient that no one knows how to treat.

But that’s not how healing works.

Healing is an active process that takes sustained effort. It’s a process that needs you at the helm.

When Tammy came to me, she was used to taking a passive role in her own self-care. She had been talking about her problems for years, but no one had ever really asked her to do anything about them.

Instead of tackling negative behaviours head-on, she had become more and more obsessive about constantly figuring out what else was wrong with her. Her addiction to therapy dominated her marriage and sucked the joy out of everything she did. It played a major part in her husband’s decision to leave.

When Tammy started the Naked Divorce programme, she finally recognised that her constant need for therapy was really a cry for attention and the need to feel significant. She realised, at last, that it was precisely this that was damaging her relationships, rather than whatever insights she was searching for in the therapy itself.

Now, Tammy has switched approach. Instead of worrying about self-improvement, she’s working hard to break these cycles of behaviour. She’s given herself permission to enjoy life. She’s stopped making everything about her.

Instead of navel-gazing, she’s focussed on volunteering, on giving back to others – on real, positive actions that give her autonomy over her life, instead of talking in circles about supposed shortcomings that never get fixed.

If you’re constantly looking for ways to “improve” yourself, you need to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself why you’re doing this. What, really, are you getting out of it?

Is the course of therapy you’re genuinely impacting on your life in positive way? Do you feel more in control of your emotions and behaviour?

Are you empowered enough by what you’ve learned that you’re already changing the way you interact with people? Are you getting more happiness out of life? Are you seeing improvements to your relationships?

If you’ve been working your way through different types of therapy for years (or even months) and the answer to these questions is “no”, it’s time to reassess exactly why you’re putting yourself through it. If not, you might just be a therapy junkie – and it’s time to kick the habit and take charge of your healing before it takes over your life.

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Why Losing Your Home Feels Like the Worst Part of Late Life Divorce

Congratulations! You made it all the way through to retirement together. You survived all those early fights, the nappy duties, the teenager tantrums, the little jealousies and resentments, the financial strains, the never-ending couple conflicts, and now…

Now you’ve decided enough is enough. You don’t want to grow old together, after all.

You’re getting divorced.

In fact, the average age for divorce has been rising steadily since the mid-80s. Three decades ago, people tended to wed younger and hit that crisis point in their marriage by their mid to late 30s.

Traumatic as divorce is at any age, that’s well and truly young enough to bounce back. After all, you’re less than half way through your working life. You might have split everything you own straight down the middle, but you have years and years to pay off a mortgage on your own, to build a new home and a new life. To meet someone else and lay down a history with them.

After all, life begins at 40, as a million fridge magnets will attest.

But shift that divorce to your late 50s, 60s, or even later, and the situation can feel very, very different.

No matter whether you are male or female, whether you are the primary caregiver for your kids, whether you paid the bulk of the mortgage – going through a divorce means that you are highly likely to lose your home, your current standard of living, or both.

Unless one of you has the funds to buy out the other outright, it is highly likely that you will need to sell your house and split the money. Minus, of course, the formidable legal and admin costs that come with this process.

If you were lucky enough to be living in house that’s worth a fortune, or you’re willing to move away and start again somewhere a lot cheaper, you might still be able to buy a home of similar proportions by yourself. Far more likely, you’ll downsize dramatically.

After all, these days, it’s hard enough for two relatively young people working full time on a decent wage to get onto the property ladder. Trying to get a mortgage when you’re nearing retirement is seriously tough, regardless of your financial situation.

This particular sacrifice can come as an unexpected blow to many people who decide to divorce late in life.

Yes, you may have come to the painful decision that you do not want to spent your golden retirement years with the person you’ve lived with all this time. Yes, you might be terrified of loneliness after so many years of sharing your home with someone. Yes, you might have prepared yourself for the emotional punch of breaking the news to your children and/or grandchildren, who may have assumed, always, that you would be married for life.

But you might not have seriously considered the practicalities of separation. When you’ve spent years and years feathering your nest in exactly in the way you love, it’s easy to be caught out by the pain of walking away from a home that has become an expression of who you are.

You may be caught out, too, by how traumatic your kids find the loss of the house. Even if they grew up and left home years ago, this house probably still represents their childhood to them. It’s an enduring thing in their lives, a trove of memories, and they may be far more sentimental about this than you could have expected.

I’m not saying this because you ought to feel guilty about your divorce. Far from it.

I’m simply saying this because many people who divorce late have become so comfortable and complacent in their lifestyles that they simply aren’t mentally prepared for how strong they need to be.

They assume, deep down, that getting divorced means continuing their lives in the same way, minus their spouse.

To put it bluntly, they often assume that the only thing that will change is that they no longer have to put up with this person.

That they will be able to do away with a relationship that they find hurtful, or a hindrance, or that no longer gives them what they need emotionally – but that all other elements of their lives will magically remain intact.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Divorce changes everything.

You don’t only decide to divorce your husband or wife. You decide, in the same breath, that you are willing to be financially and emotionally independent. That you will start again. That you will, in all likelihood, give up your home. That emotions will run high and you will fight with your family. That you will have to divide up your friends.

That, ultimately, you will shelve a lifetime’s worth of shared memories and plans and accept that, now, you are responsible for your own happiness – there’s no one else’s failures to pin it on.

This is scary. It’s terrifying. You can only survive it if you are willing to let go of everything you assumed would be a constant before.

Clinging to your past existence, resenting your partner for taking this away from you, turning the breakup into a bitter war over the scraps, forcing your children to take sides, chastising yourself for throwing away the “good” life you enjoyed before – these are the emotions that will drag out your suffering and make it impossible to heal.

Divorce doesn’t mean cutting a person out of your life. It means embarking on an entirely new, different life. It’s essential to go into this with your eyes open, and to focus on healing and rebuilding. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to weather the loss, and create a new home of your own.

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Starting a Second Marriage? Don’t Assume You’ve Learned from Your Mistakes

No doubt you already know these depressing statistics: nearly half of all marriages in the US and the UK end in divorce.

What you might not realise is that this number doesn’t decrease as we get older and wiser and (theoretically) better at figuring out what we want in a life partner. In fact, it goes up and up every time people try again.

In America, divorce rates for second and third marriages stand at 67% and 73% respectively.

Let’s just think about that for a moment.

It’s scary enough to imagine that, statistically speaking, your first attempt at lifelong commitment is equally as likely to fail as it is to succeed. But for your third attempt to be three times more likely to screw up than to work out…? That people actually get dramatically worse at keeping a marriage together the more chances they have to get it right?

How can that possibly be?

It’s a common and entirely natural compulsion to leave a relationship swearing to yourself that you will never, ever, fall for someone like that again. That, next time, you’ll go for someone utterly different.

And then, in your rush to prove to yourself that you won’t fall into the trap, you find yourself charging headlong into a relationship with someone that, on paper, is the polar opposite of your ex.

Now, I’ve talked before about how the main problem with this way of thinking is that, far too often, this becomes a purely superficial exercise.

That’s because the thought process tends to go something like this:

“My previous partner was a total workaholic who never had time for me and it made me miserable – so now I’m going to go for this super-carefree-seeming person who is mostly interested in having fun, and I’ll be so much happier!”

But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It doesn’t address the communication issues or the self-defeating psychological habits and kneejerk reactions to problems and conflict that, in all likelihood, dominated the decline of your relationships.

It doesn’t help you to recognise the destructive cycles of behaviour that you and your ex were exhibiting. It doesn’t help you to heal and change.

Instead, it externalises the issue in a way that almost dooms you to fall into the same traps, time and again.

Let me explain.

Take the example I gave above.

No one really divorces someone because they work long hours and are deeply involved in or passionate about their job.

You might divorce them because you feel feel hurt, neglected or even jealous that your emotional needs seem always to be secondary to something else in your partner’s life.

Or perhaps because you hate feeling shut down or belittled when you try to make demands on your partner’s time.

Or maybe because your partner is actually pretty miserable and resentful about having to work so hard to pay the bills – and that’s translating into aggressive or unpleasant behaviour at home.

Or even the real reason your partner is pouring so much energy into their work is because there’s been a breakdown in communication between you, or there’s a fundamental lack of connection in your relationship, that neither of you have been willing to address.

In which of these cases would it help to avoid a career-focused partner and opt for a carefree hedonist instead?

Zero, is the answer to that.

Zilch.

Just because the hot party animal bartender you’ve hooked up with on the rebound bears no obvious resemblance to your investment banker ex doesn’t mean that your problems and hang-ups will magically disappear. That they’ll treat you or relate to you any differently. Or that either of you will be better equipped to handle conflicts when they inevitably arise.

You aren’t going to feel less hurt and neglected because they’ve ditched you to go on a 5am bender than you did when your ex called to say they had to stay in the office until 10pm.

You aren’t going to be any less upset when they tell you you’re being clingy, dismiss your feelings out of hand or start taking out stress and frustration on you, whatever the cause.

And you aren’t going to be any better at expressing your emotions in ways that are healthy and productive.

Or preventing either one of you becoming domineering or bullying in the way you communicate.

In short, unless you do the hard work of interrogating your own feelings and behaviours, figuring out where and how to draw boundaries and facing up to the ways that you, too, might have contributed to your breakup, you will not begin to heal.

And until you heal, you are dooming yourself to repeat (and to accept) the self-destructive behaviour or coping mechanisms that killed your first marriage, again and again.

And each time you do, you’ll wind up feeling even more helpless. Even more confused. Even more fearful, on some level, that you are unlovable.

And even more likely to start pre-emptively sabotaging your next marriage before it has even had a chance to succeed.

This is a seriously important issue.

These days, nearly a quarter of people in the US who are currently married have been married before. That’s a quarter of married people potentially carrying around the baggage of a previous marriage. A quarter of married people who, based on divorce statistics, aren’t learning from their mistakes.

A quarter of married people who, if they don’t get their act together and start taking control of the situations, are 67% likely to end up going through the pain of another divorce.

Divorce is a truly traumatic event. It is psychologically devastating. It harms your physical health and wellbeing. It’s financially catastrophic. And while, when divorce is necessary, you have to find the strength to survive it, you never, ever want to put yourself through that pain for reasons that you can absolutely avoid.

No matter how left of field you think you’re being in your dating choices, there is only one person in your new relationship that you can ever be sure will behave differently this time around – and that’s you.

So focus on how you will do things differently.

Instead of shifting all responsibility for making the relationship work onto your next spouse, focus on how you yourself will grow, change and adapt your behaviour.

Be honest with yourself.

Work on pinpointing the specific ways you react to problems that might escalate and exacerbate them, or on the other hand, that allow them to fester unchecked. Work on recalibrating the instinctive behaviours that are hurting you and the people you love.

Focus on figuring out what you really need from someone and how you will communicate that to them.

Think about how you’ll really figure out if the next person you fall for really meets the criteria you need – and how, if they don’t, you’ll spot the danger signs and change course long before you find yourself walking down the aisle.

And then, listen to yourself. Learn from the past. Break the cycle. Give yourself a chance, this time, to really be happy.

Adele

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Why You Should Never, Ever Say: “I’m Doing This Because I Love You”

When Ann was a teenager, her parents went through a terrible divorce.

Her father had always been volatile, but when her mother finally told him they couldn’t stay living in the same house indefinitely after the split, he lost it. He drank a bottle of vodka, smashed every item of furniture in the house, then screamed abuse at her little brother and chased him to a friend’s house, where the poor kid hid while his father raged outside. Then he went back home and beat up Ann’s mother until the police arrived.

Ann, her mother and her brother were in shock.

They had always been a little afraid of her father, but they never thought he was capable of behaviour this violent and extreme. Ann wasn’t sure she would ever forgive him. She wondered what he could possibly say, once he had sobered up (and once the restraining order had lifted), to make amends. Obviously he couldn’t defend his actions. Could he even live with himself, after what he done?

Months passed. Eventually Ann and her brother received a letter from their father.

It said:

“I’m sorry if I hurt you or scared you. I want you to know that everything I’ve ever done was because I love you.”

Ann was speechless. Her brother didn’t speak to his father again for years. Her mother, who had tried hard to stop the kids from hating their father and was convinced he would be ashamed and repentant, was heartbroken.

“It was worse than him just trying to excuse himself or even minimise what he’d done, which would have been bad enough,” says Ann. “It felt like he was shifting the burden onto us, his kids. Like, you need to pity me or even be grateful to me for how much I love you, and I’m allowed to express my ‘love’ however I want, even if it’s by physically and emotionally harming you.

“If he’d said ‘I did this in spite of how much I love you’ that would have been easier to bear, but to say that beating up my mother was somehow an act of love to me – that was beyond the pale.”

For years after this happened, Ann found it hard to trust a partner.

The merest hint of violence or aggression from a partner would give her panic attacks and flashbacks. She was sabotaging more than one relationship because she felt unsafe, to the consternation of boyfriends who insisted they would never hurt her.

Eventually she began a long term relationship with a man she always thought of as gentle and caring and protective. Sure, he screwed up in other ways. He could be irresponsible, selfish, insensitive or oblivious to her needs. But he never, ever made her feel physically threatened.

… Until they broke up.

In the aftermath of the breakup, Ann’s ex was, to her, unrecognisable.

He drank and called her obsessively. He ignored all her requests for him to respect her boundaries and leave her alone. When, in desperation, she blocking his means of contacting her, he continually called her friends to find out where she was, urging them to get her to speak to him.

She felt helpless and hunted.

Then, one night, Ann’s ex broke into her flat, drunk out of his mind, smashed her things, grabbed hold of her and wouldn’t let go, despite her pleas for him to leave.

“You’re turning into my father!” she screamed. “I need you to get out of my house, right now.”

“How dare you compare me to your father?” he screamed back. “Don’t you understand that I’m doing this because I love you?”

Of course, I don’t need to tell you that this is wrong, and controlling, and unacceptable.

But these are also actions at the extreme end of the scale.

Someone attacks you or your loved ones because they love you? They break into your flat and terrorise you because they love you? They claim that making your life a misery is an act of love? Of course that’s absurd. Of course that’s manipulative.

But what about the insidious examples? The times when people do everyday things that hurt us and we accept the excuse that they are acting out of love?

“When I look back I realise that ‘I’m doing this because I love you’ was something my ex had been saying for years, and I didn’t even notice,” says Ann. “Every time he didn’t want to take responsibility for something he’d done or the way he was handling something that scared him, even though it was me who was hurt by it.”

For example, explains Ann, when her ex had lied to her about some serious financial problems, his excuse had been, “I love you so much and I didn’t want to worry you”.

When she was sexually threatened by a stranger, he shouted at her for “putting herself in a risky situation.”

When she came home late and was sexually threatened by a stranger, he shouted at her for ‘putting herself in a risky situation’ instead of comforting her – then said he’d reacted like that because he loved her.

When she started working on a project that meant she’d have to travel to a dangerous country, he tried to convince her she wasn’t up to the job and should quit before she failed – and again, when she called him out for his lack of support, told her it was “because he loved her”.

Every time he’d excused himself like this, she had been annoyed, but she’d accepted it.

Okay, his behaviour wasn’t ideal but – fair enough – it came from a loving place.

What’s more, friends and family would also shrug this off as reasonable.

They’d even be touched by it. There’s something about attributing your actions to love, especially as a man, that instantly wins the sympathies of others. 

“Oh,” they say, “but he doesn’t know how to express himself any other way!” Or: “But it’s coming from a good place!” Or even: “You’re lucky that he loves you enough to care that much!”

But here’s the thing.

By constantly accepting “It’s because I love you” as an excuse for behaviours that upset her, Ann had given her ex free rein to romanticise his own bad behaviour.

Instead of forcing him to take on board why behaviour like lying or victim-blaming or trying to make her think she was too stupid to take professional risks was emotionally damaging, she allowed him to shift responsibility to her.

It had stopped being a conversation about the kind of support she needed from him.

She’d stopped asking him to try and control his intuitive reactions and empathise with her needs instead. Instead, he had been allowed to put his emotions on a pedestal, above any scrutiny. So long as it was because he loved her, his actions were above criticism.

But here’s the thing.

Ann’s ex did love her. Just as her father loved her.

But he didn’t lie to her because he loved her. 

He lied to her because he was scared of how she would react when she found out what he’d done.

He didn’t shout at her for her brush with sexual assault because he loved her. 

He shouted at her because he was angry he hadn’t been there to protect her.

He didn’t try to make her feel too inadequate for her job because he loved her. 

He tried to make her feel inadequate to stop her from going on a trip that made him nervous.

Yes, love might have been a driver in these actions. But in each case, Ann’s ex was thinking about what he wanted right then. What his fears were. What his needs were.

He could equally have said “I wanted to be honest with you because I love you” or “I’m going to comfort you because I love you” or “I’m going to support you in your plans, even though it’s hard for me to see you go somewhere dangerous, because I love you”.

Because we choose how we handle our emotions. Even an overwhelming emotion, like love. 

And you are never, ever responsible for how someone else translates their feelings into action. You are not responsible for the love they say they feel, or for what they choose to do as a result of those feelings.

Equally you are responsible for how you choose to express your own love and emotions.

So please – take “I’m doing this because I love you” out of your vocabulary.

Even with your kids. Especially with your kids.

I’m serious.

If you want to help your children steel themselves against emotional blackmail and manipulation, they need to be able to distinguish between emotion and action. They need to understand that your impulses do not overrule your responsibilities to those you love.

So if you panic and smack your child because they’re about to run across the road, don’t convince yourself and them that you did it because you love them. Admit that you smacked them because you lost self-control.

If your teenager comes to you in tears because your partner is putting too much pressure on them to do well at school, don’t say “well, she’s doing it because she loves you!” You can tell them you’re trying to make sure they do their best, or to teach them discipline, or stop them getting complacent – whatever. You might reassure them that you love them and are proud of them despite the pressure you’re putting on them to succeed.

But don’t teach them that behaviours that hurt them are automatically above criticism because they are driven by love.

As a culture, we’re obsessed with the notion of all-consuming love.

Every other song or film or book is about the crazy things that love “makes us do”. The narrative, again and again, is that actions inspired by love are somehow beyond our control.

But when we accept this notion that love strips away responsibility, we start to forgive – even romanticise – the most heinous things. 

Take Italy, for example. Did you know that, until 1981, Italian law stated:

He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister.

That’s right. Just three to seven years for murdering your wife, your daughter or your sister (and/or their lover) because it was a “crime of passion”!

… Oh, you were worked up. You couldn’t help it. You did it because you loved her. And that makes it okay.

And even though the law has changed, attitudes have barely shifted.

The idea that a man cannot be expected to control his actions when they are motivated by passion persists.

The result? An ongoing “femicide pandemic” and a domestic violence culture that is so entrenched – and so much worse than the rest of Europe – that the government has had to take urgent measures to crack down on the issue.

So why are these “crimes of passion” more common in Italy than the rest of Europe? Are Italian men biologically less capable of controlling their tempers?

Of course they’re not. They simply live in a society that gave them free rein to use “I did it because I loved her” as an excuse for far too long.

I’m not saying that someone who dismisses their behaviour as “driven by love” will necessarily become violent. But it stands to reason that, if you’re allowed to push the boundaries so long as you use the “L” word to excuse this, you’ll soon stop taking responsibility for your actions. And that can only be bad news.

So I’ll leave you with this:

You are the arbiter of your emotions. Your ex is the arbiter of his or her emotions.

Yes, love is a force to reckon with. But ultimately, we decide how it makes us behave.

Never forget that.

Adele

 

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