Day 65: On a Failed Relationship

It’s good to be back on my blog, writing again. Thank you all for all of the kind words of congratulation. It’s good to have a Ph.D., although I wish I hadn’t done it. It’s good, still, to have accomplished something in life no matter how trivial it may be or may sound in the infinite universe of things, people, and knowledge of which I am a tiny part.

Now, let me ask you a question: Have you ever felt that you were so lucky — because you’d won something, met someone, and achieved something — and then later, after a while, felt that which was more a curse rather than a gift?

There’re many philosophers in the history of thoughts. The most famous among whom were Pyrrho (c. 360 BC – c. 270 BC), an Ancient Greek philosopher who was a big fan of Eastern philosophy. In the podcast that my favorite podcaster Steven West had done on his teaching, the basic principles of Pyrrhonism could out described as follows:

Something that seems good is not always good. Something that seems bad is not always bad, and even if it is bad, adversity is what strengthens you to better navigate future problems in your life. Your level of success is not determined by whether there are hurdles in your path, but by how well you jump over them.

Like Lord Buddha, Pyrrho wants to tell us to try not control our mind. If we’re to be too happy, we’re deemed to be hit by sadness when such happiness is not longer with us. In fact, Pyrrho is making a point in a very rational way (so is Buddha) by saying that everything that can be evaluated, can only be evaluated with time as the main variable. West uses an example of a man who had won a lottery (which, by the way, was a true a story) who wished he had never won it. I have a tendency, as usual, to enhance the dramatic effect of a particular story so I will do so a bit here just to make my point a little bit clearer. Of course, he thought he was the luckiest man in the world when the hundreds of millions of cash were given to him as a result of him randomly buying the winning Power Ball lottery ticket. A few years later when his life was bombarded by requests from those who had thought were “his” friends, “his” relatives,” and, saddest of all, “his “family members. All of them, once they knew what he had won, wanted a piece of him, and any decision that he had made would result in some kinds of conflict either between him and his counterparts, or among the different parties, and so on. The story ended tragically: suicide. Before he died, he had said, “Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

There’s nothing new about how winning lottery isn’t a good thing. In “The Tragic Stories of the Lottery’s Unluckiest Winners,” Time Magazine succinctly summarizes what had happened with the previous winners that the Magazine had previously reported:

Distant relatives and fair-weather friends can come clamoring for their share; spouse can turn on a spouse; kidnapping and murder can suddenly become very real threats. And sometimes, the greatest danger to the newly well-off can be the winners themselves.

So, let’s go back to think about the wisdom with which Pyrrho has provided us. What is, then, things that would make us lucky? I believe that all of us have had the moment of regret, as in, “Jeez, I wish I had never met that person.” In the case of my very close friend who had just divorced his wife, my friend Tony had shared with me, and in multiple occasions, how he thought he had met the love of his life when they met each other, and the love and the romance were aptly maintained by two two’s willingness to make it work during the honeymoon period and then over to the next two years of their marriage. “But something wasn’t right,” said Tony. She was so negative — just about everything,” Tony said. “She would come home feeling sad; she would be thinking back and forth about what had gone wrong with her life; she would muse over things in the past that had made her unhappy

She was so negative — just about everything,” Tony said. “She would come home feeling sad; she would be thinking back and forth about what had gone wrong with her life; she would muse over things in the past that had made her unhappy; she would be telling me about how her parents had raised her inappropriately; she would be procrastinating so that the problems at hand did not have to be taken care of by her, and with the hope that someone (me) would take care of it for her so that she would not have to do anything at all. It’s a series of blaming, finger-pointing, senseless skepticism, and the denial of the most important elements in the life for the couple, at least to me, which are respect and the ability of giving to each other the benefit of the doubt. Love is not as important as these two.

Sooner of later, as I could tell, Tony had become an aggressive person. He got easily upset and agitated by things around him. He was less productive (before his marriage he was a production powerhouse of his company). His lack of sensibility and his negativity were felt by all of his friends around him. It’s unbearable to us to the point that we had to pull him aside and ask him what had happened. That’s when he burst into tears — the first and the only time I saw him crying — and shared with me how his marriage was a failed one, and that had to do with the fact that he could not longer go home to expect his wife’s negative narratives, passive aggressiveness, and the senseless urge to argue with him in just about everything without wanting to listen. “The worst part is that she’s lying to herself, all the time, that she has a job while she’s basically spending the seed fund from her family’s estate just to stay afloat,” said Tony. “Which reminds me that which isn’t yet the worst — the worst is that she is money-conscious, so she’d get upset when she’s spending money, while, again, while, she’s so passionate about making her parents suffer by spending their money, which, according to her, they were obligated to give her, on senseless items, trips, meals, and so on, just, simply, to sub it on their face showing how much she’s unhappy about how she’s raised by them.”

Tony was also aware of that some of the problems also came from him. He said that he could listen to her more, and be more sympathetic to her problems although, he also said, “I don’t see where her problems are?” So, I was inclined to believe that both were guilty of this failed relationship. Tony was wrong to place so much expectation on his wife, and his wife, needless to say, was wrong to not letting him know from the start her true self. Having met his wife and learned about her charming personality, I could not see her being abusive. Yet, this story was common among many couples that many social research papers have shown, couples undergoing problematic phrases of life tend to result from how they treat each other with less respect than they would to outsiders. To outsiders, each of the two tends to want to maintain his or her social position; hence, wearing a frontality that shows only the kind side of the personality. I didn’t get to see how Tony and his then-wife dealt with each other at home, but given that the neighbors had complained about their chronic and pathological shouting at one another, it wasn’t surprised that neither of them had treated one another the same way that they’d treat an outsider. According to the psychology professor John Gottman who was made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, here’re the “four horsemen” that kill marriage:

Criticism – Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person.

Contempt – “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”

Defensiveness – “…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.”

Stonewalling – Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.

I asked Tony whether any of these four appeared in his marriage. His response was not that surprising: “all four of them.” He then continued, “She is defensive to my criticism, and I am stonewalling whenever her contempt seems to rise.” According, also, to Gottman, once these four things are at play, there’s no going back.

I was also in tears when hearing Tony’s story. This was the man, who, less than a few months ago, had told me that he felt as thought he was “the luckiest man in the world” for having met and gotten to know the love of his life at a casual outing that many people had also been invited to join and it just happened to be the case that the two were the ones standing closest to one another and therefore had gotten the opportunity, before anyone else, to get to know each other, first superficially, and then formally, and then socially, and then, needless to say, intimately. Tony was a man who was obviously in love throughout those first few months. It must have been at least 4-5 times a day that he’d sent me photos of him and his then-girlfriend just to share with me how happy he was as a person. But only a few months afterward, after he realized that his wife had the chronic negativity symptom. I helped Tony by getting him to meet with a counselor, Kevin, who had shared with Tony and me the following:

How your partner grew up, and the environment in which she grew up, is incredibly important. If someone has spent their whole lives being resentful of their parents, it isn’t that they want to be that way. But they don’t know of any other way she wants to be different. She simply doesn’t know how. Like kids growing up with alcoholic and abusive parents, they tend to be abusive too, even if they want to be exactly the opposite. My childhood was too simple.

This advice is by no means cutting edge of extra special. We tend to know and believe that one’s upbringing could affect one’s ways of looking at oneself and the people around oneself. The problem with this relationship is that Tony did think that he was in the right place and the right time — the same way the guy who won the lottery was — and that was destiny, faith, and beyond that all wanted him to meet the then-love-of-his-wife so that they would be together. He didn’t realize that which would then become something of a deep regret and resentment. “I can’t stand negativity — I just can’t,” said Tony with tears in his eyes while pounding heavily on the table on which our glasses of red wine were placed. The pounding was so hard that I thought I heard the sound of his fingerbones being cracked. I have never seen someone that angry before, especially on someone whom he thought was a “gift from God,” and especially from an atheist such as Tony, pronouncing God’s name there was no picnic. The advice from Kevin, the counselor, continues
The solution is actually quite simple. I realize in your mind it seems muddled, but really, this is just like an investment. You want to put your life savings in an investment, and that will determine how well you live in the future every investment is a risk-reward balance.
In this case, you know what the risk is you are going to have to work hard and long with her to understand how to develop a trusting, loving relationship. that is going to be very hard for her to do, and she may never learn to do it. So you will have to be incredibly patient, tolerant, and understanding.
But you need to assess, what is the reward? For you? Is the reward of trying to keep her worth the risk you will be putting in, knowing you may never see the payoff? If the reward is great enough, then yes. if not, then no.

Well, as you might have guessed, Tony didn’t want to continue. Who would want to? This was the toxic relationship that could turn the happiest man alive into the miserable man in the universe in a blink of an eye. This was the state of the unbearable lightness of being a couple in which one always tried very hard to make sure that the other one would feel bad about his life, small about himself, regretful about his family, and resentful about his love for her.

This was, all in all, an uncommunicative relationship that everything got misinterpreted thanks to the feeling of wanting to let the negative feeling rule.

So, was Tony lucky — at least to have spent those honeymoon period with the woman of his dream, even though it only lasted for a very short time? I think it wasn’t worth the pain that he had to endure afterward. I just wish that I would never be in his position.

I just wish that I would never have to be in his position.

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