Have you ever dreaded approaching your partner to talk about even something as simple as what you wish to do over the weekend? And then played the conversation in your head over and over again before speaking to him (or her)? Only because you don’t know how he or she will react. Or more importantly, you fear they’ll react most unfavorably, get mad at you or even throw tantrums.
If you have then you must be familiar with that churning feeling in your stomach. When you feel that obnoxious hollowness in your tummy, that sinking feeling as if you are on the roller-coaster that’s going down at a breakneck speed. You hear your heartbeat loud and clear, you suddenly feel low and down. Then you slip into excessive worrying. How will he or she take it this time, how will you cope with their reaction? So on and so forth. You tremble at the thought of broaching the topic.
And then you wait and wait. You wait for that “perfect moment” to talk to them. You hope that they’ll listen to you this time, so you may really speak your heart out without worrying about their reaction. You keep playing the tape in your head because you want to be careful with your words, you love him or her and you don’t want to hurt them, but you also want to voice your feelings. You prepare yourself mentally for their outburst but nothing prepares you, really. They don’t react any differently. You walk away feeling the same as always — unheard, guilty, low and hurt.
If you know what I mean then let me tell you that you need help. But, it’s your partner who’s emotionally troubled or obsessed, you say. Of course. Yet still, you need help. You have taken upon yourself the unrealistic job of managing the feelings of the other person. Rather than making them understand that they are responsible for their conduct and emotions, you have burdened yourself by thinking that your actions can fix your partner’s feelings. Big mistake.
In a healthy relationship, two people are there for each other but they take care of themselves too. They understand that they must take responsibility for their own lives. When this responsibility shifts on the shoulder of just one partner, such a relationship is doomed. It’s neither sustainable nor practical. It’s not even right, if you ask me.
Here’s a simple but profound story that has been doing the rounds on the internet. I first read it in Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More.
A woman moved to a cave in the mountains to study with a guru. In her quest of knowledge she wanted to learn everything there was to learn, she said. The guru gave her stacks of books and left her alone so she could study.
“Have you learned everything there is to know yet?” he would ask her every morning.
“No,” she would say every time, “I haven’t.”
The guru would then strike her over the head with a cane. This went on for months. Same question, same answer, same treatment. One morning, however, when he raised his cane to hit her, the woman grabbed the cane from the guru, stopping the assault in midair.
Relieved to end the daily batterings, but fearing reprisal, the woman looked up at the guru. To her surprise, the guru smiled.
“Congratulations,” he said, “You have graduated. You now know everything there is to know.”
“How come?” the woman asked.
“You have learned that you will never learn everything there is to know,” he replied. “And you have learned how to stop the pain.”
Your pain stops the moment you realize that you can’t possibly cover all the scenarios in a relationship, that you can’t correct the feelings and thoughts of the other person, that they too must take some (if not complete) responsibility for their own lives. You learn to watch out for yourself. It’s not that you love the other person any less now, in fact, your love increases because the toxicity is replaced by responsibility.
In a toxic relationship, there’s a serious lack of understanding about what the other person needs. Obsessed partners are expert controllers, not necessarily manipulators but controllers. They can extract a certain behavior from you by exhibiting their excessive reliance on you. They are not doing so consciously or cunningly. They are only acting compulsively, often based on what has worked for them till date. Soon, however, it gets suffocating for both people because it’s tiring and taxing. There’s little room left to play as any space is overtaken by worrying and fear. So, what is the solution, you ask?
An excited woman called her husband from work.
“Guess what!” she screamed with joy, “I just won the jackpot! I’m richer by $20 million!”
“You’re kidding me!” the husband yelled, equally ecstatic.
“Pack your clothes,” she said, “Oh! I could do with a break!”
“Winter or summer clothes?”
“All of them. I want you out of the house by six.”
Detachment is your answer. I’m not saying that you do it like the woman in the joke. And, I don’t mean it in some cryptic theological or philosophical sense. Here’s how I see detachment in the context of relationships. Physical distance is not detachment (although it can help, sometimes). Detachment is giving the other person time and space so they may learn to be more responsible. It is a reminder that you can’t take care of the other person without taking care of yourself first. It is the understanding that you too deserve to do things that make you happy. You’ve as much right to life as anyone else.
Detachment is an acknowledgement of the fact that the people you love are responsible for their feelings. By letting them take control of their (and not your) life, you actually help them. It may hurt initially but eventually it infuses a new vitality in your relationship. It is developing a sort of neutrality so you don’t start worrying about little things and feel the urge to fix everything right away. You can’t fix what you didn’t create. Not all the time anyway.
Detachment is the realization that most troubled partners don’t act badly as a matter of choice. Their coping mechanisms propel them to behave a certain way. But your sense of detachment will give you the peace to handle everything far more effectively (without going crazy). Detachment is taking it easy (not for granted) in the face of friction and conflict. It is to examine your reaction rather than acting on the first thought or the first feeling you experience when things go haywire. It helps you to keep your sanity until your partner understands that neither of you can always be on your toes.
That said, detachment is only one part of the solution. There’s more. Next week, I’ll try and scribble something on the perils of obsessive love and care. Compulsive care doesn’t help anyone. If you wish to have a healthy relationship, sooner or later you have to stand up for yourself. True love naturally has a degree of detachment otherwise it becomes too clingy and uncomfortable. Unhealthy relationships are prisoners of obsession and attachment. Healthy relationships on the other hand are fueled by friendship and freedom. Obsessive care undermines love.
Learn to speak up for yourself. Don’t be scared. Breathe. Detach. Make no attempt to fix everything this instant. No one is going to die if you start caring about yourself. On the contrary, your life and others’ too will only become more beautiful as you stand your ground and find your feet because, ultimately, this new-found strength will make you even more loving, caring, confident and happy.
This post is a bit too long for my taste, but then again, I suppose, a write-up on relationships can be a draggy affair.