Relationships are difficult. If I could make them otherwise, I would prefer not to think, feel and engage in the ‘hard’ conversations that are guaranteed in them. But I’ve played the avoid game for most my life and it really hasn’t worked so well. The outcome was the same – loss, disappointment and hurt. So I’m ready to do it different. I am willing and able to stand up and fight for those relationships that are important to me. Enough so to have those tough love conversations with people who I value, care for and want in my life. And even tougher conversations to let go of people and relationships that no longer serve the best interest of either.
In addition to great joy, the nature of relationships is that disappointment and hurt will occur. Yes, even good ones and especially with those we are closest and most intimate with. I am not sure where the belief, expectation or assumption came from that hurt and disappointment are not part of healthy relationships. I know for me I certainly held this belief for most of my life. The truth is that having a healthy relationship means there will be some level of differences, conflict, disappointments and even hurt. To believe and behave otherwise is incredibly naïve, unrealistic, and just plain false. A relationship is a third entity occurring between two unique people with their own perceptions, beliefs, expectations, assumptions, concerns and hopes. While people can be, think and/or behave similarly, the truth is we are all unique and how we behave plays out very differently in living life.
I know too that the hurt I feel is not only for myself, but for both parties in the relationship and the relationship itself. I realize the emotions – hurt, anger, disappointment, etc – I feel are equal or even more directed at myself than the other person. It is a feeling that I failed the other person, myself, we, by not being able to make it work. And when I say work, I don’t mean in the context that everything is blissfully happy forever without conflict or even disappointment. Rather that we experience, share, express and move through the full range of living and relationship – the ups/joy and the downs/disappointment and yes even hurt – together.
I find the drama of the stories I make up and obsessively roll around in my mind is always way worse than expressing and processing pain. While it is never easy, I have found through experience by feeling the hurt and facing my fears, my pain and anxiety is processed, normalized and cleared. I equate the process one goes through in the stages of grieving:
- Denial: Example – “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me!”
- Anger: Example – “Why me? It’s not fair!” “NO! NO! How can this happen!”
- Bargaining: Example – “I’ll do anything to make it different? “If you just give me a chance, I can and will change to make it work.”
- Depression: Example – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “Relationships are too hard so what’s the point of trying.”
- Acceptance: Example – “It’s going to be OK.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well learn and do it different.”
So what are the options for living a full life with satisfying relationships? We can choose to isolate ourselves and thereby end relationships with others and any risk of being hurt as result of our differences. I believe this is against the human nature and refuse to do it. We are social beings meant to connect with others. Anthropologically speaking, bonding and relationships is an instinctual drive, woven into our DNA, necessary for our survival as species. If it were not, man would have been extinct millions of years ago.
As I move in and out of the grieving phases for relationship disappointments and loss, I realize we don’t move through the phases linearly as one might expect. Instead it is back and forth, the intensity lessening, to finally gain periods of acceptance more often for longer. So as difficult it is to experience the first go around, it is a step forward in the process of letting go. I hope the same for you out there choosing to make your best effort to have authentic relationships in your life. Remember to be gentle, forgiving and loving with yourself and others, celebrating the small victories in process of doing so. As I have said before, learning to do life is an evolution, not a revolution.