Saturday, February 14, 2015

Marriage Aftermath

Have you ever pondered the oddness of the term, "aftermath"?

I reckon you can conceive of it as what happens after you've totted up the pluses and minuses of a situation—which is a tender calculation I've just been going through with Ma'ikwe, after she announced eight days ago that our marriage was done.

As you might imagine, Ma'ikwe went through her own calculus in determining whether it was time to move on—and I believe she did this carefully and with sensitivity. While I'm not happy with her conclusion, I fully believe in her right to make this call. Good things don't happen from someone staying longer than they think is good, say because of guilt, obligation, or pity.

After I rode the first waves of emotional response on my own (and with the support of friends; I got a lot of email), Ma'ikwe and I began an email exchange that has been invaluable to me—which, ironically, showcased just how good our relationship can be—where we each got to explain how we related to events of the last month and the final sequence that led to the demise of our partnership. This was important because, right up until the end, I was viewing our challenging times as difficult, yet constructive—while Ma'ikwe was convincing herself that it was time to pull the plug. While painful, it was instructive to plumb the information buried in the gap between our perceptions.

I was grateful that Ma'ikwe was willing to frame the larger picture of her frustration and analysis with me, and to take the time to point out how my behaviors didn't work for her. After four days of this back-and-forth I was able to write:

As I sit with what you’ve experienced as my criticality, my narcissism, my resistance to your ideas, my inability to provide empathy when you're struggling, my failure to follow through on commitments, my inability to honor requests that matter a lot to you, and my competitive one-upmanship it’s a fairly grim picture, and makes me wonder at the folly (even irresponsibility) of presuming that I’m capable of being anyone’s partner. Looked at from this perspective, I’m humbled that you hung in there with me as long as you did. Thank you. Your loving me has been a precious gift.

Ma'ikwe had a complex response to this. On the one hand, it showed I was hearing what she was complaining about, and she wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of my continuing to do personal work in an attempt to address these behaviors.

On the other hand, she encouraged me to soften what I did with her rejection because she was only saying that I was a poor partner for her. Well, this is tricky ground to navigate with sure footing. While Ma'ikwe and I agree that we both could have been better partners, I think it's dangerous for me to slough off responsibility for what went awry (laying it at her feet instead). Better, I think, is to try to own all that I can and see what I can do with it. (Ma'ikwe will have her own version of this, but that's her business.) So I'm facing a large hill to climb.

While there are ways in which it's only possible to work on intimacy dynamics in an intimate relationship (and I'm not seeing a clear pathway to that given all the barnacles on my hull), I am hopeful that most of Ma'ikwe's issues are tractable in the context of friendships and relationships with clients—both of which I have in abundance. So I'm holding onto the idea that I can continue my work without necessarily putting another partner at risk.

I intuit that my main challenge will be remaining open for engagement, and not playing it safe. It's the work I need to address after doing the math. We'll see how it goes.

1 comment:

Liz E said...

I am humbled and amazed at your willingness to be vulnerable in such a public place. In the last few years I have thought about the unique challenges of being a damaged adult, and how it factors into developing meaningful relationships with others. I use the word damaged not to indicate a lack of value, mearly to indicate that the journey of life has left scars behind. Perhaps its only an illusion that youth, in it's ignorance, is more accepting and willing to explore the unknown. I hope that age can provide clarity in steering through the waters of time. Experience should be able to help us navigate the turbulence. It sounds like you have an amazing support network. Allow yourself to accept their help.