The red chair came to me accidentally during my week of loss. I was moving out of my girlfriend’s house for good. I had not yet found my new landing pad, but I had borrowed a friend’s truck to move stuff. My Honda CRV had been crushed by a large tree, and I was without auto. No problem.
As I was heading to visit a friend’s house, who had offered to let me crash for a while, I found the red comfy chair set out by the road for bulk pickup. It was a bit faded, but clearly a cool chair. A fishing motif on the bottom cushion. Free of pet hair and odor. I basically threw the red chair in the back of the pickup. I had nowhere to take it. But I was getting ready to find a place of my own.
Moving Out and Moving On
When a relationship fails both partners have to get on with their individual, pre-relationship, lives. Some of us move on slowly and with much sadness and effort. Some of us just drop *last* and move right into *next.* The online dating world has given us limitless options with little or no risk. So, why wouldn’t we see what’s “available?” Why wouldn’t we dip into Bumble or Match.com from time to time, just to see if we’re missing out… WAIT! NO!
Lesson in love part 1:
If you’re in a relationship be 100% in. If you are shopping around on the dating sites, you are compromising your success in your current relationship. When relationships become expendable, they become less human, and more about gratification and “what have you done for me lately” motivated. The real love language is about what can I do for you. And “How do I feel when I’m with you?” When difficulties come up, many people today, simply move on. They break up with the same intentionality they used to pick a coffee shop for the morning’s brew. It’s not the *relationship* that is important (in these cases) it is how happy am I, and how much of my happiness is limited by being in a relationship with you. UGH! Don’t be fooled into casual relationships, or casual dating, or casual sex. It’s not worth it.
When it’s time to break up and move on, just do it. Don’t linger. Don’t rekindle. Don’t give them a second chance because the sex is SO GOOD. Don’t do it. When you learn your partner has an addiction, for example, there are plenty of ways you could stay in the relationship. You could attend Al-Anon meetings. You could work with your partner on a harm-reduction plan. You could choose to stay in the relationship with an addict, but… The future is uncertain. You can make that choice.
The healthier choice is to work hard at being the best partner you can be. Pay attention to what feels good, what is difficult, and what is broken. There may be some of each in your primary romantic relationship.
In your current relationship, it’s good to keep an eye on the second and third issues. Feeling good is a powerful motivator. Stress and fear are toxic elements that can form a part of any relationship. The hard or broken aspects of your love relationship is where the “work” must be done. The work must be done by BOTH partners, even if one of you seems good while the other one seems like “the issue.” I can assure you, BOTH partners are the problem. Let me explain.
What Is Broken Can Be Fixed
Broken things *can* be fixed, it is possible, but unlikely. The dysfunctional person has to want to change, has to commit to the *program* of change, and then actually follow through on the work to get in a healthier place. It is possible, but it’s not easy.
The corollary is if you are waiting for someone to change, you’d best move on. People do exactly what they want to do. They want to drink, they’re going to drink, regardless of its effect on their own bodies or their partner’s happiness.
When you go to your first Al-Anon meeting the *ah ha* moment is when the newcomer talks for the first time. They often share about the alcoholic and the devastating effects. The old-timers in the group will check in either during the regular meeting (we all need to hear this) or afterward in the milling about time.
“This program is not focused on the alcoholic or drug abuser. This program is for you, the partner, and what you are going to do to get healthy and take care of yourself.”
Even in relationships without drug or alcohol problems, the *change* you are hoping for has got to take place inside you. In my case, before I found the red chair, I was with a woman who could not commit. She was a single (solo) mom to a beautiful young man. Her devotion to him eclipsed even her own health and well-being. When I entered this dysfunctional system I figured I could influence them both toward a more healthy relationship. I was wrong.
Difficult Relationships Offer Us Choices
I could not penetrate the veil of this mom-son infatuation. Sure, calling yourself a “helicopter mom” is cute and all, but the actual experience is frightening. A 9-yo boy who can’t tie his shoes or make sure his ass is clean before leaving the bathroom. A boy who still crawls back in bed with his mom on a regular basis. A boy who was going to be threatened by anyone taking time from his Oedipal obsession. No, he didn’t want to kill me, but we had to regulate how many times I would sleep over until he got used to sharing his mom. And when I was there, Mom would just go sleep with him if he was having a hard time getting to sleep.
And that was most nights. He was not getting any experience in self-soothing. “Alexa play relaxing piano music,” was one of his options. But more often than not, he would appear at the bedroom door two or three times a night. Every night. I was a bit stunned.
And probably the worst part, that I tried to fight, was them yelling from distant rooms of the house, “Mom!” “Mom!” And, “MOM!” He would sit in his room, and yell. He would not go look for her to ask her the question. He would just start yelling. She did the same thing. I couldn’t understand it. I asked him, “So, if you just keep yelling, eventually she will come?” He nodded. “It might be easier if you’d just go find her and ask her in a normal voice, without yelling.” We even put a penalty jar out for the incessant yelling from other rooms. And for cursing, of course. Mom had a hard time not cursing.
So, this was difficult. I could’ve stayed. I could’ve agreed to be second fiddle (24/7) to her son. But, the part that was unsustainable, she never made plans with me as part of the team. “Jackson and I are going to go over to my brothers house for dinner tonight. You are welcome to come.” That’s it. That’s the best it was ever going to get.
I would’ve preferred, “Hey, I have an idea about going to my brother’s house for dinner and a swim. What do you think?” As it was, I was not part of the consideration phase in her mind. It was her and him and I was like the ballboy. I was always on the bench while she and her son played on.
Good Is Almost Enough
Let’s say things are good. They’re not great. But there are no major problems. Some minor irritations and a few issues to work out, but the ingredients for a healthy relationship are all there.
Those smaller issues, however, if they linger, may become bigger issues. Let’s take an example.
She: “I am unhappy.”
He: “Okay, how can I support you?”
She: “You just need to tell me why you have so many activities outside our relationship?”
He: “Wait. What?”
Several things are in play here. “I am unhappy” can be a trigger for people like me who grew up with demanding women as my family of origin. So, automatically, I’m in *pleasing* mode. “Outside activities” shouldn’t be an issue. Perhaps she can join the activities. Or perhaps she’s jealous that you have so many friends. Or, she just wants more time with you, and feels frustrated when you choose other forms of entertainment and social community.
Even a good relationship can fail. If the imbalances don’t show any movement toward resetting, they may always be an issue. And if your partner is constantly opting-out of your “friends” activities, there might be an issue.
When Good Isn’t Enough
I want good, yes. I want to start without passive-aggressive behaviors, I want the other person to show me they value my time and are happy on their own time as well. I want a partner who is lighting up their own heart and energy. Our relationship should be a catalyst for their happiness. Our relationship cannot be the source of their happiness.
Both partners need to take responsibility for fixing things that feel broken. If only one of the partners is willing to dig in and ask the hard questions, the other partner may being to feel picked on. It would be great if they would share some ideas of their own. Perhaps they are overwhelmed and can’t. Okay, but that should be a temporary state and not the normal routine of the relationship.
Leaving good is very hard.
You’ve got to believe there is better. You’ve got to trust in a larger plan. And you’ve got to be ready to be alone again, facing your own fears without a companion. I don’t like to be in that space. Restarting. Dating again. But, it is the only way to change your partner.
Where Is the Red Comfy Chair Now?
I picked up the red chair before I had a place to live. I spent hours in that chair during my alone nights. It was the only place to sit in the cramped bedroom I was renting. Today, the chair often holds my girlfriend’s two dogs who stay with me during the day, since I work from home. They’ve got a pretty sweet life. And I see my GF every day of the week (twice), even when we’re not staying together.
In the moment I was leaving the helicopter mom I was discovering my own needs again. It was courageous, to walk out of her house without a place to go. I was alone. I wrote. I read. I played as much tennis as I could. And I mitigated my sadness with creative output, physical exercise, and sobriety. It was always a good idea for me to clean up my eating, drinking, and sleeping habits when entering a difficult period.
When my next big job came through, I was able to buy a house, get a new girlfriend, and begin rebuilding my pre-divorce life. These two pups are the icing on the top of the pumpkin-spiced Madeline. Yum.
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