My divorce was finalised last week, which left me with very mixed feelings – of relief, that the whole process was over; and of sadness that things hadn’t worked out in the way that we had both hoped for. But at least my now ex-wife and I worked through it all with a good amount of mutual respect and acceptance, and without any of the bitterness and acrimony that accompanies so many marriage break-ups.
Reflecting on our time together, I feel that in many ways I was never a real person to my ex. She seemed to either adore or resent me, both of which I now think were projections of her own needs and fears. I imagine that being adored is like a mild version of what it feels like to be a celebrity, with people falling in love with an image we’re projecting without much idea of, or interest in, who we actually are. It’s a feeling that’s often at the heart of romantic liaisons, but because it’s not based in reality, it will often turn into disappointment and resentment.
One thing I’ve learned is that when we don’t share feelings with our partner, they will fester and poison our thoughts and action, turning into stones which will slowly but surely build a wall of defensiveness and misunderstanding. By bringing my buried hurts out into the light, I can get them in perspective and begin to heal them, all of which improves my ability to act in a more balanced and secure way. I understand now that my ex-wife had cut herself off from her own feelings because of past painful experiences, and so she couldn’t share them with me very well or connect with mine. This was a recipe for disconnection in our relationship.
In future, I will be more careful to talk to a partner in an open-hearted way to minimise the possibility of my words being interpreted as criticism. And by sharing my feelings with her, and asking for honest feedback, I can get my own hurt reactions into perspective and begin to understand where they come from so that I can manage them better.
As I see it now, ‘real’ love is a simultaneous realisation by two people of how marvellous they both are in their ordinariness. And when they make love, they’re not looking for proof of how special they are – but are embodying and celebrating the mutual attraction of masculine and feminine which is found everywhere. Real love avoids expectations and the shame that comes from not being able to live up to someone else’s fantasy of who they hope we are or want us to be – which may not have much to do with our true identity.
Real love grows when each person shares what they need, and what they can’t accept – without judgement or blame. If I do find myself under attack, it’s up to me to understand whether it’s because of something I’ve said or done. Instead of ‘taking offence’, I can listen to what’s being expressed, own up to whatever actually my responsibility, and gently reflect back the rest in the hope that it will help my partner become more self-aware.
Few things are more powerful and rewarding that to feel fully known and accepted by another, and to offer that to them in return – without worrying whether my needs and feelings are ‘justifiable’, and with the confidence that they won’t take any shit from me. If only my ex-wife and I had been able to do that from the early days of our relationship, we might still be together now.
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