It may sound stupid but only recently I truly realized how feeling accomplished in life does not mean having the perfect marriage, always polite and cute kids, being a super patient and good tempered mother, wife, daughter, worker or friend… This is the image you sometimes perceive from the outside, when you have the impression other people are happier and more satisfied in their lives than you feel you are in that moment you look around yourself… I am pretty sure I irradiate that image myself to people who long to achieve what they can see from the exterior I have done with my life. But inevitably you hurt your loved ones sooner or later, even without wanting to, and so do they with you.
Sometimes the emotional damage of those actions cannot be undone (an affair/cheating, wrong parenting decisions with long lasting consequences or when you lost it with a family member saying words that cannot be unsaid affecting them forever). However when these situations arise, not everything is always lost: what you can do is take responsibility for your actions, apologize, admit your limits, acknowledge your loved ones’ feelings, recognize your behaviors and learn from them, analyze the unmet needs that lead you to your wrong decision making and get in touch with the fear or the pain that lay beneath it.
In some lives and families the same stories seem unbearable, unforgivable or crossing one personal no return point. Well, the truth is we all go through those moments, only we don’t always tell each other what we had to put up with as it’s fair enough to maintain some privacy for the ones involved. What I am saying is other people may have found a way out of those actions that seem irreparable at first, not to loose their relationships if at least both parties grow closer and together from that very painful experience.
Without knowing everyone else has had serious similar problems, in the face of hard times most people choose to flee, both the guilty and the victim. However in some families both parties decide instead to face reality: they may feel they both did not mean bad and are showing good will to resolve it since they think it is worth to save what they built together so far, as no building is perfect with not a single crack: you wouldn’t destroy everything from the basement for something that you messed up whilst erecting the 4th floor, would you?
We are all precious human beings who do mistakes, like that time I tried to force my 3 years old into a swimming course he absolutely did not want to attend. He liked the idea of learning to swim but he probably wanted to do so in our safe arms as he was still a bit scared of water. Instead I was a lady on a mission, as my parents never taught me to swim and I learned very late at 14 years old thanks to my beloved aunt. I wanted to give a skill for life to my child which I had sadly missed on myself (it took me a long time to feel confident enough and I am not yet completely there). So there I was, a 32 years old, with lack of sleep due to a 4 months young sibling night feeds and clearly with lack of judgment, trying to convince for a few weeks my adored son to go in the water with the instructor against any common sense or respect of his fears and getting inevitably crossed with him as he systematically refused. In the end I gave up, convinced it was the end of the world and that he would never learn as you can only get confident when you are very young, etc… And of course he diligently goes to his course now that he is 5! He absolutely adores his swimming lessons, after amazing holidays on the sea side this summer in Spain all together as a family where he got extremely water confident with us! Only I can do today is to say sorry for not having listened to him and trusted his instinct and make sure I never try to force him to do anything in the future, no matter how important or an extraordinary opportunity it may seem to me or my inner child who really wanted to achieve that dream. I feel a lot of shame for what I have done and I rarely describe the menaces and the emotional blackmail I tried on my son 2 years ago and I am aware it left some damage along the way (if you don’t do what she wants, mummy cannot love you – kind of message, as clearly I was unable to offer unconditional love at that time).
Recently the parents of my son’s best mate from school have come back from a horrible summer break, nearly splitting up. He cheated on her whilst she was away at her parents with the 3 kids for the summer holidays, trying to give him a break from the stress of the family life. She was devastated. But it’s important to note that he was too. He denied until the very end as he was trying to cover up and flee the consequences of his actions. But when she cornered him, he felt absolutely horrible to admit to her and to himself what he had done in her absence. At first she was logically in such a shock that I heard her saying sad affirmations like ‘I cannot wait to cheat on him too!’ ‘It’s definitively over’ ‘He will never see the kids again…’. Well, I can only feel compassion for both of them and what brought them to that breaking point. And mostly I felt a lot of compassion for the 3 little kids involved, the youngest being only 10 months old. However the truth may also be that he was under a lot of pressure lately: they had just purchased a very expensive house and the mum admitted that to pay the mortgage he was doing 2 jobs at the same time. Add the stress of having 3 little kids under 6, with the youngest waking both of them up regularly at night. I was not trying to justify him, I was just trying to see what had brought a guy, who seemed generally enough decent to all of us before this fact, to act in such a destructive way for the whole family he had built. An inability to say ‘I cannot cope with all of this anymore’, not knowing how to put boundaries in place for his own sanity, trying to mend his own pain with some intensity of a one night stand…? So I spoke several times to the mum, asking her to take her time before making her final decision and to seek professional support such as couple therapy at least for the kids sake and luckily she seems to have agreed to give it a second chance, open to see if there was any of her responsibility in what happened at all, even if indirect and if she can forgive him for what happened in the light of how he felt and why he acted that unreasonable way.
My husband and I had a serious conversation as well on the evening of our 7th wedding anniversary in June this year, about things that happened between the two of us in the past. We had to decide what to make of those painful events and it happened to be just a few days before the Brexit referendum. Well, a party was very hurt and the other was feeling extremely guilty. But we told each other ‘we vote remain’ using the political wording of those days. Remain in this marriage, even if there were things of ourselves or the other we did not like, we promised each other we would honestly work together to change them for the better rather that renounce to everything all together. The fear could have won our hearts, as it happened into people’s hearts all across the UK who refused the European Union altogether a few days later, instead of fighting for what really bothered them, but we did not let it happen to us.
I learned from my own experience that compassion is usually the key, for the ones we have hurt but for ourselves in the first place, as we took those wrong actions out of anger, pain, fear: the moment we stop beating ourselves up we are ready to move on and learn how naturally not to do the same mistakes again by healing the pain behind those behaviors and finding alternative healthy coping mechanism when life hits hard or we feel triggered. There is no such thing as the perfect marriage/parenting/friendship/job, there are lots of problems along the way, sometimes little, sometimes really serious, we can only choose to keep on walking next to the people that will still hurt us in life but will try to make amends in a true loving yet healthiest possible way.