"When we are willing to stay even a moment with uncomfortable energy, we gradually learn not to fear it." -Pema Chodron
We're often told about all these simple choices we could make to better our lives. We're told to just say what you need to say, we're told to stop worrying about everything, we're told to just leave that relationship. Needless to say, we don't hear all of these things as revelations, but rather want to slap ourselves silly because that's what we've been trying to do all along. It's always much more complicated than that because if it really were that simple, we would have already done it.
These choices are never singular; we have to make a series of hard choices every moment of every day to reach these outcomes. The verb to choose makes it seem like we have an awareness of all the little choices we make, but we don't. It makes it seem like we are in control, but that kind of control has to be developed over time with increasing awareness.
For example, let's say that you have a boyfriend who blew off your plans, without much of an explanation. You're reasonably frustrated and upset--maybe you express this to him, maybe not. He says that maybe he could show up later that night, and you agree because you really want to see him. He's still making time for you, right? It turns out that his plans ran longer than he expected, so he blows off the 'maybe' plans too. You say that you're disappointed, but that you should meet up another time when he's more available. This is an all-too-common scenario. I've experienced this scenario as well.
Over a period of time, these sorts of behaviors tend to compile into bad relationship patterns. Sometimes people have to reschedule or cancel plans, and that's completely understandable. One of the chief problems with this scenario is that the hypothetical you continues to make little choices that communicate that it's okay for him to treat you like that because you will be there to make allowances. You will accommodate him no matter what, so a) he doesn't experience negative consequences for his actions, b) he doesn't learn to respect your time, and c) he starts to see you as expendable.
Start to gain an awareness of all the little choices that occur within your relationships. These form the bedrock of relationships, and are increasingly difficult to change over time. In the scenario, for example, a better course of action would've been to express how you felt to him, but then made other plans to still have a wonderful evening. It's important not to rely on any one person, except yourself, to make sure you're happy and have good times. The best course of action in this scenario is to realize how little choices in the past set the standards for the relationship, but also to recognize that this may not be a relationship worth your time and energy.
To generalize, it is important to recognize a) the little choices that enabled this bad relationship pattern and b) maybe realize that this relationship doesn't live up to your standards.
Of course, relationships are infinitely complex and there are many behaviors, including abusive behaviors, that are in no way your fault. What I'm trying to focus on here is the places where we do have control, how we build upon unhealthy relationship patterns, and how we become stuck in relationships that are bad for us.
While some people may not be aware of the harm they cause, you have to assume that they are aware and take measures to ensure that they are aware. Oftentimes we make excuses for our partners in bad relationships, but it's impossible for them to feign ignorance if you've directly expressed to them how their behavior makes you feel. If you say, "When you blow off plans with me, it makes me feel upset and frustrated and like I don't matter," and they continue to do that behavior and/or make excuses for that behavior, you know they're okay with making you feel that way.
Sometimes we are completely aware that our partners have hurt us and will continue to hurt us, no matter what they say, but we continue to make choices that aren't in our best interests. If you have friends and family members who've seen these bad relationships, it seems absolutely absurd that you would make choices that aren't in your best interests. They're operating based on logic; however, they're forgetting that we're primarily emotional creatures. Why do we make these bad choices? Why do we continue on in bad relationships?
One simple answer is that the best choices we can make for ourselves can often be painful, terrifying, uncomfortable choices, so much so that they feel like the wrong choices. For example, it can feel a lot better to avoid bringing up issues that have been bugging you from the start of the relationship. It can be a gut-wrenching, panic-inducing choice to bring up a conversation that you really need to have, on the other hand.
Ask yourself: what are you actually saying when you bring up an issue? You're saying this is important to me. What are you actually saying when you don't bring up an issue? This isn't that important to me.
Ask yourself: what are your actions actually saying to a partner? For example, if they cancel on you, but then you let them show they up when they want, what does that say? It's saying that your time isn't that valuable, you're waiting on them, and you have nothing better to do. If they cancel on you, but then you make plans with friends and back away from the relationship, you're saying that you have an awesome life and have high standards for who you let in your life.
Doesn't matter how much you think you like a person, you have to pay more attention to how they treat you. Oftentimes we think about what we want in a person in terms of personality (e.g. charming), career, lifestyle, physical attributes, etc. These can all be very important to you, but setting standards for how you want to be treated supersedes the rest. You shouldn't give a sh*t if someone is at the top of their field, super attractive, and great to talk to if they don't treat you right. What matters most is that you feel loved, supported, and cared for. Period. Notice that I didn't say what matters most is that you are loved, supported, and cared for--I said you have to feel it, because bad partners will claim to do all those things even if you don't feel it. And what you feel is most important.
It'll take a long series of choices, big and little, to improve bad relationship patterns. Maybe these choices are about an issue that you face yourself, and it's less about your partner. Maybe these choices are about a little of you, a little of your partner, trying to improve or salvage a relationship. Maybe these choices are about whether or how to end a relationship altogether. To make the right choices in the moment, we sometimes have to sit with feelings of extreme distress. These feelings will pass, but the choice will endure and move you from point A to point B. It can feel like that discomfort will last forever, and it can feel like that means you're making the wrong decision. Once you sit with those feelings, you'll realize how much you were trapped. You'll also realize how empowering it feels to simply exist with them, and watch them pass.
I've speeded through a lot of important points in this article. After reading this you may have a lot of thoughts in your head about how to make use of this, or how I couldn't cover everything in a couple thousand words. If there's something you read in this article that struck you, though, I want you to write it down somewhere you'll come back to it. I want you to just take a minute about how one thing you read could impact your life. Just think about it, for a minute.