On Having The Courage To Leave

Having the courage to leave an abusive or dead-end relationship is hard. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to face down fears about what the change will bring. As a reader wrote to me,

“I do fear being alone and I also fear I won’t do better. But recently I don’t like the man I see or how he treats me and I am now deciding should I stay or should I go?”

Here is my response [slightly edited for privacy and clarity, as it was part of a much longer conversation]:

I’m really reticent to tell people how to live their lives, especially knowing so little about you and your life. The advice I’m going to give here is going to sound very strongly like I’m telling you to leave him. But I believe very much that people can only do things when they are ready to. Otherwise there will always be some regret or lingering doubts. It’s better to act when you’re ready and have no regrets than to wonder (and potentially end up back in the same situation and draw out the pain). The advice I give is based solely on what you’ve given me here too. The truth is, nobody knows the truth of a relationship better than the two people in it, even if they can’t see themselves clearly. Even if friends and loved ones can spot a dead-end relationship from a mile away and in the end they’re right, the part of the truth that really matters is what the two people in the relationship can see.

Ok, so here is my advice, such as it is.

I would say “don’t be afraid to be alone”, and “you can totally find someone better”, and I definitely want to cheerlead you on. But that runs the risk of sounding like empty platitudes and doesn’t give you much practical advice. The only thing I think I can really do is say you need to confront those fears, for two reasons. One, if you truly confront them you’ll probably find they are empty threats. And two, confronting them means looking really closely at yourself and you’ll probably find those fears are actually symptoms of something deeper about yourself. Confronting fears is scary, scary business. But it is SO NECESSARY. And SO SO REWARDING once you get through it. I cannot possibly overstate how deep the rewards are and how fulfilling it is to do this.

It might help to think out would happen if these two fears were realized. If you were alone, if you couldn’t find someone else…what would that look like? What part of it is actually scary? Is there a reason (maybe something from your past) that makes you believe you need to fear this? Then maybe take a look and assess: are those scenarios actually likely, are they actually frightening, are there really no other options? Would you really feel much more alone without him than you already do now?

It is scary and takes real courage to end a long relationship. We tend to sympathize most with the person who gets dumped, but being the one to leave takes real courage too. If you come to a point where deep in your heart you know it’s over, I know it’s scary, but have the courage to be the one to leave. You might find the pain of the relationship ending is not nearly so bad as the pain of it continuing. You might feel suddenly free, like a huge burden has been lifted: one you had no idea was so heavy until you got out from under it.

When I went through a difficult time in a relationship, I made a conscious choice. I decided that I would rather be alone than in a relationship that caused so much pain and made me feel so badly. I didn’t want to have to fight so damn hard to be happy. I was too effing exhausted to put up with any more b-llsh-t. I made a promise to myself (and eventually to my now-hubby) that if I was going to get in a relationship again, it had to be REAL. For real. No lies (to each other, but most importantly to ourselves), no false hopes. Just love, respect, and honest effort – with a few laughs along the way.

There, really, is the key: find whatever it is that will make you happy, and is real. Do whatever it takes that makes you feel honestly good about yourself. It is your life to live. Live it without regrets.

A Letter From A Reader

A while back I posted an article on passive aggressive behavior and manipulation: its symptoms, its effects, and how to cope. One reader responded with her own situation, and we have since had long discussions on how to change the situation she is in. I am sharing her initial letter here (with some edits, for privacy) and my response, in the hopes it might help another who shares the same problem.

Here is what she wrote:

“So interesting to read your own personal take on pa [passive aggressive behavior].  I have been dealing with this for 4 years now and I am mentally exhausted, feel alone a lot and tired of him always trying to prove me wrong so he can claim victim. He buys me things and then gets mad that he did so he slowly punishes me for it and when I question him about it he says it’s my attitude. It’s extremely frustrating and tiresome. Childlike. I always have to run back to him and call first. He will ignore me until the end of time. He is shut down constantly, shows no emotion but is aggressive in the bedroom. And when I show emotion he is like a stiff board. When I am crying he does not even ask why. He told me as a kid he never got any recognition. You did as you were told, end of story. He uses his money as a control mechanism. If he doesn’t like what I do or say he withdraws his financial support for me and he also withdraws himself. And once again I have to crawl back to him. He’s pathetic. If I tell him I like something he will say he doesn’t and say he likes something else. And his tone is nasty. I am always on eggshells when I want to discuss something with him. He charms the world, but those closest to him he treats like dirt. It sickens me to watch him turn on the charm to others and then turn around to me and have a different tone or barely speak to me. If I make suggestions he will never be accepting but may attempt them later on and then tell me he tried something and claim it as his. He doesn’t trust anyone. I always wonder if I am being taped or on a camera or my computer is bugged. It’s a horrible way to live. He only tells me select information and doesn’t give much details. His communication is close to zero. He punishes me all the time by ignoring me and I cannot ask him for anything for thou shall not receive. It’s bizarre. Very confusing life.”

Here is what I wrote in return:

Oh honey, I can’t help but think you must be feeling so very trapped. Thank you for sharing your burden with me. I don’t know your man, but from what you’ve written here, it sounds like he craves power and control. Maybe because he never felt he had any as a child; that his needs went unrecognized, even at times most important to him. And so he turns that on others because he feels it is owed to him. But of course that is just misdirecting his anger, and turning him from victim to perpetrator.

But I truly believe that everyone has a right to two basic things in a relationship: honesty and to be treated with basic human decency. Maybe that really just comes down to one thing. And it sounds like the kind of relationship you’re in as it stands right now is just not sustainable. It will only wear you down more and build greater resentment in you, changing who you are. Then you have to think: is that the person you want to become?

If the answer is no, you have two options. You can cut your losses and run (which I imagine others close to you have already suggested). Or you can try to make something better of it. I imagine you probably love this man a lot (or else you wouldn’t have hung around for 4 years, right?), so there must be some good you see in him. But here’s the kicker: NO ONE CAN CHANGE A MAN WITHOUT HIS CONSENT. We women love to try. But it must be his decision to change. You can change a relationship. You can change yourself. But only he can decide to be a better man; a stronger man. And strength doesn’t come from power over others; it comes from power over one’s own demons. And in his case, if he is to change, he has to decide that love and happiness is more important than power and control. It’s not an easy decision. If you’re going to change this relationship, you have to make it clear to him that he cannot have both. It’s already true: the more power he tries to exert, the less love and happiness there is in the relationship. But he clearly doesn’t see that. To him, that little bit of power gives him a thrill that makes it difficult to see how little true and pure happiness there is. And to communicate this to him properly, you really do have to be prepared to leave and be prepared to accept the possibility that he might choose power instead. You can’t issue an ultimatum: that will only play into his power games. It really just has to be a simple truth: that you are done with the way things are. And that you would rather be on your own than be abused. For that is what it is: abuse.

If you choose this road, I’m not going to lie: it’s not going to be easy. It takes time and commitment. He might beg forgiveness and try all kinds of ploys to get you back. But trust must be earned, and he must earn your trust that you are more important to him than anything else in this world, even himself. He must be willing to face everything it is that he does to try to assert power and control, and he must be willing to give each and every one of them up. You both have to come to terms with what things you do (i.e. what he does to assert power, and what you do that gives him that power) that have allowed the relationship to get to this state and both must commit to changing that. Maybe you can do this on your own, maybe a therapist might help. And remember, actions always speak louder than words. He can say whatever he likes to you: the true test is how he acts. Trust your gut: it knows how to protect you if you listen to it.

I’m sorry to put this in such stark terms. But if you take a step back from the day to day and look at the grand picture, relationships really do come down to some very basic things. But I know (oh my god, trust me on this, I really do deep-in-my-bones KNOW) how painful and difficult this is. If I were with you in person, I’d take you in my arms and give you the deepest hug I could, treat you to your favorite dessert, and just listen to everything you had to say until you ran out. And then I’d hug you some more. In lieu of all that, I hope these words help, for whatever they’re worth.

I wish you strength and courage and hope. And most of all, love.



Stay or go, the choice is never easy. In our culture, we focus a lot of our empathy on the person who gets left behind. But leaving is painful and takes courage too. If you are in an abusive, or just plain dead-end relationship, and decide it is time to leave, please check back in tomorrow. I will have a post on having the courage to say good-bye.

On Passive Aggressive Behavior & Manipulation

Cch! Gawd, what a jerk!I was browsing around my stat reports for my blog – it’s always fun to see what Google search words bring people to my site. I was a little surprised to see a lot of people come across my blog through some variation of key words that involve passive aggressive behavior and manipulation. But then I guess it makes sense because I know I have mentioned passive aggressiveness on my blog before. It is one of my pet peeves, most especially because I, myself, am prone to it and have worked hard to change that about myself. We hate most in others that which we despise in ourselves, right?

Upon seeing how many people find me through those key words, I began to realize it’s probably an issue a lot of people struggle to cope with, most often because they have a loved one who is passive aggressive and they don’t know how to deal with them. I know when I faced this issue, there are a lot of sources online that voice complaints about the behavior, but offer little practical advice on how to cope. So I thought I would put together my own article on passive aggressive behavior.

Why Passive Aggressiveness Sucks:
Passive aggressive behavior is problematic for two reasons. First, it is dishonest. It allows the aggressor to hide instead of confronting problems with courage and integrity. Second, because it is dishonest, it is also impractical. Rather than dealing with problems honestly, it ends up either creating more problems, escalating current problems, or hiding problems until they get too big to handle. Or all of the above. It therefore makes it nearly impossible to resolve issues. Meanwhile bad feelings fester. Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot. (Ten points for naming what movie that comes from.)

Signs You’re Dealing With Passive Aggressiveness:
So assuming we all prefer not to fester and rot, the next step is to figure out how to identify passive aggressiveness – either in ourselves or in those we love. Because it is by nature passive, it is often disguised as something else, so it can be hard to identify. But once you’re aware of how it operates, it can become pretty easy to spot.

I think there are two principle characteristics that guide passive aggressive behavior. 1) It seeks to deflect attention away from the real issue because the aggressor fears direct confrontation about the real problem, and 2) It seeks to deflect blame away from the aggressor so they can tell themselves it is not their fault.

What does this look like? Passive aggressive manipulation can manifest itself in many ways. Here are some of the most common ones:

Tit for tat scoring: This looks something along the lines of “Look at everything I’ve done for you. You owe me this in return.” Of course people should give equally in love and one should be wary not be taken advantage of. But I’m talking about a particular attitude here. If you approach love in a way where you keep a tally sheet of brownie points and who owes whom what, chances are you’re not approaching love in an honest, open and giving way. This behavior hides the fact that the aggressor does not feel comfortable simply asking for love. Instead they resort to a power dynamic where they give first, so they feel they have the right to make a claim in return. That way, if the other person does not give in, he or she becomes the ungrateful party and the aggressor can feel comfortable in the myth that they have the moral upper hand.

Self-martyrdom: This is the one I’m most prone to doing because I grew up around people who use this a lot. But there came a day when I discovered how toxic it is and I vowed to myself I would try everything I could to not do this. Self-martyrdom is when you don’t want to do something, but go along with it anyway – but you pretend it’s because you’re doing it for the other person. Usually it’s accompanied by a statement like “Whatever you want to do” or “If that’s what you want, fine by me” – except that it’s not fine by you. It deflects attention away from the fact that you are unwilling or unable to simply state what you want, but it absolves you of responsibility because you tell yourself you’re doing it to make the other person happy, you’re being accommodating, you’re not rocking the boat. Meanwhile, you do things to sabotage the situation. You might drag your feet or put up barriers so what the person wanted doesn’t actually happen. Or you might put on an air of suffering to send the other person the message that you’re doing this for them even though you don’t want to, so you try to make them feel guilty for being so selfish. Really, it is the self-martyr who is being selfish, for though they are giving, they are not giving openly and with love. If the giving is genuine, then you genuinely are pleased just to see the other person happy. You do not carry any hard feelings about it.

- Smoke and mirrors: This tactic is a particularly difficult beast to deal with. When this happens, the aggressor actually creates a problem that really isn’t a problem to direct attention away from the true problem. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, I have a real, true life example to illustrate (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent):
Sally’s mother always loved horseback riding and she wanted her daughter to share that love. Ever since Sally was little, her mother got her lessons to ride. But as Sally became a teenager, she decided she didn’t want to ride anymore and she was tired of always being pushed by her mom to ride horses. So one day when Sally was supposed to go to a lesson after school, she went with a friend, Jessica, to play by a creek. She missed her bus home and therefore was too late to catch her lesson. She lied about missing the bus and told her mother the bus had been late. She asked Jessica to confirm the lie. When Jessica got home, she told her own mother the truth, but asked her to lie to Sally’s mom if she called to check with her about Sally’s story.
So you can see, the lies just escalate. Now look at the problem from Sally’s mom’s perspective. Clearly she is facing a problem with her daughter where she wants her daughter to do something, but Sally doesn’t want to do it. But the problem is, she has no idea that this is the real problem. She just is upset her daughter missed a costly lesson. Even if she discovers the lie, then she is going to be focused on the fact that her daughter is lying to her, but she won’t know why. In truth, Sally simply lacks the courage to honestly tell her mother how she feels. So she creates a different problem—showing up too late to go to her riding lesson: a problem that she may find less daunting to confront so that she doesn’t have to face the real issue—that she doesn’t share the dream her mother has for her, something she probably feels both angry and guilty about. But what is the result? Total confusion. Not problem solved.

- The Hapless Victim: This card is most often played by the incredibly insecure. This is the “I can never do anything right” card. This person is constantly waiting for someone else to do for them what they are too afraid to do for themselves, usually because they fear failure. And yet, they almost invite failure because it provides further evidence they need help. They can point to it and say, “See? I was never capable in the first place. You should never have made me do that.” It gives them an excuse to fall on their sword and it absolves them of responsibility for themselves. But the truth is, they did not put in an honest effort. Meanwhile, you are tempted to do for them because it would be easier, faster, and invite less trouble. But the more you give in to this manipulation, the more you end up feeding their comfort in the insecurity blanket.

So What Do You Do?
If you are dealing with someone who is behaving in a passive aggressive way, there is really only one thing you can do: refuse to be manipulated. If they behave in a way that you can tell in your gut is just not honest (and I think our guts are pretty reliable when it comes to these things, especially with repeated offenses), the only thing you can do is to call them out on it. Try really hard not to get angry with them. Most often, the aggressor does not even realize they are acting in a manipulative way. Remember principle #2? They are busy convincing themselves that they are the victim here. They’re not only lying to you; they’re lying to themselves. Just try to calmly point out what they are doing and ask them to tell you what it is they really want. Understanding them can at least help build tolerance. But honestly? You’ll probably be lucky if they can take a step back, reflect, and tell you openly what they want. Still, you can refuse to let them have power over you. You are the captain and steward of your own emotions. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to insist on speaking honestly. After enough times of this strategy not working, the aggressor will have to find some other way to behave to get results they want. Hopefully, they’ll come to honesty sooner rather than later.

What if you recognize these tendencies in yourself? Well, for one, congratulations for being willing to be honest with yourself! That is an incredibly difficult thing to do! But as hard as it is to break old habits, having the courage to face your own faults is probably the hardest part. Once you realize what you’re doing, it becomes incredibly easy to spot when you do it again. And you know what? It’s okay if you slip up – as long as you face up to it when you do. It is okay to come back and say, “Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t say what I wanted to say. This is what I really meant.”

One Last Point:
One of the keyword searches I came across in my stats was asking something to the effect of: can two naturally passive-aggressive people be compatible? Well, yes, they can be compatible. The question is: can they have an honest, open and healthy relationship; one that strengthens and supports, rather than weakens and undermines? The answer there is yes too. It is possible to change your behavior. It is possible to overcome your natural tendencies. But it does require commitment. If you can recognize these symptoms in each other, you can agree to be committed to helping each other move past your fears. You can agree to help each other face problems with courage, knowing you are doing it together. You can commit to helping each other find true happiness. It’s not about acting perfectly wisely all the time. It’s about just being honest, even when you are afraid.

Facing problems in relationships is tough (Oh my god, is it tough). And it gets even more difficult when we become hijacked by fear or pride. But when it does get tough, all you have to do is focus on this one thought: I would rather be happy.

Have you dealt with passive aggressiveness in your life? How did you cope with it?

*Image courtesy of http://www.marieclaire.com/sex-love/advice/tips/giving-a-relationship-ultimatum

Happy for No Reason

Yesterday, while running errands, I tuned into a segment on NPR where Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason, was giving an interview based on her research into happiness. I only caught a brief snippet of the interview, but what stood out to me was that she said everybody has a happiness quotient. This is the baseline ratio or number of how happy a person is, regardless of circumstance. You could win the lottery and within a year, you’d return to this baseline number.

This happiness quotient is about 50% genetic, but the rest of it is largely up to individual choice: how one chooses to view the world and respond to it. True happiness has nothing to do with what happens to you, what things you have in your life or what things you don’t have. That happiness is superficial and fleeting. True happiness comes from what you give out. So for example, one of the things she said is that being loved is not a cause for true happiness. But giving out love, in gratitude, forgiveness, doing for others, caring for others…that’s what brings true happiness. She quoted a Chinese proverb:

“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”

It seemed from what I caught in the interview that much of what she said was based on scientific research, though when I went to her website, it seemed very commercialized, with very little mention of data or credentials. So that makes me a little skeptical. But what she says has a lot of face validity to me – it sounds logical and true on it’s face. It certainly reflects my own particular perspective and experience in the world.

What really struck me was the notion that people have a baseline happiness quotient regardless of circumstance-and that that happiness level has an affect on the people around you. I have known people whose mere presence in a room can either brighten it, or suck all the energy out of it.

There is a very remarkable difference between happy people who fall on hard times, and truly sad or angry people. Even if the hard times are lasting for happy people, and they turn to others for support, it is never an encumbrance to help them and be there for them. But people who are naturally more negative can be intensely draining to be around, even when they are in a decent mood. With them, there is always a problem, always a drama, and in my experience, they always find passive aggressive ways to let you know they’re upset. And while I have been known to be passive aggressive when I was younger, once I got old enough to really see what I was doing, I worked hard to recognize and change that about myself because I can’t stand passive aggressiveness. It’s weak and ultimately harmful because: 1) it makes solving the problem infinitely more difficult because you’re never dealing with the real issue, only smoke and mirrors and symptoms of the issue, 2) the passive-aggressor is only punishing everybody else for the unhappiness they feel, instead of ponying up to their own responsibility, and 3) the passive-aggressor gets to pretend they’re the victim, they’re misunderstood or unappreciated. They’re so good at pretending this, they can’t see past their own bullshit. They martyr themselves for others and resent it all the while.

But I digress. You can see this is a pet peeve of mine.

I don’t know if Shimoff’s argument is appealing because it contains both an ability to blame unhappiness on something over which we have no control, and an element where we can tell ourselves we can change how we feel-that we do have choice and control. We can tell ourselves, “I’m not to blame, but I have the freedom to change if I want.” It’s the epitome of American dogma, isn’t it? I have long believed that happiness comes from how you choose to respond to the hand life deals you, but maybe we are predisposed-whether through nature or nurture-to be more optimistic or pessimistic. But I do know, of the unhappy people I’ve known, some could benefit from a healthy dose of gratitude for what others do for them and the others could do with a little bit of forgiveness.

But then, perhaps, they don’t want to be happy. This is something else I have observed: some people are actually genuinely and perfectly content to wallow in a cocoon of self-pity.

The Language of Love and Grief

Several years ago, I heard a theory that people give love in different ways and it is important to learn to speak each other’s language of love so that your loved ones perceive and appreciate your tokens of affection and so that you can see when others are giving love in return. It is when we misinterpret or don’t even see each other’s efforts that feelings of hurt and under-appreciation arise.

According to this theory, there are five languages of love: quality time, words of appreciation, expensive gifts, acts of service, and physical intimacy. We all engage in all or most of these actions to greater or lesser extent, but we usually tend towards one or two predominant ones. We give love and expect love back in those terms (or at least recognize it most easily). Quality time people relish most the time spent in their loved one’s company. The act of being together, even if not really doing anything, often is more meaningful than the finest diamonds in the world. Words of appreciation people love to lavish praise and verbal affection, and it is warm words that mean the most to them. Meanwhile, for others, words are not as important as other gifts. For some, love is measured in extravagance. These people love to spoil and pamper, and the cost of the gift is proportional to the act of love. For others, love is measured in gifts of devotion. Cooking special dinners, helping with various and sundry tasks, and otherwise doing for others becomes a demonstration of love and affection. And finally, physical intimacy and the need and desire to embrace, hold hands, or just be in touch with someone (literally) becomes a manner of expressing love and affection.

I would say my language of love is primarily acts of service, with quality time and physical intimacy as secondary traits. I do engage in the other two, but to a much lesser extent. My husband, however, I would say is primarily and “expensive gifts” person, with quality time and physical intimacy as secondary traits. I used to expect more acts of service from him, and felt slighted and undervalued when I didn’t always receive them. It wasn’t until I began to see all the little and big tokens of affection – anywhere from buying groceries, to taking me to dinner, to the fabulous, expensive coats – as all the ways he shows me he loves me that I could truly see and appreciate his devotion on the level it deserved recognition. But with quality time and physical intimacy as both our secondary traits, we speak easily in those domains.

However, I think what might be true of love, might also be true of stress and grief. I’ve been listening to various family dramas lately and it occurs to me that people deal with grief differently too, and if we don’t understand and respect each other’s way of dealing with grief, increased conflict and hurt feelings could result.

From what I have seen in my limited experience, I think there might be four languages of grief: sympathizers, bottlers, imploders and exploders. Sympathizers (of whom I would be one) reach out to others for empathy in their grief. They love to console and be consoled, and this constitutes a major part of the grieving process for them, as well as a way to bond with others. They see empathy in times of need as another way to deepen a relationship. Bottlers, on the other hand, shut people out. They may even act passive-aggressively in dealing with their grief, but they keep it close to their chest and much prefer to deal with grief and anger on their own terms. Imploders are similar to bottlers in their sense that they are better left to themselves when upset. They grumble in anger, they may even be spectacularly violent in their fury and perhaps destroy a few inanimate objects, but if left to their own devices, their pain is usually short-lived. Finally, exploders are those who deal with anger and grief outwardly. In more positive ways, they may insist upon dealing with problems and hashing out concerns with the targets of their frustration, working at a problem until it is resolved. In more negative manifestations, they may engage in accusations, argumentation and blame.

I think these categories may even fall along two dimensions: intimacy and time to deal, where intimacy refers to how inwardly or outwardly grief manifests itself in relation to other people. Time to deal refers to how long it takes to manage and resolve the grief.

While I’m a sympathizer, I would say my husband is an imploder. But I quickly learned to give him space and he learned that a warm embrace and a few sweet words go a long way towards me finding me inner peace again. Thankfully in doing so, both of us help each other deal with grief more efficiently so the bad times don’t last any longer than they have to.

But this is just a theory based on my own personal observations. I would be very interested to know if this theory holds true in other lives. Also, being a sympathizer and married to an imploder, I feel I might understand these perspectives a little more clearly – and may have given short shrift to the other two personality types. If anyone feels they can elucidate those two perspectives better, I would be most willing to amend my little theory here. It’s a work in progress. Please pardon my dust.

Being Happy Trumps Being Right

In family dynamics, one of the saddest things I see is the destructive nature of trying to prove that you are right. This “I told you so” attitude can rear its ugly head in nearly any situation where two people disagree. It comes in basic arguments about nothing of import. It shows up in stupid arguments about who forgot to do what on the honey-do list. And worst of all, it displays itself proudly in serious arguments, where the very foundations of trust and respect in a relationship are at stake.

Let me give you an example: Johan and Marie.
Johan and Marie have been married for several years, and though it has been rocky from time to time, they still love each other and have made it work. But Johan feels a bit unfulfilled in his career and wants to try something new. He used to play bass guitar in high school and college. He had even been part of a band. Now he is wondering if maybe he can make something of it. He picks up the guitar again and starts writing songs.

Marie sees this and she is worried. She knows how competitive the music industry is and how difficult it would be for a 40-something to break into the industry and make anything of himself. The last thing she wants to see is Johan pour his heart into song-making only to fail and have his heart broken. She knows he would be devastated and insecure. But how can she say that to him? Obviously she can’t tell him he might fail so it’s better not to try. So what does she do? She passively-aggressively undermines his attempts, making it difficult for him to have the time to practice or to work (more on passive aggressive manipulation in a later post).

And it works. He never writes anything completely, and eventually his dream falls by the wayside. He still dreams of it, wishing it could have been, but ultimately he has given up. Marie is sorry he is sad, but she figures he will get over it in time, and in any case, being sad is better than being heartbroken. But the trouble is, in the end, Johan is heartbroken–just in a different way.

Her passive-aggressiveness has not gone unnoticed. Johan thinks back and remembers why he never had time to practice music or write, and he ends up resenting Marie because somehow, however vaguely, he senses she has not supported him in his dream. Now he feels he would never know how he might have fared because she didn’t give him the opportunity to try. Resentment, anger, sadness, distrust and betrayal build up slowly over time, undermining their marriage. He retaliates in other ways, perhaps by engaging in power plays with her, trying to reassert his power over her. Of course, by doing so, they can never actually talk about the real problem, because they are too busy dealing with superficial things covering up the true pain they should be addressing.

Marie was so sure she was right, she was willing to sacrifice Johan’s dreams. And very probably, she was right. But did that spare anything? No, it didn’t. It only caused bitterness and distrust in their marriage, and Johan was still heartbroken for not having achieved his dream. If she had only supported him, regardless of the outcome, then it is possible the two of them could have found happiness. Even if the worst had happened and Johan failed, then she could have been the bedrock of support to comfort him and help him stand up again. In his mind, the blame for his failure would have lain with the industry or himself, not with her.

This is just one example, and the need to prove ourselves right comes in a myriad of guises. But underneath it all, when we find ourselves in a conflict, we can always ask ourselves what is at root. Are we really hurt and angry, or are we just trying to prove our idea is right and the other is wrong? Are we really so insecure that we need validation, that we need to prove someone else wrong? Sometimes, it is enough just to know that we are right. Sometimes it is more important to soothe a loved one’s feelings than it is to prove to them why they shouldn’t feel that way. Sometimes it is better to resolve the conflict than to win the conflict–because when the conflict is resolved, everyone wins. Think of it this way: if you “win” the conflict, that means your loved one loses. And in what world is it a good thing if someone you love loses?

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