This is the first in a series of articles designed to help people who have experienced abuse or trauma build relationship skills. You can find the rest of this series on my blog.
Sometime during the last year of his life, David, my second husband again did one more shocking thing. Six months after he bought it, he decided to return a television antenna that had never worked. When the store manager refused him, David took the metal antenna outside the store. Then he jumped up and down on it until it broke.
He later told me, in his colorful way, that he stomped it to death. While he was busy stomping the antenna and waiting for the police to arrive, he was yelling in his very strong voice about the store’s return policy. People who witnessed this incident laughingly named him the `dancer’.
I tell you this embarrassing story to make several points.
- One, the person you fall in love with will not be perfect.
- Two, you cannot control another person.
- Three, you should not even try to control the people you love.
- Most of all, you can have a good, happy and loving family even though your loved ones are not perfect and you cannot control them.
My late husband and I were both seriously abused in our childhoods. When he was only eight years old, his family gave him to the State of California. Knowing him as I did, I am sure he was a handful! You and I both know that does not excuse his father’s extreme beatings. And it certainly doesn’t explain his mother’s unspeakable behavior.
In spite of all this and contrary to popular myth, we managed to love one another and create a family without ever abusing each other. We found a way to be ourselves with each other. And we found ways to make room for both of us to grow and develop. We surrounded our very human selves with a love that made room for our faults, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.
Here is a second David story. The day we met, I watched him stand up and insult an entire room full of men and women. To tell on myself, I have to say that I loved him from that moment on. This is important, for I know now what I didn’t know then.
And that is: what you see is what you get! This is very important. You don’t have the privilege of falling in love with an outrageous person and then expecting them to change. You take the good with the bad.
The good was a family life enriched with much love, fun, excitement and silliness. In spite of all the things that happened to us, we led an incredibly interesting life. The good is the tremendous growth I experienced with David.
The good also came sometimes from the bad. His stubbornness and strength would never have allowed me to push him around or try to change him. This is how he taught me what I write about today. He taught me by his very outrageousness that he was entitled to as much dignity and respect as I wanted for myself.
The bad included: The pain of our fights, the nasty way he fought, his bad habits, the suffering I experienced as a direct result of his faults, the pain I felt from his weaknesses, and his stubbornness.
You see, what people usually do is to fall in love with someone like David, and then try to change them. The very painfulness of their dramatic behavior causes you to think that you should be stopping your partner’s behavior and controlling them. You forget that you are the other half of this dynamic equation called love.
Instead, I believe that water seeks its own level. You fall in love with your equal. To stay in love, you have to agree to take responsibility for half of what happens to the two of you. And this is the difficult part. You fall in love, get married, and have normal fights.
It is so easy to forget, with an outrageous person, that you have faults too. Every problem, every difficulty, every fight, has one person that appears to be the guilty party or the dramatic one. However, every problem also has one other person who is more subtly but equally at fault.
So, the next time you fight with the one you love, remember, you chose him or her. You chose him or her for the way he or she is. Good and bad. You are part of this argument, an equal part, equally at fault. One way to solve things is to start to examine your part of the argument.
If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please feel free to share your comments. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.
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Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons