It was during a particularly tense session of couple’s therapy that Kelly turned to Robert, her partner of 8 years and said; “You agreed that you would work at paying down your debt but I don’t see that you are doing that!” Robert who was clearly offended sprang forth with anger, “What right do you have to accuse me when I work hard everyday; just as hard as you do?” Kelly was about to go for his therapeutic jugular when I interrupted her.
“Kelly, when you met Robert what information did you have about his financial situation and what information did you choose to ignore?” I understood the situation. This was a topic of intense discussion often visited upon in therapy for this couple and other couples alike.
When they met, Robert had experienced a recent bankruptcy and his financial situation was fragile as the two started dating. As Kelly described it, “Robert was reeling from a business deal gone awry and he was doing the best he could to get back on his feet.” Robert had promised Kelly that due to his past business acumen his situation was only short-lived and that he could and would bounce back from mounting debt and ongoing expenses.
Although Robert’s promise of financial rebound never seemed to materialize the two moved in together early in their relationship. Before long they started arguing about finances and every few months they came to resolve their issues in therapy only to back away from the most obvious of issues between them; Kelly agreed to move in with Robert based on what she already knew and chose to avoid asking questions that she didn’t want to know.
Relationships and the Levels of Understanding
The fact is that this relationship, and many others like it, operates on two levels of understanding; the first level of understanding speaks to agreements based on information that we know and the second level speaks to the silent arrangements we make based on the information that we have and ignore. Worse yet is avoiding asking for information at all that we desperately need in order to make healthier decisions.
In Kelly’s case, she knew about Robert’s financial situation but chose to ignore the fact that he had recently experienced a bankruptcy and was struggling to make ends meet. Kelly also chose to ignore the knowledge that he was not paying off his debts because he was choosing to spend his money on other unrelated expenses; expenses that only added to his financial stress.
Trusting our Instincts
How many times do we venture forth in a romantic relationship despite knowing that in our “knower—our gut instinct” this isn’t right, for fear of disappointing the other? How many relationships begin with the ominous belief that “I don’t care for her/his friends but once we’re together s/he will change?” If we remain committed to blind hope or desire we only ensure the relational demise for which our relationships are destined.
More important than a relationship with others, by deluding ourselves by our own blind hopes and/or desires we risk loosing the relationship that we have with our own selves and put our recovery at potential risk.
On several levels we tend to know more than we think we do when we make important decisions regarding relationships and life choices. We often tune out or ignore important knowledge in lieu of walking away or sticking to what we know is right because we cannot or will not come to grips with the outcome? For example; the knowledge that this relationship isn’t healthy for me and I may need to take care of myself by ending it or setting boundaries with my partner to ask for what I need.
At times the very information that we need in order to have a solid relationship with our self or another, is the very information that we neglect asking for or ignore all together even if it is there in plain sight!
In the case of Kelly and Robert, Robert’s recent bankruptcy was the result of less than a stellar work ethic. Robert had a long-standing pattern of poor monetary choices which did not change once he moved into Kelly’s house. Kelly chose to ignore asking the vital information that she needed in order to make a healthy decision about the relationship and whether to move in with Robert or not.
For Kelly her need to have Robert move in was put ahead of her need to ask for more information in order to make a healthier, informed decision. Had she asked for more information and not ignored that which she already knew Kelly may not have moved forward in the relationship. While that would have been painful it would have been less painful than the emotional turmoil that she found herself living in after eight years of financial ups and downs and unresolved relationship cycles.
The act of recovery means living life on life’s terms and at times this means disappointing ourselves and/or another. Recovery demands that we be willing to disappoint ourselves and another in order to live a healthy and fulfilled life. Meeting the demands of life on life’s terms is a formidable if not herculean challenge for many of us. More difficult yet, is our basic challenge to set and meet our own demands and realities that begin only when we are willing to be honest with ourselves. The rigorous honesty demanded of ourselves is no less necessary when in a relationship to ask the tough questions and act upon the outcome as it is versus how we wish it to be.