Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Undeniably, Comfortably Numb

Suzi Parker describes a new trend in dealing with marital un-bliss in her article, The Un-Divorce: When Leaving Your Marriage Is Just Too Much Work. The trend toward Un-Divorce seems more like a return to the pre-sixties model of marital un-bliss. The Un-Divorce as I un-derstand it is a decision to stay married but exist separately. Roommates. You don't pay for the messy divorce. Neither of you have to initiate the pulling of the plug. You get to attend family functions without answering questions, or maybe you can discontinue attending family functions. You get to share insurance benefits, social security and pension perks. Custody battles are avoided, the furniture stays in place. For some you even get to partake in un-extra marital affairs. Everyone being so understanding or uninterested or undeniably, comfortably numb.

Why is it that there are still so many issues in the blending of a couple? A marriage, union, legal contract between two individuals? Why after so many centuries, do we still not quite know how to get through or beyond some of the basics? Aside from the Mars and Venus citizenship issues and acknowledging opening up the arena to homogenous couplings devoid of mixed-planetary-citizenship concerns, why can't we figure out some of the basics? Maybe we need to start with identifying what the basics are. By all means, please send comments and suggestions. What are your basics? That should be one of the first questions before deciding compatibility. What are your basics, followed by how do you see yourself respecting and acknowledging my basics?

For some, a basic issue might be toilet seat up or down and the direction of the toilet paper roll as it's dispensed. Maybe it's the shower curtain, open or closed when finished showering, laundry on the floor or in a basket? Dinner at six or when you are hungry, with TV on or off? For others it might be determining how finances are financed, distributed and saved. If I take that on, do I need to make you feel guilty for getting the loaf of bread from the bakery as opposed to the bread aisle? The fifty-seven cents didn't really put us into the red. If I take it on, what are the basics around this? (Turn and talk.) You see the basics will need some breaking down and rebuilding. There will be a need for work here.

Some might be very bothered by the need for equitable job distribution or role assignments. Who takes out the garbage, calls for the kids doctors appointments, notices the need to fix the water that is dripping from the ceiling? What might equally shared parenting look like? Whose turn is it to cook? Which side of the bed? Who takes the calls from the relatives? Who does the gift shopping? Do we have any idea how to approach the possibility of sexual dysfunction, temporary or long term? Oops, we aren't supposed to admit that... it might mean.... no, maybe......

I know someone who hates when his wife tells him what to do. He resents feeling like an adolescent and the role that she takes on as his mother is a real turn off. Ok so I wonder, why does she tell him what to do? Is she doing what she knows, what was modeled for her? A habit, unnecessary? Does she tell him because his head is in the sand, poised for avoidance? Does he share responsibility as an adult, or does he procrastinate until she gets tired of doing the extra work? Maybe he doesn't realize when she asked the first time, she had a predetermined time that she imagined it would get done and he thought he would get to those jobs on the week that he has off in August, or December. Again basics- are not quite so simple, they differ or dredge up so much other hairy nonsense when they aren't understood. But wait, if the boss asks you to do a task why don't the same free-flowing interpretations apply? Why do we understand the expectations of one system and pretend they are non existent in the most important system?

I find more and more that we not only don't know how to deal with one or two or more of these issues, we never even consider broaching them or admitting that we grapple, wonder, rage, fluster, and anxiously think about these and more. Instead we pick and poke. We sulk or provoke. We kiss and make up and hope for a better tomorrow. We age and add new basics to the list. Who sets up the driving tests, additional insurance, keeps track of SAT prep and test dates? Who discusses and supports the application process for college? Who keeps up contact with the children? Who plans the vacations, investments, or debt consolidation? Who takes a leave from work to care for the child or the ailing parent or parent-in-law? Who decides the adult child or parent can or cannot move in? Who does what? And how? How was the decision made? Knee-jerk or thoughtful, and messy discussion. This stuff is hard.

Why? Why do we believe that we need to have these long term relationships that will not have problems? Hiccups? Huge and minor, discrepancies in values or judgements? We somehow believe we will pick our perfect partner and love, honor, and obey them, or some such configuration of blending two very different people for the long haul, or we fail. These are the options. We may ask some of these questions early on but then we just expect, assume, and presume. We may go for counseling and accept some level of outside support but even this is not too widely valued or honed and it is often unrealistic because we don't understand or want to know the scope. Ok we have 50 minutes to convince someone that one or both of us needs to change to save our marriage- do you feel like taking that risk? Ok, go! We want everything to work with minimal effort. Some of us enjoy the effort but don't want to know why it isn't working for our partner because that's his/her problem and we are exerting so much effort just to stay abreast.

Let's be honest. I know if I say that it implies we aren't usually. But are most of us honest? With ourselves? About ourselves? So, if I have to share with you what I need or want, I become vulnerable. If you don't just know what I want or need that means you don't care. Or maybe it means...nothing. Maybe it means it's not on your radar. You don't even know it's something missing because you don't need it, it wasn't important or valued or available in your culture or family. You would love to believe in the power of ESP, but truly, you are more devoted to ESPN or QVC, or anything in-between. You can't read my mind, but I still wait and hope just the same. If you look very closely at the way my fingers are rubbing nervously and I am staring at the ceiling certainly, by now you know what that means! Oh, last time it meant that I had a popcorn kernel crumb and I noticed a small area that needed a double coating of paint when we painted 2 years ago? No, that's just not so, we painted 18 months ago.

A friend wonders why her husband doesn't leave the light on for her when she goes out. For her it evokes feelings of the possibility that there is a lack of caring. She remembers her mom frantically running to the door in a bit of a tizzy, realizing she had forgotten to leave a light on for the guests about to arrive. Shivers run up her spine at the thought of being so cavalier. What if they felt unwelcome, unnoticed, unimportant? My daughter came home late a few weeks ago, and said, “My God, Can someone leave the light on! I was afraid of killing myself in the dark garage!- She didn't wait for a reply or validation. The light has been left on for her since. I felt badly that the light was not left on, but I got to it. (The truth be told, she went out after I was already in bed.) I didn't feel chastised or offended. She stated the need boldly, with a little drama and humor for good measure- but wait, she is like me- I get her. She has probably seen this behavior, modeled, she had “permission” to state her needs this way and I responded in a way that was acceptable and met her needs. Shazam! In the same household, my husband diligently goes through the house and locks all the doors and shuts off all the lights. If the light is on, a potential prowler can see where they are going and get in! Everyone should know that! Or it means that we are available for visitors and who wants unexpected visits? What's the compromise? For us, if someone is still out, they come in and have the responsibility of screwing with those prowlers, or it's on his/her conscience for eternity if we are all killed in the night. Easy.

If in the future, my daughter's husband, partner, or friend that she may live with, said the same thing to me about leaving a light on, would I feel he was too forward? Would I question why he was coming home so late? Would I tell him to put his own light on? Would he understand nuances, the precise measure of humor and assertiveness? More importantly, could I be expected to embrace him into my family? How does this happen? Who is the manager of family acceptance and perhaps assessment in your family? Do they need help learning how to loosen the reigns and allow permission for others to join with a little ease? Have I modeled or expressed the need for my children to communicate effectively so they may recognize their basic needs and also those of others near and dear to them? Will they be able to balance their needs with someone else for the long haul?

The need for the marital model to change, has been drastically ignored. Maybe not the need as much as the nuts and bolts. We haven't updated the system. Can you imagine a business succeeding without the rolodex, and soon after that, the internet? Why are we still attempting to mirror the model that didn't work so well forty and forever years ago? You hunt, I gather. You take care of the mortgage, I take care of the kids. A few adjustments here and there, Oh, thank you with the laundry, yes I am paying for the groceries, the insurance, household expenses, etc. Oh, you want to go away with the boys? Sure if I can go away with the girls. Remember when we...Oh, I didn't mean anything, I just wish... We, or many of us seem to have developed this polite avoidance. The un-divorce polite avoidance. What's the worst case scenario? Please leave the light on, it helps me see. It makes me feel cared for. It tells me you love me. Wow, it does? The stinking light, that's all it takes? How easy. How easy to love you! And you and even me.

Isn't that what we all want? Someone to understand our basic needs, as needy, or quirky as they might be or seem. Maybe someone to simply go along with them and not question the intent, the development or the potential and likely projected, hidden meanings of our requests or needs. I don't think this is so difficult or impossible. I think we go into this life-time partnership routine with very little basic needs training. Before long, the light being left on, or left off leaves you with the sense that nothing will ever work and you end up divorced or undivorced. When sometimes a direct conversation (or 2 or 3) might really effect change and growth and love will blossom in that dark corner of the entry way to long term wedded bliss. Maybe for the martians they don't like the word conversation, so they may need a list. Oh for goodness sakes, maybe they can decide how they want communication delivered, but the delivery is necessary as unpleasant as it might be, or only seem. Easy. Easy as pie, mostly. Coconut custard anyone?

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