Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Witnessing ourselves in relationships


Photo credit: photodune

“Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions,” reads a joke circulating on Facebook. But sometimes even smart people make stupid decisions. Many times we don’t actually make conscious decisions but repeat similar mistakes again and again. Part of growing up and learning how to make good decisions is by recognizing our own behavior patterns and stopping ourselves. Becoming conscious requires learning to recognize subconscious emotions. If you get a disturbing feeling that you have felt this emotion before, this can serve as a warning that you are behaving unconsciously.
For example, when Gina became engaged to Frederic, she was madly in love and tried to please him. This desire for approval made her vulnerable when he would treat her in an accusing way. “Why didn’t you pick up the phone? What were you doing? Who were you talking to? Why haven’t you told me about this friend before?”
Gina’s first instinct was to reassure him of her innocence, but as this pattern continued, she realized she was experiencing a familiar emotion: the fearful childhood feeling of being “in trouble” with her parents. Once she realized that she was engaging in a subconscious reaction, she decided to bring her relationship into adulthood: Making mutual respect her goal, she resolved to stop taking her fiance’s controlling behavior behavior so seriously. She could either stop allowing him to talk to her this way, or she could walk away from the relationship. Either way, she refused to allow herself to be bullied by him anymore.
Desperate housewife Amira found herself in a situation where her husband grudgingly tolerated her. He decided he didn’t want her anymore and “sent her back to her parents.” However, 45 days later, her parents sent her back without explanation. But it sent the message that the parents didn’t want her either. Terrified of being abandoned, she engaged in passive aggressive dependency behavior to make it hard for her husband to divorce her – refusing to speak English, refusing to learn how to drive a car, and refusing to leave the house by herself, not even to buy food. How easy it is to resort to victimhood when one’s parent’s have impressed upon a person that love is conditional, and that the best one can hope for in life is to be grudgingly tolerated.
In both of these situations, the women are not only victims of their own patterns but also they are receiving the “Other” treatment.The man is treating them like a thing he owns, like chattel, which he judges according to whether or not it is living up to his hopes and expectations. When she does not please him, his instinct is either to assert control over her or to throw her in the garbage. There is no concept in his mind of a relationship with a human being of equal value. This male chauvenist attitude comes from a combination of cultural conditioning and emotional immaturity.
How can a woman react in order to make a man regard her with the same respect as he requires for himself? The solution is three-fold: she must be willing to end the relationship, love herself enough not to take neurotic responsibility for his problems relating to women, and she must recognize that he too is a victim of subconscious programming,
Compare Amira the unwanted wife to Maryem, who discovered her husband was secretly visiting other women. She threatened him that she would take their children back to her country to live with her parents if he did not immediately recommit to their marriage. Prior to this ultimatum, her husband had been engaging in the mindset of blaming his wife and children for his lack of accomplishments in life and taking revenge on her relative financial success by cheating on her. But faced with the threat of losing his family, he snapped out of this childish victim mindset and took responsibility.
It is remarkable to observe how we react in situations of uncertainty and how this corresponds to our childhood patterning as well as how we have emerged from it.
Shana’s cell phone malfunctioned for 24 hours, so that she was not receiving texts and her husband was not receiving her texts. Her first reaction was to assume he was angry with her. She went over every text she had sent to try and figure out what she had done wrong. But before resorting to abject apologizing without knowing her crime, as she habitually did with her first husband, who had frequently engaged at giving her the silent treatment, she realized that she was engaging in a past pattern and stopped herself from begging for forgiveness. She then went to the other extreme, thinking angrily that if her second husband was going to engage in passive aggressive silence instead of telling her why he’s angry, she would not tolerate it. She started going through a mental list of other men who might want her if this marriage didn’t work out.
Just then, her husband called. “I was so worried about you! I thought something happened to you. Why didn’t you return my texts?”
Shana was so relieved that he was not angry with her, and doubly relieved she had not apologized for nothing! She recognized that she had made considerable progress in protecting her dignity since her previous marriage in that regard. She also noted that she still had serious trust issues. Her husband’s caring reaction made her realize that she was so lucky to have him, and restored her faith in the relationship. His caring nature was born of a decision to live more consciously and to engage in healthier relationships. Ironically, Amira was Shana’s husband’s first wife. How is that the same man would treat two women so very differently? What is it about our attitudes that influence how others treat us?
Learning to be a witness of ourselves with others is one of the most exciting and meaningful paths we can take in life. Those who don’t do it, never fully mature. Those who do, break the chains of social conditioning taught by past generations, and empower themselves and others with enlightened perception and self-management skills.

 Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a contributing writer for The Muslim Observer. Her views are her own.

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