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THINKING - February 2012

Life is tough in many ways and we all struggle with our own difficulties, looking for support from those we are close to and not always getting it. Feeling let down, abandoned or misunderstood, I don’t imagine many of us mean to but we often behave worst towards those we love most. I certainly do not exempt myself from that charge. We justify this by saying: if I can’t ‘be myself’ with those closest to me, what kind of a relationship is this?

Having struggled with chronic illness and enforced life-change for many years, I am only too aware of the stresses and strains that this brings to bear on close relationships. EaZyD and I continue to pace delicately along the fine line that lies between staying together, and not, with no real certainty of where we may yet end up but with, I hope, lessons learnt that will guide us to a less turbulent future.

Ruefully, I have to admit, we have both behaved worse than we might ever have believed we could during this period. Luckily though, we have also discovered that we are more forgiving of each others bad behaviour than we are of our own. I would wish you all this latter boon; it really has helped in keeping us together … well, that, some mutual respect, a lot of laughter and the following advice I wish I'd been given:

However hard done by you feel, however awful the catalyst for conflict, however self-justified you are, if ‘being yourself’ involves systematic, truly unkind and bad behaviour, such that you would never show to strangers, it really is not OK to inflict this upon those you love.

You owe it to yourself, and everyone around you, to behave like a grown adult when under stress rather than a badly behaved child. So, take a deep breath or two, try not to do anything you will later regret, make kind choices and treat those you love with at least as much regard as you would a complete stranger and hopefully more so. And, if your partner refuses to do the same, withdraw from confrontation, insist on some time, take objective advice (like, from a counsellor not a best mate or family!), think about the best outcome for you and those affected that you care about and wait, until all heads are cooler, before making life-changing decisions.

You might be tempted to move on here, secure in the righteous warmth of your own world, but I would refer you, first, to a Sunday Times article of 19 February (full article is behind a paywall), by India Knight writing about a sketch of the Huhnes in court:

The more you stare at the picture [of them] the more depressing it becomes. The ex-Huhnes were married for a quarter of a century and have five children and one grandchild. Obviously everybody’s furious. But really — can these two not-stupid people not evolve a bit? Do they have to be quite so babyish? ...

I see two people who put themselves first, at whatever cost, and sod everybody else ... [people who] are so blinded by ego and narcissism that they believe their feelings and emotions are the only ones that matter. …

Why do so few people care about collateral damage? It’s even worse: people knowingly inflict collateral damage and then wring their hands for all eternity about how their children don’t seem that happy or well adjusted. Some people who do this are incredibly stupid and so damaged that they are unable to see patterns repeating themselves.

While this is no less sad I sort of forgive them because you can’t demand that broken people mend things. But when the people in question are intelligent, this kind of behaviour is completely unforgivable. Over long years of observing it, I have come to the conclusion that people behave like this because they think they’re special. Their pain is not like your pain. Their feelings of injury are deeper than yours. They’re sensitive.

Sure, they would behave decently if they could but you can’t possibly have any idea of the awfulness of their situation. It’s almost as though they were the first person to experience divorce or separation or betrayal or whatever.

One in three marriages, Chris and Vicky, ends in divorce and the reasons for the divorces are seldom joyous. You’re not special at all: you’re a statistic. Normal people soldier on and try to do their best by each other and by their children — through gritted teeth, with the aid of antidepressants, by becoming good at acting, whatever it takes. Because normal people realise that the end of a marriage doesn’t have to mean the end of a family.

Then there are the other sort of people, who because a bomb has been lobbed into their life feel no compunction whatsoever to shield anyone from the damage. What more is there left to say? The sadness is that here are two people who don’t understand that you can make a happy — or happyish — ending if you put your mind to it. It just involves caring a little bit about other people...

Scary, huh? I guess we all just need to consider that no one’s life, or relationship, is without problems and to each of us, our own issues seem, and are, the worst. As I see friends beset with problems as severe but different from my own, I realise that life is not a competition in this way. Bad times are bad times however they come at us. We might as well try to cope together with grace and, in 'being ourselves', choose to be the best self that we can be rather than the worst we are capable of. It is a choice.

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