Archive for September, 2008

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Guarantee Mentality: The Cancer of Relationships

September 24, 2008

Over the course of the last several years, I have seen the romantic relationships of many of my friends struggle, crumble and finally fail. There seems to be something inherently difficult in creating a satifying, fulfilling or succesful relationship. In pondering this topic, one day I had an ephiphany; most people view relationships with a guarantee mentality. What do I mean by this?

When we buy a product, such as a car or expensive piece of electronic equipment, we get a manufacturers warranty. This warranty assures, or “guarantees” us that if something goes wrong with our new toy, the manufacturer will either repair or replace the item. We need do nothing. All of the burden of fixing the problem falls on the shoulders of the manufacturer. In this consumption society, we have become accustomed to, rely on and outright expect others to fix any problem we may have.

I have come to the conclusion that this is how many, if not most, people view relationships. Perhaps not consciously but most likely unconsciously. If something is wrong in our relationships, we first blame the creation of the problem on our significant other. (If our car breaks down it is the manufacturer’s fault, right?) Second, we expect, and often demand that our partner fix the problem. After all, “it couldn’t be me who caused this problem. And besides, when we entered into this relationship you promised to stay in the relationship and to solve our problems. So do it!” I call this the guarantee mentality.

So, what is wrong with this? This mentality can, and eventually will doom your relationship to failure. If we always look to  the other to change or solve our relationship problems, we are not truly invested in the success of the relationship. Successful relationships are, or should be, co-creative. Two people must work together to define their relationship and resolve differences as they arise. It cannot fall on the shoulders of only one partner. When that happens it build resentment and contempt; a true relationship nuclear bomb. Once contempt sets in, it is like a disease that spreads and festers. By the time it is discovered, the entire system is infected and death is imminent.

But we can prevent this from happening. How? First, we must stay conscious in our relationship. We must voice our concerns as they arise and feel safe to express our feelings. We must own our part – and yes, there always is one – in any problem. We need to strive to understand before seeking to be understood. And we must be willing to work hard to have effective communication with our partner. It is not simply enough to listen. We must truly hear our partners and let them know they have been heard.

It sounds much harder than it needs to be. Look outside yourself and put your significant other first. If both parties to a relationship do this, everything else will come naturally.

The only guarantee we should expect or demand is from ourselves; to be the best we can be. To get the most out of a relationship we should expect and demand of ourself that which we expect and demand of our partner. Nothing less will result in success.

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I Am Resigning from My Family

September 15, 2008

My heart is broken. I am getting married on Saturday October 18 to someone who has opened my heart and shown me what it feels like to truly be loved for who I am and to love deeply. There is nothing more powerful than that feeling and I can’t wait to pledge my life and love to this incredible person. October 18 will be one of the most important days of my life and I want to share my joy with those I love and who are important to me. I want to be surrounded by family and friends who will bear witness to our celebration.

So why the broken heart you ask? Yesterday when I returned home from an out of town trip, I received an rsvp from my youngest sister declining to attend the wedding. I haven’t spoken with her since I called her in May to tell her of the wedding and to save the date. At the time her response was “I will do the best I can to be there but I might have homework (she is in college) and the girls (my nieces) may have a softball tournament.” After confessing my pain, there was no apology, no congratulations, no questions about details, no shared joy, just a short and somewhat strident retort “I will do the best I can.” Here I was telling her about one of the most important days of my life and how much I wanted her and her family to join us in the celebration and all she could say was “I will do the best I can?”  I hung up hurt and confused.

In the months that followed I have not had one single call from her to ask about the wedding or any of the details. There has been no sharing of my joy and happiness and no efforts to participate in any way. Nothing, nada, zip. I tried to talk to my mother about it but she just said something about my sister being busy and that it would work out. Even my mother has not asked for many details about the wedding. I get the sense she doesn’t know what to say so has opted to say nothing or very little. There seems to be no excitement about this momentous occasion the part of my family. This is in stark contrast to my partner’s family who is excited and enthusiastic. Every single one of my partner’s four siblings is attending and has shown nothing but excitement about the wedding.

Now please understand, I am an adult, 47 years old, and marrying another woman. My family has known about my lifestyle for nearly 20 years and except for their initial discomfort and distress some 19 years ago they have seemed to accept me and the various women I have had in my life over the years. I have participated in their lives and they in mine. Now I don’t know what to think.

I was raised to believe that blood is thicker than water and that you can’t depend on anyone except your family. Recently my father was reminding me, even though it felt like a lecture, that after he and my mother depart this life I only have my sisters to count on. He told me that we need to get along and be there for each other. After all, he said, you only have each other. Throughout my life I have taken these words to heart. While I may not have always been the best sister I have been there in the moments they needed me most and I have shared their joys and sorrows. 

My wedding is one of the most important events of my life. It is something I, as a gay woman, never thought I would have the chance to experience – to marry the person of my choosing and to have our relationship legally and publicly validated- to celebrate our love for each other with friends and family by our side. By her declination my sister is telling me that neither I or my partner are important, that our relationship is meaningless, certainly less meaningful than a softball tournament that a thirteen and ten year old girl have to play in.

To say I am hurt is an understatement.  The pain I feel is deep and unrelenting. I feel such a huge loss and so much grief, it is as if a death has occurred. And it has. I have lost my biological sister. Her decision flies in the face of everything my father taught me about family. It wounds me deep to the core and leaves me feeling sad and alone, as if I don’t have a sister at all. My father was wrong, you can’t count on your sisters.

And so, I have decided to resign from my family. At least from the role of sister. I don’t want to see or talk with my sister. I don’t want her to call or write or even send an email. I no longer want to participate in her life and don’t want her in mine. Harsh, you might say, but I have to protect my heart from further pain. Her decision to attend a youth softball game over my wedding speaks volumes about my place in her heart and her life. If I mean so little to her it is best that we have no relationship at all. Maybe I won’t always feel this way but today that is how I am feeling.

There is a saying “Friends are the family we choose.” And luckily for me I have some of the most incredible friends anyone could ever want. Several of my closest friends are flying in from across the country to celebrate this incredible and important event with me. They are excited and happy for me. One of my best friends who can’t attend because her 86 year old mother is taking her and her family on a cruise, sat down with me the other day and wanted to hear every minute detail about the wedding, from my dress to the napkins, to the schedule of events, so she could have a picture in her mind of the day and share in my joy. Her happiness for me was all over her face and it filled my heart. She insists that I must send her pictures and tells me she will be thinking of me on October 18. She tells me how much she wishes she could be with us and to help us celebrate. Her love and kindness are great gifts to me and I am blessed to have her as my friend. My sister should take a lesson.

In my quietest moments I wonder if I am overreacting. I addressed this with a group of friends this past weekend (when I simply suspected that my sister would make this decision) and to a one they said no, that if she decided to attend a softball game over my wedding it would be wrong and that I would be justified to be hurt and angry.  They wondered why she would ever do that and what was really motivating her decision.  Some asked why my parents weren’t stepping up to the plate to intervene and tell her she needed to be there. Most just simply couldn’t understand why my family isn’t more involved or excited for me. And everyone felt and shared my pain.

Maybe time will heal this wound. Maybe this is the final step on the journey of separation from my family.  I don’t know. I just know that my heart is broken.