I felt some sadness this morning while looking at our silverware. It was a wedding gift, and I noticed how many pieces were missing. I remember making the decision to use our wedding cutlery in our day-to-day lives. I wanted to enjoy it rather than bring it out only for special occasions. It felt right to use it, and appreciate it.
The disappearing cutlery has been going on for some time. I first noticed that our teaspoons were getting low. When I saw this, I accused my husband, Angus, of throwing them away because he can be absent minded at times. Then more implements went missing. I realized, even he couldn’t be that absent minded. It turns out that with the busy social lives of our children, we have had, over the years, plenty of neighborhood friends visiting our home, and our kids visiting theirs. As part of this process, many belongings are taken from home to home. Some end up finding their way back to their place of origin, and others do not.
The loss of the silverware may have more poignancy, since it was the main wedding present that survived my rage when I systematically shattered all of our wedding dishes and crystal one night in the garden. This happened many years ago, when Angus and I were in the process of separating. I can’t remember what set me off. I know I was distraught, and demolishing these items felt symbolic. It wasn’t, however, much appreciated by the neighbors who called the police. The police appeared quite rapidly, considering when we called them previously, when we thought a prostitute was being murdered in our driveway, they didn’t even bother showing up. This is when we lived on the “edgy” side of Hollywood rather than the bucolic hills of Topanga. Fortunately, when the police arrived, I had finished my smashing frenzy, and they deemed us fit parents to stay with our children.
This didn’t happen during my maniacal twenties. It was significantly later, when I was in my late thirties, that I lost my mind. At the time, I felt sure I was in a marriage that wasn’t working, and that I could not be happy and stay in it. I believed I had married the wrong person. I saw our relationship as a big mistake. I knew that for certain, and I was sure it could not be fixed.
Needless to say, none of that turned out to be true. It was just how I saw things at that time. That is why I am so hopeful when I work with couples. I have seen my own relationship resurrected from the ashes of dysfunction. It makes me optimistic for anyone that is interested in doing the same. I know that it is possible even when it looks clearly impossible.
During the time of our separation, I was blaming my emotional distress on my husband. However, he was having a hard time as well. I was going to work. He was a stay-at-home parent with our one-year-old and three-year-old daughters. He was also trying to breath life back into his photographic career. Doing both was not an easy task. I took his low moods personally. I felt his frustration was a personal attack. I did not have compassion for him because I was so exhausted myself. I was working full-time. Pumping breast milk during the day. Nursing for what felt like all night, and, I didn’t know it at the time, I was also having a Hashimoto’s flare up.
I was so exhausted I became emotionally destabilized. I lost touch with my wellbeing. I was not thinking clearly. I believed my distorted thoughts and kept focusing on them. This had me spin further out of control. Rather than recognizing that all I needed to do was settle and take care of myself, I kept spinning.
We finally did take some space for ourselves, and I settled. When I stabilized, I realized I did love my husband. He wasn’t really the devil I perceived him to be. I actually did want to work it out. Nothing had changed on the outside, but everything changed on the inside. As soon as my negative thinking settled, I was able to see clearly again.
I recently saw one of those picture quotes on Facebook that said, “It is during the worst times of your life that you will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you.” What this quote doesn’t clarify is that if the people who care about you are also having the worst time of their life, they will not show their true colors.
That is where I got confused. I took my husband’s low mood behavior to be all of who he was. I did not see he wasn’t himself. Instead, I saw all of his worst qualities and traits as the ‘real’ him. I didn’t have the internal connection with my own stability and peace of mind to have compassion for him and his suffering. I was not able to be a loving influence in his life. Instead, I became the worst critic, who could see no good, and contributed to the negative downward spiral we were on.
When I look back on the suffering we went through, it could have been avoided in such simple ways through me taking care of myself and him doing the same. This would have allowed us to keep our bearings and maintain perspective so we could see the good and have compassion for the bad and the ugly. They are part of the full package.
Me deciding to enjoy my silverware daily means some of it gets damaged and lost. It doesn’t mean it was a bad idea to do that. It just means that this is part of the full package. It is not the end of the world. Pieces can always be repurchased.
The first losses, however, can be a shock. Just like when we first feel disappointed by our partner. It can be a surprise to see their weaknesses and frailties. They certainly aren’t why we chose to be with them, but they definitely are part of the whole human being.
If we forget that, and think we can have the good without the bad, we are delusional. We cannot separate the two. In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
When I refused to accept the wholeness of the human package of my husband, this left me feeling like I needed to keep looking for ‘the one’. I wasn’t able to experience the depth of love and intimacy that was available to me because I couldn’t accept his imperfections. This was also a good way of avoiding accepting my own shortcomings.
Many of us have made this mistake, spending so much time trying to fix ourselves or the other person, rather than enjoying that good that exists in the here and now. In my experience, it is in enjoying the good that more good is discovered. What we focus on grows.
One of my client’s recently had a breakthrough when she realized she had married a man who has many strengths and qualities that are extremely important to her. She saw, however, she had been focusing on all of the areas in which she perceived him as falling short. She used a wonderful metaphor. She recognized she had been angry and disappointed with him because he is not a strawberry shortcake, but she had been completely ignoring the fact that he is a perfectly wonderful strawberry.
That is what happens when we focus on trying to change the other person. In order to do so, we focus on their flaws, and they become magnified. It is easy to see their faults as insurmountable. Rather than focusing on the good and what is working, the emphasis becomes about fixing. It is almost impossible for this not to be experienced as a criticism. With our partner concluding that we find them lacking and not good enough. Rather than improving the relationship, this tends to foster insecurity and bring out the worst of each persons personality traits.
In order to support relationships with growing, developing, and flourishing, the individuals in the relationship benefit from love, care, and tenderness. I don’t think we ever marry anyone who is a strawberry shortcake.
The deliciousness of the relationship is created with the sweetness of love, compassion, and understanding that we bring to ourselves and ultimately to the one we love.
The shortcake is a creation, and we have a choice. We can co-create a delicious dessert or trample on the strawberry until it turns into a rotten fruit pulp. The good news is that with relationships, unlike actual fruit, there is always hope for resurrection.
We all have the infinite capacity inside of us to see differently and, as a result, to be reborn. There is no end to this. There is no limit to the human capacity to release ourselves from the tyranny of our limiting perceptions and distorted thinking through allowing ourselves to settle and experience a deeper connection with our wisdom. When this happens we see with clarity, beyond the illusion of our misbeliefs.
As we drop into the peaceful consciousness of our Authentic Self, we emerge renewed. We become more connected with the loving in our hearts and more capable of sharing that loving with others. As Alexander Pope states, “Hope springs eternal in the human beast;”