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Attaining "Sainthood"

By Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
November 27, 2008

Do you believe that your only choices in relationship conflict are to argue or get walked on? Ironically, accepting your lack of control over your partner gives you a new and better choice

My marriage was a rollercoaster ride between short periods of deep connection and much longer periods of tension and disconnection.  Although my devotion to having control over having this connection was totally counterproductive, another factor was certainly that my husband’s little boy was in incredible pain both from his abusive childhood and his current way of taking care of him.  Much as I tried to have control over his being triggered, by walking on eggshells around him, it did little good and he was always tumbling back into his terrible pain (for which he blamed me).  Often, he would say, “If you could only stay loving and compassionate when I get triggered, things would not get this bad and we would be okay.”  By then, of course, I was in my wounded self too, and I would always say (heatedly) “You want me to be a (expletive deleted) saint,”  feeling sorry for myself that the bar was set so impossibly high and wanting to have control over his seeing that he was setting it there so that he would change.  I thought that if I really could do it, it would let him “get away” with his behavior and besides, it was HIS responsibility to bring compassion to his little boy, not mine.

    I also believed for a long time that when married people are in conflict they should work thru the conflict and resolve it right then, keep talking until it was resolved, otherwise there was something wrong with the marriage.  It never seemed to work in my marriage though.  I brought that to an intensive once, saying, sadly, that I was not very good at communicating when we were in conflict, that I got too upset.  Margaret’s eyes widened and she asked “Why would you want to communicate? He can’t hear you.”  My head spun.  For the first time in my life, she gave me the perspective to give myself permission to NOT engage (unthinkable growing up) because it was useless to try.  So, many times after that, I did resist the temptation to try to “resolve” things.  I did realize that there was nothing to say or do.  The result, however was tense days of basically not talking about anything which was an improvement over futile struggling, I guess.
    Fast forward to the negotiation of our separation agreement.  By then I had known for 6 months that he was leaving me for another woman and it had put me on an Inner Bonding rocket ship (a great improvement over the old rollercoaster ☺ ).  I had learned to bring love and connection to my little girl rather than trying to get it from him.  Even though I felt great love for him, I was no longer trying to connect with him.  When he got triggered, I did not feel any need to do anything about it, to defend myself, to tell him what he was doing wrong, because I was no longer trying to have any control over him about anything.  I could see so clearly what I could never see when we were married, that this was totally happening because he was unable to take care of his little boy.  It had nothing to do with me.  I simply felt compassion and acceptance that this was where he was at that moment.  

   At a recent intensive this came up again, the question of what to do when someone else goes into their wounded self.  It is an issue that everyone in relationship struggles with.  And the answer is, truly, there is nothing you can do about them at all.  You have no control.  There is nothing to try to do about it.  If you are in a relationship with someone who cannot shift into the intent to learn with you or you can’t with them (and you know who you are), then you can only make it worse by trying.  Furthermore, and this is vitally important, when your wounded self shows up too because YOU are trying to control THEM, you begin a negative energy feedback loop that will circulate between you, keeping you both miserable, whether the conversation continues or not.

  But what if you could be completely happy even though your partner has just shifted into their wounded self?  What if you did not need them to be okay for you to be okay?  What if you could move to compassion because you could feel how much their inner child was hurting but at the same time realize that you are not responsible for that sad child.  I realized that this was what I had experienced during the separation agreement drama, when I really had no stake in whether my husband was okay or not, and that this is the same thing we can experience in an ongoing relationship once we let go of the illusion of having control over our partner.  Ironically, this is very close to what my husband seemed to be demanding, except back then it felt degrading, like martyrdom and now it feels joyful and totally empowering.

  Here is the tradeoff.  You give up trying to be okay by having control over someone or something you cannot control and replace it with being okay by taking care of your inner child-by not engaging with their wounded self, which could mean staying or leaving depending on what your child needs. It also means that if you do get hooked and your wounded self does show up (which is guaranteed to happen), you take the opportunity to learn by removing yourself from the situation and repairing things on the inner level.  You make being okay, your child being loved, your highest priority.  My ex-husband was right, if I had been able to do this, it would have been much better for both of us.  I though it looked like sainthood, but now I know that it is really something much, much better, being loving.


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Do not give up on your dreams. Keep moving yourself forward, bit by bit, and you will get there, just as the tiny drops of water on a stone eventually wear down the stone. Spirit supports in your highest good when you know what you want and are willing to persistently take the necessary actions in your own behalf.


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Do not give up on your dreams. Keep moving yourself forward, bit by bit, and you will get there, just as the tiny drops of water on a stone eventually wear down the stone. Spirit supports in your highest good when you know what you want and are willing to persistently take the necessary actions in your own behalf.



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