I WANT A DIVORCE …FROM THE OTHER HALF OF THE COUNTRY.
To save my sanity, I took a two-month break from social media. I jumped on for some happy birthday posts and to see pictures of an out-of-state friend who’d had a baby. But, for the most part, I kept the apps deleted from my phone and steered clear in the weeks leading up to the presidential election. Yesterday, November 7th, I logged onto Facebook.
<< smacks my own forehead>>
I should have known better.
The banter I found on Facebook was representative of the divided election map, split damn near right down the middle. There were celebratory posts threaded throughout posts seething with anger about the results. One post caught my attention. Someone who was especially upset about the election results posted, “I want a divorce.” I think a nice, amicable separation and division of assets sounds attractive to a lot of us right now.
Dream on, folks.
I’m a licensed psychotherapist. I work with individuals and couples. When I get a call from a new client seeking therapeutic couples support or marital counseling, I ask lots of questions and try to get an estimated read on how far down the tanker the relationship seems to be. Believe me, I’m warranted in feeling this out before saying “yes” to taking on a new set of clients. Couples work is so hard! Give me a case of tragedy, trauma, sexual abuse, or grief and loss any day. I can maneuver through the complexity of an individual’s own personal struggles with a fair amount of grace and consistent efficiency. In couple’s work, however, you’re doing that very thing for two people at the same time. It’s tricky not to get tangled up in the sticky and compounded spiderwebs of two people’s struggles, especially when the friction in their relationship stems from the infinite loop of one person’s behaviors or reactions triggering unhealthy behaviors and reactions of the partner and vice versa, over and over again into infinity. (Sound familiar, America?)
I tell each new couple the same thing before giving them the thumbs up to start plugging sessions into my calendar. You each have to be willing to look inward at your own darkness and broken integrity with greater conviction and tenacity than your will to make your partner wrong. If both partners in a couple are not willing to participate in their own intensive individual psychotherapeutic process, I refuse to take them on as a couple. Here’s why…
In the words of the Na’vi queen in James Cameron’s film, Avatar, “it is hard to fill a cup which is already full.” When we are hurt or at risk of being hurt, every human tends to dig in our heels. Our most basic natural instinct is to strive for safety. We’ve wrapped ourselves in the cloak of perception that certainty is safer than curiosity. When we are in pain, we armor up with our staunch opinions, our justifications, our defensiveness, the support of our like-minded friends. Open-mindedness and curiosity are the opposite of what feels natural and necessary to our most inherent safety mechanisms. Rage, avoidance, defensiveness, point proving and attack aren’t lunacy. They are survivalism.
And they will keep two parties from evolving as individuals and healing the relationship of unity 100% of the time.
It is impossible to strive for healing without doing a deep dive into your own integrity. When is the last time you calibrated your personal values? Try this…
Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a big circle in the middle of the page. Start to think about personal attributes, qualities of character, and behaviors that feel truly admirable to you. Write them inside of the circle. One might consider including things like kindness, courage, honesty, self-control, patience, creativity, thoughtfulness, gratitude, love, supportive, generous, hard working, calm, empathy. Brain dump every piece of the puzzle you can think of that would characterize your most ideal self.
Then, consider the opposite of each of those items. Write those on the outside of the circle. If honesty is on the inside of your circle, then lying needs to be on the outside. If unconditional positive regard is on the inside, then shit-talking, judgement and gossip need to be on the outside. If open-mindedness or listening is on the inside, then there is no option other than writing stubbornness, defensiveness and interrupting on the outside of the circle. If kindness is on the inside, then you have no choice but to write passive aggressiveness, shaming, bullying, name calling and belittling on the outside.
Integrity involves two things that must function in conjunction with one another:
#1: Show up in the world (in your thoughts, beliefs, actions, words and responses) in alignment with the way that you say you want to show up in the world (everything that you wrote on the inside of that circle).
#2: Be consistent about it… regardless of what emotions you are having, who you are around, what situation you find yourself in, or who is (or is not) watching.
You cannot claim to live with integrity if you say that you are open-minded, but then you refuse to practice empathy with someone who is upset with you. You don’t get to expect healthy decision making around substances from your teenagers when you are drinking a bottle of wine to numb out your stress every night. You can’t bitch and moan about a presidential candidate’s past mistakes but then dismiss or justify your favored candidate’s own past corruptions. You can’t say that love and kindness are your core values then make excuses for anyone in your life (including and especially your leaders) who are consistently hurtful to others. Your claims of righteousness (faith-based or otherwise) don’t hold water when you are posting memes, making statements, or participating in behaviors that are knowingly and directly hurtful to other people.
Once upon a time, I was in my own counseling and was told, by my therapist, something that I’ve never forgotten …and never forgiven her for saying. She told me, “your biggest crazy-makers are your best teachers.” The people, groups of people, environments and situations that trigger the shit out of us in the most intense of ways are the exact lessons that we need the most. They will surface all the sediment of dysfunction within us. When those things are brought into the light, we have a choice to make. We can either deny, justify, minimize, defend, avoid or deflect. We can make excuses for our own thoughts, beliefs, words, behaviors and reactions. Or we can step back and take inventory of whether or not those things align with what we say is within our integrity. Then, and only then, we are faced with the sacred choice of whether rumble with our own darkness with a conviction for chasing our own personal growth, healing and evolution OR mindlessly give in to cravings to prove someone else wrong or to “win”.
We are wasting our energy and spinning our wheels being hateful to each other. Stop. You are feeding the problem. Look in the mirror. Turn your judgmental gaze away from others and redirect it, in the form of curious introspection, towards your own inconsistencies and misalignments. Where are YOU falling short? How can YOU get better aligned with your integrity?
Don’t wait for others to do it first, either. Be the change, right?
Then, find someone who you disagree with or don’t understand. Find a crazy maker. Move in closer. Ask questions with the true and altruistic intention of trying to understand their perspectives. The point is not to necessarily land in the same place by the end of the conversation. You don’t have to agree with each other. Connection is the point. Your willingness to set your own agendas aside and lean in will change everything.
Empathy is a skillset. It can be learned. It can be taught. Empathy is the courageous willingness to feel something inside of yourself that reflects what another person may also be feeling. Empathy is a conduit for connection. It is the pursuit of feeling our own pain so that we can relate to someone else when they are in similar pain.
Those who are currently in struggle because of the election results now know what it felt like to be on the other side of the coin 4 years ago. You are scared. You are angry. If you are among those who are currently celebrating, please take a moment to remember how it felt to be on the other side just a few short years ago. I don’t care how convicted you feel about your vote, it is never okay to dismiss another human’s pain, regardless of how tenaciously they disagree with you.
And if you are unhappy about the current election results, I implore you to remember the relief and joy you felt 4 years ago. It is true that many people feel safer now. It is true that many people truly do feel very hopeful right now. It is not okay for you to dismiss that or to try to break it. The division does not mend the wounds. It does not move anyone forward. If anyone is “right”, then everyone is wrong. This cannot be about right or wrong. There’s no such thing anyway! It must be about integrating our differences to create a diverse tapestry.
Let’s stop playing the broken record. Let’s change the narrative. Let’s actually become the United States of America, not because we all agree about everything, but because we choose connection over competition in spite of our differences, and because we chose compassion over point proving, and listening over talking, and integrity over blame-shifting or excuse making. Let’s make our way closer towards the mid-ground and get out of the extreme polarization. When we stubbornly stay “far right” or “far left”, we break the teeter-totter.
Certainty and static conviction do not equate to safety. Curiosity, compassion and connection, however… yes. THIS. This is the combination that will move the trajectory of human okayness forward and upward.
It is time. Shut your mouths and listen to each other. When you speak, use more question marks than periods. Choose love.
No relationship is unbreakable. Divorce, in this case, will be civil war. I don’t know about you, but I do not want that in my backyard.
Start with yourself.
Take deep breaths, lots of them.
Do something kind for someone who you don’t think deserves it.
Be willing to be wrong.
Evolve or repeat, people.
Evolve or repeat.