In Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, Dr. Pauline Boss describes an alternative to ending a relationship because it’s not everything we wish for. By that she means we can choose to retain the relationship and find peace by consciously deciding that a relationship is worth preserving, even though parts of it are painful.
This is not to pretend that nothing is wrong, or that bad behavior must be silently borne; victimhood leads to smoldering resentment. No, the attitude Dr. Boss describes is empowering because the acceptance is a conscious choice.
I’ve seen this lived out in inspiring ways.
In his memoir, In The Secret Service (which I co-wrote with my husband), Jerry Parr describes a challenging life with his father, an unemployed alcoholic. But he loved Jerry and showed it. Jerry returned the love, fully aware of his dad’s shortcomings. His father was good enough — for him.
Spouses, too, can be good enough. I know a woman I’ll call Elise, whose husband takes delight in making loud, public inappropriate remarks. A third friend, who shouldn’t have, asked Elise, “Are you aware of how gross Jonathan can be?” Elise said, without a trace of embarrassment, “Sure. I hear him. He’s not going to change. I had to choose a long time ago whether I’d be happier without him or staying and putting up with his nonsense. He’s mostly a good companion. He’s sexy. He’s funny, he has intelligent opinions. He’s a gourmet cook. Except for the vulgarity, I enjoy his company. I decided to accept him as he is and stay.” Jonathan was a good enough husband.
Sig and I often mediate with adult siblings who carry wounds from childhood. Sometimes they have stopped speaking. They want to rehash ancient hurts, some of which are real and deep. “You turned Mom against me,” or “You’re still a control freak.” Nursing old hurts can feel good – for about five minutes. Then the pain resurfaces, stronger than ever.
You may have grown up knowing your mother preferred another child. The memory of that might pain you. Still, Mom may have done the best she could, given the family’s financial struggles or her own bad health. Your little sister was the beneficiary of favoritism, but why blame her? Now that you’re both adults, can you find something to appreciate and admire in her? Can you be her big sister, even though at times she still reminds you of a spoiled brat? That bossy big brother is a pain – but . . . Remember the times he stuck up for you? Taught you to ride a bike or shoot baskets? Helped you get a job?
Whether you feel an issue exists with a spouse, sibling, parent or friend, sometimes you have to accept it and believe they are good enough. Would you rather be “right” and stick it to him – or still have a big brother when this is over?
There can be a lot of liberation – something akin to forgiveness, even – and certainly empowerment — in deliberately deciding, Mom… (husband, brother, sister) isn’t everything I want or need. But we’re still family. They’re good enough.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.