Monday, April 14, 2008

Losing the capacity for conflict

I had been led to believe that all relationships are fraught with difficulty.... that it is always just a matter of degree and the primary thing to learn is how to ‘manage’ these conflicts or differences. While each of the primary intimate relationships I have had in my life brought me some joy or pleasure, all have also been war zones. It is no surprise, therefore, that all have ended - and usually unpleasantly.

While there were a few ‘loves’ prior to my twentieth birthday, my first major relationship began in my twentieth year. He was smart and funny and I was drawn to him for these reasons. Ultimately, and with the wisdom of retrospect, I recognize that we were doomed because we did not have shared values and I did not know myself well enough to understand that this was important or even to fully understand what my values were, necessarily. We fought. I was often frustrated and lonely. I left for a love that was born of need and passion.

I loved the next love passionately, and we enjoyed an amazing physical relationship and shared history and values. The passion did not stop in the bedroom.... and we fought just as passionately. I’m not sure what about exactly... except that I have come to understand that while brilliant, he is a person of great pain, and his pain has crippled him so badly that he has become incapable of maturing, of finding balance or lasting joy. His cynicism and pain, while often bitingly amusing is also capable of being directed with venom at those he loves.

When I left I had such a big hole in my heart that I lost 15 pounds in a month and couldn’t engage properly with another man for over three years. I played with non-monogamous relationships and made a concerted effort to build friendships with women; as well as beginning a very long journey of personal therapy that was to last off and on for the next 20 or more years. I began to look inward at who I was and what was important to me. I fell in love with causes, and found some sense of purpose.

After three years I began to feel the pull for the ‘partnership’ again; and in retrospect I think my biological clock had begun to tick a little louder. He was young, gentle, kind, and he loved me. I ignored some very important early signals and we lived happily and relatively peacefully for a few years. We had a beautiful child and we were in love with both each other and the child. But the ‘real world’ has a way of intruding on a gentle way of being... and we were incompatible in our ways of dealing with these demands. Stress was incompatible with our relationship and we fought... we fought often... we fought with bitterness and pain. I felt abandoned, lonely, and on my own. I left for a love that promised strength and protection.

I was duped. The strength and protection was a mirage. Perhaps a mirage born of my own need to see what I wanted or what my exhausted self needed to see. I fell in love, again, with the wounded child. Perhaps I was always falling in love with the wounded child.... the wounded child within? This time it almost killed me and left me doubtful of my ability to ever chose a love that would be rewarding. Fortunately, it also drove me deeper into therapy and left me with a greatly reduced capacity for conflict.

I am, apparently, a very very slow learner. All my life I have been a fighter... I have fought to be accepted, I have fought to be loved, I have fought to be heard, I have fought to have my needs met, and all it has gotten me is the emotional shit kicked out of me. It has slowly dawned on me that it is really quite possible to have happy rewarding relationships that do not include regular, painful conflict. Whoever, or whatever, led me to believe that fighting was an essential part of relationships set me up. While it might have been true that I needed to fight during one period of my personal development; I held on to this practise for far to long. I needed to learn what is worth fighting for, and how to do it in a non destructive manner.

I have finally learned that if the dynamics of a certain relationship seems to require that I feel the need to fight to be heard, or have my needs met then I am quite likely much better off without that relationship. I have learned, that I can, without much pain, walk away from these toxic relationships - whether temporarily or permanently. Energy spent fighting can so much more productively be placed in other relationships - ones that do not demand that I fight. Life is too short, as they say, and the world is full of people and possible relationships that I am missing by expending unnecessary negative energy on relationships, that while possibly full of love, are also full of pain and suffering.

My capacity for conflict has been, finally, beaten (by myself and others) out of me. At least that is my most fervent hope.

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