The Real Questions We Should be Asking Ourselves: What Are You Getting Out of Your Relationship?
Those of us who have skidded up against the intractable wall of middle age or beyond have, if we are currently single, most likely spent a good bit of time considering what we want in our partners.
Most of the time we make- at least in our heads- a laundry list of wants.
My list included things like: athletic, handsome, tall, full head of hair, smart, funny, interesting, muscular, patient, lots of things.
What I got over the years, as opposed to this set of attributes, included:
Alcoholic, verbally abusive, impatient, out of shape, unavailable, remote, isolated, angry. Lots of things.
Oh, and bald, but then, hair is negotiable.
What I said I wanted and what I got was a constant source of frustration, to say nothing of both emotional and psychic pain.
On one hand, I desperately wanted kindness.
On the other, what I drew to me was a reflection of what I was doing to myself: I had eating disorders, was abusing my body, and had little to no regard for the damage I was doing to myself physically and emotionally.
In other words, those men I drew into my life mirrored me.
I couldn’t see it at the time.
Dr. Thomas P. Seager, a fellow Medium contributor (https://medium.com/@seagertp), wrote me yesterday about a life-changing question he was asked in an Al-Anon session.
Here’s what he wrote:
A huge window of self-perception opened up for me in Al-Anon when the guys there asked me, “What are you getting out of her drinking?”
What this brought up for me was a similar situation with my best male friend, a serious alcoholic (now reformed and a superb fireman), who repeatedly got himself involved with alcoholic women. I listened to him describe their problems. What became clear was that as he struggled to “save them,” the compulsion to choose troubled women was far more about his need to save himself. It took a long time for him to see this.
What he got out of their drinking was a chance to play White Knight. Savior.
What he needed to do, and eventually did, was become White Knight to himself. After four DUIs and a six-month jail stint, he cleaned up.
That eventually changed the kind of woman he attracted: sober, smart, fun. He’s been with one for a long time now. Not only that, he’s a superb, respected leader at his firehouse. The guys on his crew-especially those with drinking problems — can lean on him.
Let’s be clear. Neither Dr. Tom or I would say that this is as easy as making a single decision. You don’t suddenly see what you’re doing and it changes overnight. Thereafter it’s all roses and butterflies and endless happiness.
Not by a long shot. It’s hard, slogging, difficult personal work.
It begins with owning the fact that we draw troubled folks to us to help us see who we are, help us tell the difficult truth about the rocks we carry.
Being willing to even countenance the notion that the problem isn’t outside us, in the people we choose, but rather something we embody, is the profound first step.
First, I have to admit that I lie to myself regularly about who I am, what I am, and how I show up in the world.
Kindly, no fun.
Second I have to want to change my world, and my results, badly enough to begin the lifelong journey of sometimes brutal self-assessment, learning to build a sense of humor, and developing forgiveness. For myself. Then others.
For my part, once I realized this immutable fact about my own entrenched issues, in part handed down by remote, unaffectionate and alcoholic parents, I was able to redirect.
Over time the men began to change. Imperceptibly at first. Then significantly. Their qualities began to reflect what I had chosen to work on. Their challenges reflected the geography I had chosen to tread. Rather than blame them, I began to look for what there was to learn.
Interestingly, my friends changed, too. Those whom I call my closest friends today are swift to call me on my bullshit excuses, provide endless support as I may need it, and are happy to receive the love and care I give in return. That didn’t used to be the case.
What’s different are the skills I’ve learned, and am still learning, to consider without blame, discuss without accusations, ask for what I need without vitriol.
We are forever a work in progress. As long a we’re alive and kicking (at least to some degree) we have work to do. What changes our results includes, among other things, our willingness to embrace what lives inside us that attracts those who may bring out our worst.
How else will we see those things?
That’s why all my exes in their own way are Princes. Every single one of them.
So I ask you, with thanks to Dr. T, what are you getting out of his/her abuse? drinking? addiction? anger? verbal abuse? emotional unavailability? joblessness? financial troubles? The list is endless.
The answer may well set you free.