The Economics of Relationships: When to De-Invest

A good friend of mine is a counselor. He is also a drinking buddy. Many a time he has graciously talked me through some difficult times while out for a drink, and his words always stick with me. I will find myself mulling over his insights for days, weeks, even months.

Recently, I asked him what was the right thing to do. Would this be wrong, would this make me a bad person? And his response was not what I expected. He started talking about economics. About cost-benefit analysis, this idea that you make decisions by comparing the cost of doing something with it’s benefits. As he went on, he explained that it wasn’t so much about whether it was right or wrong for me to do or not do something, but rather would it cause me more pain to do it vs not do it.

And I have been thinking about this a lot. It has totally reframed how I approach my relationships. How I view conflict, tension, and pain. It’s changed how I view my responsibility in my relationships, particularly those that have become unhealthy for me. So rather than wondering what is right or wrong, I am wondering if it will hurt me more to do it rather than not. Rather than wondering who is the villain or the victim, I wonder about the investment value.

So this week, I wanted to share my reasons for de-investing in relationships.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
You’ve heard the saying before, “Actions speak louder than words”. And it’s true. People will say things and make promises that they have no intention of keeping. You can tell someone that you love them a thousand times, but until your behavior matches that, it’s just words. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day. Promises are nothing, words are nothing, without the action. We can apologize for our mistakes over and over, but if our actions do not change, the words become meaningless.

People may not tell you how they feel about you, but they will always show you. Pay attention. If their actions are telling a very different story than their words, and that story is hurting you, it’s time to start listening to the story their actions are telling you, and re-evaluate your investment.

You’re Constantly Defending Them
If you often find yourself in a position where you  need to defend someone, chances are there’s a consistently unacceptable behavior you are trying to justify.

A friend of mine was with a guy who was, to put it bluntly, an asshole. He was very rude to her in public, very rude to her friends, and very difficult in social situations. And she would constantly defend him. Explain that he was just insecure in social situations, that he had a rough childhood, that he just had some quirks.

As kind as she was, as compassionate as she was, as patient as she was, by defending him she communicated that his actions were also okay. And so they never changed. In fact, they only got worse. When we defend and excuse our loved ones bad behavior, we give them permission to continue that behavior. And more so, they have no motivation to ever work on that behavior.

Loving and understanding someones pain is a wonderful quality. But we need to be compassionate with ourselves first. And that means setting respectable standards for how we are treated.

They Constantly Blame You for Their Behavior
It can be quite difficult to recognize unacceptable behaviors from your loved ones when you are convinced that you are somehow responsible for those behaviors. You might tell yourself they don’t reach out to you because they are busy, or because they don’t want to be a bother. Or that those jabs and put downs are just jokes, that teasing is their love language. Or that they don’t take your emotions seriously because when you were a kid you threw a lot of temper tantrums, so they have conditioned themselves to shut you down.

In other words, you justify their mistreatment of you because they have convinced you that you are the “wrong one” or the “crazy one”. You defend their actions, because those actions aren’t changing, and so you must be the cause.

But there comes a point when you realize that people who truly respected you and cared about you would encourage you to grow, not resent you for your accomplishments. They would support you when you struggle, not use your past as a way to intimidate or disparage you. They would build you up, not tear you down. And when you told them you were hurt, they would want to change that.

 

 

Relationships are hard. All relationships. The longer the relationship, the more work they are going to take. And over time you may have to re-evaluate your cost-benefit analysis. Are you investing more than you are getting back? Is your participation hurting your bottom line? Has the relationship lost its value? Or do you just need to step back and take a break while you re-evaluate?

And then you need to decide, what hurts you more: leaving, or staying?

My final thought for you is this: Go where the love is.

 

-Darci

GUEST WRITER: Trust and Care for Yourself – Final

It’s been a year since #MeToo swept the nation. So this month I decided to open up my platform to allow some other amazing women in my life to share their anger as well. Want to be a guest writer for Angry Feminist as well? Let’s talk! – Darci 

This is the final piece of a 3 piece series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2

FINAL

The decision to get a divorce was not made lightly. I have been unhappy in my marriage for the past 5 years, but not every day. There were always days that felt good, moments we shared that I thought “this is why I married him.” We didn’t talk about anything real anymore, but he still made me laugh when he was in a good mood.  We started traveling, and he let me make some decisions and followed my lead.  I could see ways that he was trying to be better and make it work.

After years of asking and hoping that my feelings would change, that he would be able to give me breathing room and not feel the need to be in control, we went to marriage counseling this year. This was a huge step that gave me hope, since bringing up counseling in the past had always caused a huge fight. Here he was finally saying that he knew we needed help and he was ready to do the work.

Except he wasn’t. At our first session, which we had planned months in advance, we were given an article about communication to read, and he forgot. And by forgot, I mean he put it in a drawer after looking at it on the table for a week. It seems small, but this was one of the ways he told me he wasn’t ready to put in the effort our relationship needed. He had already established a pattern of changing just enough to mollify me and make me feel guilty for wanting to leave; and putting the article in a drawer and not reading it was just another example of how little he thought he needed to work. He was willing to go to counseling, but he didn’t want to talk in the sessions.  He wanted to show me he was trying but couldn’t be bothered to put anything the counselor suggested into action.  Because our relationship had been full of criticism from him towards me, the counselor suggested that he should ask me before giving me critical feedback.  He was not open to this idea.

We talked in counseling about the darkest days of our marriage, and the counselor asked if I had been traumatized. My husband’s response was to say that it had been a really hard time for him. He apologized for me feeling like it was abuse but asked for understanding that it had been a really difficult point in his life and I should try not to hold it against him. He focused again on how he didn’t finish his degree, he didn’t get the job he thought he would, he wasn’t making as much money as he planned.  This response, along with everything else, showed once again that he did not believe he had really done anything that bad. He defended and excused his behavior.  He had a tendency to gaslight me, tell me that my perception of reality was wrong, that I was making things worse in my head than they really were. And he did this in our final counseling session, when I told him I would not be coming home and we would be getting a divorce.

He told me things weren’t actually that bad, and I was making it worse than it had to be. I should just forgive his behavior and move on, because he loved me. But I could not forgive abuse that was still ongoing. And he couldn’t see how he was still abusing me. He couldn’t see that when he “talked me up” to friends, it felt like an act. I know he genuinely cared for me, and was doing his best to show it, but it never seemed to come from somewhere deep. It all seemed to be driven by showing everyone else what a good husband he was or showing me why I should forgive him and do what he wanted.  He couldn’t see that telling me to talk less and not answer questions about my job, but instead talk about how great he was, isn’t a healthy relationship.  There are a million versions of quotes about “don’t let anyone dull your sparkle,” and that is exactly what he wanted me to do.  Take up less room so he could take up more.  After 6 and a half years of marriage, 5 of which were unhealthy and unhappy, I finally told him I would not be trying to fix us anymore.

I am no longer in that relationship. I am living by myself for the first time in my life. The weight of constant fear and worry that I was going to disappoint him, upset him, make him feel less than, not pay enough attention to him, talk about myself too much, see friends too often, not have enough sex, is gone. I can put the eggs in the fridge any way I like.

But more importantly, I can breathe.

My head space is not constantly filled with worry. My thoughts were always preoccupied with the weight of my failing marriage, and I’m no longer aboard a sinking ship. This is an opportunity for me to learn about myself, and to be sure I don’t fall into the same pattern again. And honestly, I could not feel more confident in my decision. I get to be my own person, to take time to reflect on my relationship and how I contributed to it. I get to read books whenever I want, listen to whatever music I want, and no one tries to tell me my choices are wrong.

This entire process, from marriage to divorce, has been a journey that didn’t turn out the way I planned, but I don’t think I would change it. My marriage and its failure has taught me many lessons I needed to learn. I have so much empathy for people who choose divorce and am much less quick to judge. I am no longer the conservative person I was when I got married. I firmly believe in equality in relationships, and in the division of emotional labor. I can now recognize narcissistic personalities easily and avoid them. I learned to speak up for myself, and that only good things will happen when I do. I learned that I am strong, independent, thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful, and worthy of a life that is happy. I learned that I should be able to ask for what I need in a relationship and expect my partner to respond. I learned to recognize emotional manipulation, and what it feels like when someone makes me responsible for their emotions. I learned that I am valuable, and I do not need to be in a relationship to be loved.

I worried that I would wake up full of regret for leaving my marriage. I was sure I would feel guilty for ending a promise that I made for life. But guilt is not a reason to stay married. I realized my feeling of guilt over wanting to end my marriage was the only thing still keeping me in it, and now that I’m out I do not have that feeling. I was not struck by lightning. My family did not disown me. My friends did not judge me, either for staying too long or not long enough. I gave my marriage my best honest try, and ultimately made a decision that is healthier for both of us. I listened to my own voice and made the choice to end it when it was clear that the relationship was unhealthy and beyond repair. My family and friends have been unendingly supportive, and I. Feel. Free.

 

-Adira

 

GUEST WRITER: Trust and Care for Yourself – Part 2

It’s been a year since #MeToo swept the nation. So this month I decided to open up my platform to allow some other amazing women in my life to share their anger as well. Want to be a guest writer for Angry Feminist as well? Let’s talk! – Darci 

This is part 2 of a 3 piece story. Check out Part 1 here

PART 2

I was 24 and 3 years into my marriage, but I was realizing things had gone very differently than I planned.  That being said, I still thought I could fix our relationship. My husband was difficult, but he had reasons to be based on his childhood.  I started going to counseling for myself, and every time I walked out the door he would fight with me.  He would say how uncomfortable he was with me talking about our issues to a stranger.  I heard him, but I kept going because I knew I needed help processing this relationship.  I invited him many times to come to couples’ counseling, and each time was met with absolute and blatant refusal, coupled with disgust that I had asked. Through a year of counseling, I started realizing his issues with me were not about me at all, but about himself.  He had an intense need to put on a good show for everyone around him, a need to be impressive in all things; be it intelligence, living situation, looks, status, whatever.  I would notice him exaggerate things to friends to sound more impressive.  If I corrected him, even kindly, he would snap at me and ask why I was saying he was wrong in front of people.  I stopped doing that.  Things were better for a while as I learned to communicate with him. He started helping around the house, he stopped saying unsupportive things about my work. This all felt like progress. I convinced myself there was still hope. I stopped going to counseling.  I was 25.

But the truth is that he was manipulating me. Any time he had something that he wanted to change about the way things were, he had to get his way. He used logic and counted on my tendency for emotional decisions to convince me I was irrational if I disagreed with him. There were countless rules I had to follow in daily life in order to make sure I wasn’t disrupting him. No reading if he was home, because that felt like him being blocked out (I am an absolute bookworm.  He used to brag about how quickly I read). Put the eggs back in the fridge this direction, not that. That’s the wrong way to microwave a taco. I fought back on each of these rules but was convinced I was probably in the wrong. He wasn’t in the wrong, I just hadn’t forgiven him for the abuse of the past. I wasn’t really being abused now. He wasn’t calling me stupid anymore. Things were better, surely.

Except they weren’t better, they were just different. He no longer tried to control how I dressed, but instead he started making me feel guilty about going out with friends. I always asked how his day was, but he rarely returned the gesture. He didn’t think we talked about his job or interests any more than mine, which was easily visible and untrue. If I wasn’t feeling amorous or physical, he would give me the silent treatment and make sure I knew I had hurt his feelings until I changed my tune. He was constantly trying to be physical in public. His need for physical affection outweighed my discomfort and need for space. I started unconsciously flinching every time he touched me because I was afraid it would turn into something more. I knew these things weren’t right, but I couldn’t justify walking away for such small things. Those aren’t abuse. That’s not a horrible person. We just had more work to do.

When my husband and I would go to social events, people were constantly asking if my husband was ok, people we barely knew, people who had no idea what was or wasn’t going on. His attitude was desperately seeking approval while at the same time trying to convince everyone in the room that he was on their level or better. And I would defend or explain his behavior, because I wanted to be a loving, supportive wife. I knew he struggled with talking with people. He said he often felt like he didn’t know what to say or how to come up with the right words. So when he was awkward or rude to people, I would say he’s just unsure of himself. He’s not actually that way, he just gets in his own way and is nervous.

My friends checked in on me constantly, asking how things were going, if things were getting better. Sometimes I was positive and optimistic, listing all the ways he had changed. He now washed the dishes every night! What progress! But when they dug deeper, they would start questioning his behavior, and my optimistic illusions couldn’t hold up. Yes, he washed the dishes, but he made sure I knew that he didn’t want to and felt it was ridiculous that I made him do it. And there were certain things he wouldn’t wash because it was “just too much trouble,” so if I cooked a meal with those things, I better wash it myself. Yes, he was better behaved in public, but he still couldn’t give someone else a compliment without making it about himself.

And somehow, this still wasn’t enough for me to leave him. I spent a year in this kind of limbo, where I knew we weren’t happy but couldn’t bring myself to end it.

Not until I started thinking about what raising a family with him would be like. Really thinking about it. Because maybe he would be great. But everything I had seen with him around kids, around our friends’ kids, was general annoyance with the noise and mess they make. But more than that, any kids we had would have to abide by his rules. They would not be allowed to make messes and mistakes. And what would happen if they didn’t follow his rules, or when they made messes or mistakes? This was my tipping point.  I was 27, we had been married for 6 years, and I went back to counseling.  This time he didn’t fight me every time I walked out the door but listened when I said that I needed to talk about things with someone other than him.  I saw this as a huge sign of progress and was hopeful that counseling would help me forgive him and move on together.

With a very conservative religious background, I have always looked at divorce as being a quitter. Everyone knows marriage is hard! Taking two people and pushing them together for life is no easy task for a saint, let alone a flesh and blood human being. I never thought I would be that person. I believed everything I heard about marriage being two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. He even started saying that to me constantly.

And I still believe that definition to be true, but it only works if both people are willing to do the work it takes. As soon as the burden falls on one person or the other, the system is bound to fail. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to do the work. He would constantly make excuses for his behavior, but always in a way that tugged on my tendency for empathy. When I brought up concerns about how he treated me, things would somehow get turned around until I was apologizing and making him feel better.  When I brought up ways I would like help, I was met with reasons that I was asking for too much. This was a relationship where his needs had to be met or I would be punished with silence and shame, but many of my needs could be explained away and mostly left alone. Every time I had a concern about our relationship, it was explained and reasoned away. At the same time, he felt competitive with me and told me so.  He told me that people ask too many questions about my job and not enough about his, so I should start turning the conversation to him instead.  He told me I “outshone” him in social situations, and I should start bringing him forward and putting myself in the background.

As I talked with my counselor about the relationship, she pointed out these narcissistic tendencies and helped me see that I really was doing all the right things to try to communicate my needs.  Unfortunately, with narcissism, there’s no room to be told you’re wrong.  I started to recognize that most of his behavior was rooted in needing to be verbally celebrated, needing approval from everyone around him.  My counselor also helped me understand co-dependency.  I always thought that term referred to relying on another person, but it means so much more.  Co-dependency can also mean relying on creating an image and maintaining it, through physical appearance, possessions, cars, clothes, etc.  This describes my ex perfectly.  Many of our arguments stemmed from me not following his mental picture of what his life should look like, either in how I dressed or acted.  I wasn’t fitting the mold of “cool trendy girl.”  I didn’t worship him and encourage others to tell him how great or interesting he was.  I stopped seeing my counselor for a while because she told me that narcissistic personalities rarely change, and she didn’t think he would.  I didn’t want to hear it and wanted to keep trying to fix my relationship. This was all earlier this year.

That might sound crazy, based on everything else he had done, but again, he was a master of emotional manipulation, and I have been raised to be a peace keeper.  I knew he had issues, but I also knew that his life had been difficult.  There are reasons for how he acts, and many of them aren’t his fault.  A difficult childhood is enough to give anyone baggage, and his was rougher than most.  Between his need for understanding and my identity as a peace keeper, I felt like I needed to stay with him and work things out.

 

-Adira

GUEST WRITER: Trust and Care for Yourself – Part 1

It’s been a year since #MeToo swept the nation. So this month I decided to open up my platform to allow some other amazing women in my life to share their anger as well. Want to be a guest writer for Angry Feminist as well? Let’s talk! – Darci 

This is part 1 of a 3 piece story.

PART 1

I am 27 years old. This year, I left my husband. And it is the best choice I have ever made for myself.

While getting divorced was the best choice I have ever made for myself, it was in no way the easiest choice. This decision took me five years to make and act on. I did not rush into this, and I strongly believe that no one should. I do not think my ex-husband was a terrible person, just someone who couldn’t face their own issues.  That being said, divorce is not the black sheep that we have made it out to be.

Let me give you some back story.

My ex-husband and I met when we were 18. We started dating within a week of meeting each other, and because we lived in the same dorms we spent essentially every waking minute together from day one. He was my first real boyfriend, my first relationship that lasted more than three months, the first person I kissed. We were madly in love. We could talk for hours on end about music, something we were both passionate about.  I felt fully comfortable talking to him, like I didn’t have to put on an act and be cooler than I was. He would buy me little gifts even though we were both poor college students and went out of his way to make me feel special.  He respected my boundaries and didn’t kiss me until I was ready. This carried on for a year and a half, and then he proposed when we were 19. Neither of us had finished college. Neither of us was out in the real world yet, but I was confident we would be good partners.  We were at a Christian school that has a reputation for “ring by spring,” and I felt like I had found my person.  My conservative religious upbringing was pointing all fingers towards marrying him.  He had a rough upbringing and his parents had a troubled marriage that we talked about constantly.  He told me how much he disliked their relationship, and how committed he was to not falling into the same patterns they had. He wanted kids right away, but I talked him out of it with the draw of traveling the world.

We were engaged for another year and a half, then married at age 21.  That first year of marriage, I continued on and finished my degree, then was hired in the career of my choice. He did not and found a blue-collar labor job that he felt was beneath him. That first year was the best year of our marriage.  We were poor, we lived in a terrible apartment on the bad side of town, we bought groceries with change, but we were incredibly happy.  He still went out of his way to tell me how much he loved me, how fantastic it was to be sharing life with me, and I felt the same about him.

The following year is when the emotional abuse began. I was 22. I found a different job, where I immediately felt a sense of belonging and fulfillment.  My paycheck increased, and we lived in a beautiful house instead of a crappy apartment.

It started small and didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. He would eat the dinner I made every night, but would find something to complain about, and would not help clean up. His reasoning was that I made that mess, I wanted to cook, therefore it was my responsibility. Always. Then the same story happened again when we got a dog. I wanted the dog; therefore, it was my responsibility to clean all the floors in the house. Always. These were both things I’d grown up watching my mother do for my father, so I didn’t bat an eye. I told him I would like some help, but his reasoning was solid and he couldn’t be moved.

And apart from those things, our relationship seemed good. We could be goofy together, we liked watching the same shows, he made me laugh and feel loved. We had a million inside jokes and were constantly making more.  I still thought our relationship was fine but was starting to realize I wasn’t the same kind of wife as my mom.  I didn’t feel it made sense for us both to be working full time jobs, but for the running of the household to fall on one person.  I knew he loved me and I loved him, but I started having questions about our relationship.  I knew he was unhappy with his job but thought that once he found a better one things would improve.

Then clearer cases started to show up.

When I was 23, I would come home after a hard day at work, talking about my frustrations, and he would stop me to say “Well you chose this, so you can’t complain. I don’t want to hear it.” That was the end of me talking about my job. But since his career was not what he “chose” he was allowed to talk about it for hours on end. He began telling me I needed to work out because I wasn’t as in shape as I should be. I look better when I wear more makeup. I should be sexier. I must be afraid of my own sexuality. I must be stupid, because I can’t navigate to a new or very recent location without asking for directions or using GPS. My job is easy and overcompensated. I wouldn’t take a keychain off my purse to fit his visual preference, so he wouldn’t talk to me at a friend’s wedding. He did not speak for the rest of the event.  For the entire drive home.  We left early because he was making everyone around us uncomfortable.

At this point, I realized I was married to someone I had completely misjudged. I found myself dreading going home. We lived somewhere that had his friends surrounding us, but none of mine, so I felt like I had no one to turn to. Eventually I broke down with a couple girlfriends, crying that my husband, who had promised to love and cherish and support me until the end of our days, thought I was worthless, stupid, ugly. He had to be right about everything. If I disagreed on something, he would beat the subject until I said he had changed my mind. We were 24 and had been married for three years now.  I was heartbroken that the person I trusted most was betraying my trust, was telling me terrible things about myself and hurting me in ways I had never thought possible.  He had promised we would always talk things through, but I began realizing that meant we would talk until I gave up on changing his mind.  This was not the partnership he promised, the open communication and respect to avoid the trap his parents fell into.

 

-Adira

To be continued….