“Relationships are Hard Work”

“Relationships are hard work.”

How many times would you say you’ve heard that phrase in your life? People say it to each other all the time; over coffee, over cocktails, in the middle of long, exasperated venting sessions and at the end of despairing exclamations. I’ve said it, and I’ve heard it, and every time there’s a nod of understanding and agreement, because it’s just vague enough to sound accurate.

Recently though, I’ve come to realise that the phrase isn’t specific enough to be true.

It’s a bit like when people say, “Well, sure we fight, but all couples fight.”

I always nod. They both sound pretty straightforward, but the truth is that actually they’re blanket statements broad enough to cover a multitude of realities, and I think we sometimes don’t realise that until far too late.

I was once in a really unhealthy relationship.

I remember the feeling of being stuck in the Swamp of Sadness that was my life at that point, the feeling of our relationship being an endless slog. It would be okay, and then slowly it would be less okay, and then not okay at all, and then terrible, and then there would be an explosive argument with tears and shouting and accusations and apologies…

And then we would be back to the start of the cycle and things would be okay again for a short while. You know, before it all went south – again – like it did every time. Everything felt difficult. If I tried to fix things or communicate why I was so unhappy I was “picking a fight” or ruining everything with my “complaining.” If I kept quiet in an attempt to keep the peace, then I had to swallow down so much resentment I almost choked on it, and everything was tainted by the knowledge that it was fake. All of it. Our smiles were fake, because they were smiles papering over the fact that things weren’t okay. Our memories were fake, because the thread of misery was there running through them all like the long, lit fuse of a bomb leading to inevitable destruction. I loved him, but it hurt, and it was hard, and I felt like I was pouring myself into a pit with no bottom, losing myself in suffocating darkness.

Every time I burst into frustrated tears, mired in this misery, I would say these two phrases over and over to myself like a mantra:

“Relationships are hard work.”

“All couples fight.”

These two phrases reassured me, they consoled me, they made me feel less alone… but they were so undefined. They were elastic phrases that stretched and stretched until I felt they covered my experiences. I know for a fact that they cover many more. 

Since then, there’s been a lot of life happening. I’ve been careful to keep my eyes wide open, and I still hear those phrases but now, for me, they have definitions.

Relationships are hard work. They’re hard work because they involve being less selfish, and always taking someone else into consideration. They’re hard work because they involve thoughtfulness and respect and kindness towards somebody else and as human beings we don’t always feel that way inclined. Sometimes we’re tired or grumpy or we’ve had a bad day or we’re in pain and we want to snap at anyone who looks at us sideways, and on those days it’s work to rise above it. They’re hard work because you have to do things for someone else, and sometimes they’re things you don’t want to do. They’re hard work because maybe they have a habit that drives you up the wall and back down the other side but you love them, so you work to ignore it. They’re hard work because all of your time is no longer your own and you have to learn to compromise. They’re hard work because life is full of unforeseen bumps in the road and sometimes you will have to carry the slack, and sometimes they will have to do the same. They’re hard work, but they’re not slavery. It’s not supposed to be constant misery. It’s not supposed to be something you put your all into without getting anything back.

Relationships are hard work but if you have it right, they’re hard work that you enjoy and get paid well for. 

It’s hard work that’s worth the effort. Your payment comes in the form of receiving the same effort from your partner; you’re repaid in support and respect and love and kindness and thoughtfulness. You’re repaid in knowing that someone has your back, that you’ve got a teammate in this Life Race and that you guys meet in the middle.

Which brings us to the second phrase.

“All couples fight.”

This is such a strange phrase. Let’s change it to, ‘All couples disagree.’ I think that’s a fair statement. All couples disagree. I think it’s also fair to say that all couples can get pretty heated when they’re disagreeing about something important to them, so I guess you could call that a fight.

I think that the word ‘fight’ has something more aggressive to it though. The word ‘fight’ makes me think of shouting, name-calling, throwing things and losing control, and if that’s the definition then no, I don’t think all couples fight. All couples can have disagreements, discussions, even arguments… but fights? Fights that are verbal altercations that end with one or both people crying, or someone having to apologise for having said something purposely hurtful out of anger? If this is something that happens regularly in your relationship, that’s a problem. If that’s what you mean when you say, “We fight, but all couples fight,” then you need to reassess. Not all couples fight dirty. Not all couples fight like that. That kind of unhappiness should only happen extremely rarely, if ever. The basic respect that you have for each other as people shouldn’t slip just because you have strong feelings about opposing views. You can be frustrated and angry and upset and still mindful of what you’re saying. 

If you’re angry and you lash out and say something that’s hurtful – even if it’s untrue – you’re not only hurting them. Once you’ve said something, you can never unsay it. They can never unhear it. You can apologise, but that doesn’t erase it. I really think that’s something more people could keep in mind. Sharp words hurt both of you. They chip away at what’s between you until there’s nothing left.

When I think about Past Me, I feel both sympathetic and annoyed.

I feel sympathy because she was so confused, and so miserable, and trying so hard in such futile ways. I feel sympathy because she didn’t know any better, and she was so, so in love. I feel sympathy because I know she did her best, even if her best was a disastrous emotional mess.

I feel annoyed because it took her so long to read the writing on the wall. It took her so painfully long to dig up the last scrap of her confidence from wherever it had been buried. It took her so long to realise that their relationship wasn’t a winding path, but a closed loop that wouldn’t – couldn’t – go anywhere. It took her so long to stop believing the nonsense.

Nonsense like, “relationships are hard work.”

Nonsense like, “all couples fight.”

 

DISCLAIMER: This is what I’ve learned from personal experience and that is none of this is to say I have it all figured out, because I don’t. I wish I did. If I had it all figured out I would be living on a private island somewhere with a small herd of pet alpacas and maybe a beehive so I could have a continuous supply of honey. I would never have any unpleasantness in my life, everything would be easy, every day would be sunny, and I would never have to consider the pros and cons of having cereal for dinner for the third day in a row.

Cutting It Fine

CUTTING IT FINE

It’s Friday. Usually I post on Fridays, and today is no different except that today my post is on somebody else’s blog.

I’ve loved Lauren’s blog ever since I first read it. She’s written about her past, she’s written about mental health, struggles, inspiration, good days and bad days. She writes about her future (she’s pregnant!), and she does it all so beautifully and so honestly. Everything is personal and from the heart.

When she first asked me if I’d like to guest post I immediately said yes, but it took me a while to actually write the post I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write about mental health, and I also knew I wanted to write something deeply personal. Something from the heart. A sort of It-Gets-Better for people who have similar struggles.

But it’s scary, right?

It’s scary writing about things you know some people won’t understand. Every time I sat down to write the post, I found myself writing about the reasons why I was going through such a rough time. I got mired in a Swamp of Sadness made up of largely irrelevant (to everyone but me) details about my past, and the post was so dark and depressing and not at all what I wanted to write.

It’s difficult, though.

It’s hard to write about both the past and mental health without feeling like you need to explain, and defend, and justify, when you can no more control or change what has already happened than you can control your dreams.

Finally, I scrapped what I’d written, started over, and got it all down. It’s not perfect, it’s probably not for the squeamish, but it’s extremely personal, and it’s from the heart.

You can find it here:

Cutting It Fine

 

A Struggle in Poetry

imageedit_2_5745911799

In honour of World Poetry Day (which was yesterday), and the suffocating fog of misery that I spent the past week trying to ignore (which has now finally, thankfully lifted), I wrote a poem. I promise this won’t be a regular thing – poetry is not my strong suit – but it is easy and quick and I’m still feeling a bit fragile, so this will get us over the hump to Friday.

Standing chest-deep in the oceanKnocked back by every wave,She waited.Her face wet with salt waterHer feet anchored in sand, (1)

The Black Dog and The Importance of Words

IMG_4386.JPG

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I have Bad Days.

These are days when the usual voice of reason is there somewhere in the background, like, “Heeeeey, heeey girl….,” but it’s getting totally drowned out by this onslaught of constant self-criticism. Things I would never dream of saying to another human being just expand and fill my head like a thick fog. It’s horrendous.

I think most people probably have days like this to some extent. I think that’s just the human condition, and there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it really. Sometimes those doubts and insecurities and straight-up fears start crawling up your leg and before you know it, their needle-sharp claws are digging into the sensitive skin of your inner thigh and you just. can’t. shake. them. off.

Some days are worse than others though, and my Bad Days are… pretty bad.

I grew up in an environment of what I suppose could be called ‘constructive criticism,’ although often it was just your regular, run-of-the-mill, own-brand criticism. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not about to delve into the pros and cons of critical parenting here, constructive or otherwise. I would just like to point out that as a grown adult of admittedly questionable adulting abilities, to this day I still hear those criticisms. They are the safety net that my self-criticisms fall into when I knock them off their perch with a deftly placed ‘don’t be ridiculous.’  So for example, the conversation of the inner mind goes a bit like this:

Self-criticism: You are useless.

Me: Don’t be ridiculous.

Self-criticism falls a few steps back, grabs a memory from the past, drags it into the light and shoves it under my nose.

Self-criticism: You are useless. You see? I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS THIS. I HAVE BACK UP. THIS IS PROOF!

…And just like that, I’m outnumbered.

Words matter. When you say them matters. How you use them matters. Whether you use words to manipulate (I see you, Spicer), or use words to make your voice heard at a time when you feel helpless, or use them to criticise, or even use them to support someone who needs a boost… they matter. That’s the wonderful thing about words – they’re spoken, or typed, or written, or signed, and then they’re out there taking on a life of their own, to be used and interpreted and felt by the person who’s hearing them. You have no control over them once they’re out. You cannot take them back. They can’t be erased or expunged. They can only be forgotten, and that’s not something you have control over.

Sometimes though, sometimes they can be drowned out. Sometimes hateful words or false words or bitter words can be drowned out by other words. Better words. Loving words. We saw that on Saturday when millions of people took to the streets with all their words and made some serious noise, shouting down the words of division and bigotry that have been all too prevalent over the past few months.

womens_march_washington_dc_usa_33

I’ve decided to take a leaf from their book. I’ve see their success and it gives me hope for the years that are coming. I see them drown out the Bad Day of the inauguration, and it helps me come up with the perfect plan for how to deal with my own Bad Days:

I’m going to hand my voice of reason a megaphone so she can properly drown out my bitchy self-criticisms.