Have them with the ones you love because you love them.
The last nine months of my marriage were a nightmare. I discovered I’d been living with an active drug addict and had been for almost the entirety of our nine-year-long relationship, AND I also had one-year-old twin babies.
A lot of crazy things had been going on for a long time in my marriage, but I’d just swept them under the rug. I believed strongly in “not airing your dirty laundry,” which is a great practice for any relationship, but in reality, I’d been participating in an active campaign to deny what was really going. If I don’t tell anyone, no one will know, and if no one knows, maybe it isn’t really happening, was basically the message I was telling myself.
I became friends with a woman, let’s call her Sally, when I was in the middle of category 5 Hurricane Marriage.
Discovering that I’d been living with an active drug addict for so long devastated my ability to trust myself. I should have known, right? He’d been using drugs in our house. He’d hidden drugs and drug paraphernalia above our kitchen cabinets, in our grill, even inside one of our children’s toy trucks they no longer played with. I should have known. I should have found the stuff sooner. I should have I should have, I berated myself.
So because I didn’t trust myself, I needed someone in my life to talk to and mirror for me what was going on, to actively tell me, “That is really messed up. I think you need to leave.” Sally was that person for me. I relied on her to be my voice of reason.
I didn’t leave my marriage until I was ready to, but I needed her guiding me every step of the way.
After ending my marriage, I then worked through the difficult process (read: a work-in-progress) of forgiving myself and my ex and finding my own joy and peace and, of course, learning to trust myself again.
When I started dating my current partner, I stayed aware of myself. I constantly checked in, how do I feel when I’m with this person? how do I feel about this person? am I still doing what I need to do to take care of myself? I’ve continued doing this, and it’s been my way to actively practice self-honesty.
As I’ve been in this relationship, I’ve shared with Sally just as I did before, and she has told me several times now, “That is really messed up. I think you need to break up with him.” Just like she did when I was in my marriage.
But, whenever I checked in with myself, I didn’t agree with her. Yes, my new relationship isn’t perfect. My partner has issues. I have issues (uhhh, duh). We have an appointment to see a couples counselor.
For a while, I was able to listen to Sally’s harangues and reply, “I hear you,” and then just continue doing what I thought was best for myself.
But lately, that’s not been the case. I’ve found myself wondering, is she right? Am I not seeing something I should? And based on my previous experience, I started to doubt myself, I started to not trust myself again.
Clearly, our friends are supposed to encourage and support us. Be good listeners, practice non-judgement, etc. Good friends also point out things to us that we need to see. But friends sometimes only see one side of the story or project their own issues out.
This is not a scenario where I needed to see something I wasn’t, and that’s what I had to evaluate first.
The next step for me was to consider how I felt about my relationship with Sally. Did I want to continue the relationship? Was it conducive? Positive? Loving?
I established that I did want to continue our friendship, but I needed to have a hard conversation with her.
Relationships matter. All relationships have growing pains. All relationships grow and shift, and making the decision to continue in a relationship means having tough conversations.
If you are in a place of having to have a hard conversation with someone, remember to make sure your desire is seated in love first, and then consider employing some of the following tactics to be the most successful:
- Use “I” statements. “I feel _______ when you say/do______.” (Sidenote: I feel like you’re a jerk is NOT a proper “I” statement.)
- Ask questions. “Why are you having that reaction?” “Is there something I did?” etc. (Sidenote: Why are you being such a jerk about _____? isn’t the right kind of question you should be looking to ask (even if you want to).)
- Listen. Don’t interrupt. It’s also good practice to tell them what you hear in the event that you are not hearing correctly, giving them the opportunity to clarify as necessary.
- Don’t blame/finger-point/scream/name-call/insult, etc.
- Be clear and use specific examples. The more, the better. Not to browbeat, but to make sure they understand what your experience is. Also do this when you’re describing how you would like things to be different. Also ask them to mirror what they hear in the event you are not being understood.
- Remain open to being understood and understanding instead of being “right.”
- Try to keep emotions out of it and take a time-out or break if the talk gets too heated.
It always feels easier to sweep things under the rug: just assume something will stop on its own or pretend it isn’t happening. But real relationships grow in intimacy, and true intimacy can only be built on honesty.
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