My relationship of almost three years ended last year. After a breakup like that one, I often try to figure out where I went wrong, and more importantly, how I can be a better person because of it.
Shortly after the breakup, I bought a book called Beyond Blame. I realized long before the breakup occurred that I wasn’t getting my needs met. And instead of continually striving towards constructive measures to get them met, I fell into a cauldron of destructive blame – of both myself and my ex.
It was the constant blaming of myself that was the most damaging for me. I took too much responsibility for the dysfunction in the relationship, not allowing for my partner to step up and own his own shortcomings. I realize now that I should have walked away when it became clear that he couldn’t or wouldn’t step up, but hindsight is always 20/20, right? At the time, that route seemed like giving in to defeat, taking the easy way out, giving up. It would’ve been a better alternative to what happened.
We’d had a fight. It was a nasty one. Recently, I came across the letter I wrote to him two days after that fight and two days before he stated “It’s over.” I won’t reproduce it in its entirety, but basically, it was an admission of the pieces of our fight that I felt responsible for, a declaration of my love and willingness to move forward, and it ended with, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
I believe that when we hurt others with our words and actions, even when we feel we were right or did not do anything wrong, we owe the other person an apology. As a way of owning the consequences of our words and actions. As a way of showing love and respect for someone we care about. As a way of putting love above the needs of our ego.
As you can imagine, his response to the letter wasn’t positive since he broke up with me two days later. He never apologized for his part in the showdown. Perhaps in his mind, the culpability was entirely mine. Granted, I took a lot of the responsibility for the incident I reference, trying to be the bigger person, trying to get to a place where we could fix things; I’ve had a lot of regret over it since, wondering if I shouldn’t have put myself out there. That is not how I operate though. At the end of the day, I want my head to hit the pillow knowing that I took responsibility for my behavior, that my conscience and heart are clear.
There is a passage in Beyond Blame that was very healing for me. The author, Dr. Alasko says, “Being constantly angry about another person’s bad behavior keeps you from developing healthy coping skills and making important decisions that are in your own best interests”.
Had I read this sooner, I would’ve realized that my anger over not getting what I needed was causing both of us unnecessary hurt. My anger was not changing his behavior. My anger was not accomplishing anything but making me feel more and more insane. Had I seen that passage earlier, perhaps I would’ve left him to live his life and me to live mine. Maybe this is what prompted him to take the action he did.
I realize now that it didn’t matter what I said in that letter. It didn’t matter how many times I apologized. I took the steps I needed to own my part in it, and the person I loved chose not to take the same steps. His own personal limitations, a concept discussed in-depth throughout the book, wouldn’t allow him to say “I’m sorry” or stay committed to working it out.
It’s painful to think of it that way, but I’ve learned a very important lesson in all of this: no matter how much work we do on ourselves, we will mess up and people can choose to forgive us or they can choose not to. And no matter how royally we mess up, that gives no one the right to treat us with disrespect or as inferior human beings because guaranteed, they too have messed up. We all have weaknesses and flaws. A strong person is capable of acknowledging them, addressing them and doing whatever needs to be done to strengthen them. We cannot lord mistakes over someone as if they are the sum total of those mistakes because no one is all bad. Not even the worst of the lot on the earth. Well, except maybe my uncle, but that’s up for debate too, I suppose.
This aspect of the concept of mistakes is addressed in The Four Agreements. Don Miguel Ruiz asks the question, “How many times do we pay for one mistake?” and also, “How many times do we make our spouse, our children, or our parents pay for the same mistake?” To me this concept would be the equivalent of trying a criminal every month for the same crime. And yet, we do exactly this, rehashing, regurgitating, and recycling the same offenses over and over again as a way of healing our own pain. It’d be so much easier on everyone if we just did the work to process the hurt, heal it and move on.
How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves. If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again and again, and again. If we have a wife or husband he or she also reminds us of the mistake, so we can judge ourselves again, punish ourselves again, and find ourselves guilty again. Is this fair?”
Of course, this isn’t fair. And consciously, we can all agree on that fact. It’s not as easy in the thick of it. It has taken me months, but I am learning to release myself of the excess culpability that I took on. The needless blame didn’t help me, and it didn’t help him. I am releasing myself from the constant “what ifs” and “if onlys”. It didn’t matter what I did, said or felt if he couldn’t see me. If he continually chose to blame me for all of our problems.
Thankfully, I see me. I see my heart. I see the tremendous love I had for him, and the love I continue to have for myself. In the end, the best thing that could’ve happened to me was letting go of that relationship. I now have a chance to nurture myself in love without anger and resentment towards a person who could not accept their own flawed nature or love me in spite of mine.
I know that I am flawed. I will always be flawed, in the sense that as an imperfect human being, I will make mistakes. I will act irrationally. I will overreact. I will fail to control my anger. I will raise my voice. I am imperfect, and I will continue to make mistakes. I will also do all of those things that make me a fantastic partner, make me loving and lovable, caring, and a conscious human being. I am constantly striving to be a person who makes me proud, to see myself clearly and to breathe healing into the spaces that hurt the most to grow. For that, I can have no regrets, neither about the person I have been nor the person I am. I am grateful. I am hopeful. And I am free. I hope that he can say the same.
If you’d like to read more about blame and its destructive nature, or as the author coins it, “the most toxic form of emotional bullshit,” I highly recommend the book, Beyond Blame by Carl Alasko, PhD.