I started trying to learn about relationships a little bit before my divorce twelve years ago. I suppose, as an INTJ personality type, that I am drawn to difficult problems. Understanding how relationships work, and how they fail, certainly fits into that category. I have learned a lot in the past twelve years, and I hate knowing so much.
Some background is probably in order. In the beginning, back when puberty hit, I did what came naturally. At some point I just knew I wanted a girlfriend. I didn’t try to analyze why. Most of the guys I knew also wanted a girlfriend. The ones that actually had girlfriends seemed to either be basketball players (basketball is king in Indiana) or they had nice cars. It was just the way it was. My friends and I spent most of our time complaining about not having a girlfriend or acting like we didn’t really care.
College was a relief because the playing field somehow seemed more level. I went through a series of short term relationships, and one fairly serious one, before ending up with the woman that became my wife. I didn’t really give relationships much thought at that time, and getting married seemed to be the right thing to do once I graduated. I am glad I did because we created a great family together.
I guess I didn’t know much about marriage either. While growing up, and observing my parents and other parents, I learned that marriage was kind of a functional partnership with the woman handling the cooking, cleaning, and child raising. Certainly nobody ever taught me that a relationship required that I be attentive to a woman’s needs.
Well, just let me tell you what I know now, more or less learned in sequential order.
Relationships are fragile and small slights can create a death spiral that results in a couple growing apart, and eventually, the end of the relationship, even though a couple might still be married.
Being a good provider is not going to make someone love you if the love is already gone. Actually, I think it is almost impossible to resurrect a relationship once it is dead.
Narcissistic men love to go after married women. Narcissists, in general, are incapable of doing anything other than what stokes their fragile egos, or relieves their fears, in the moment.
Men are supposed to know their relationship goals and articulate them clearly to a woman before getting into a relationship. Never mind that a newly divorced man wouldn’t know a goal if it hit him in the face.
Women can be narcissistic also, and when in a relationship with one you keep working hard to please them, without success, hoping someday they will be nice to you.
Women expect to be treated well, but some are still attracted to bad boys, and they expect men to anticipate their needs, although being too attentive is sometimes not good. Never mind. I really still haven’t learned what women want.
The new woman in a relationship is supposed to be a higher priority than children, and maintaining a sense of family with those children without the new woman being involved creates all kinds of problems because of divided loyalties.
Dealing with children, even adult ones, is not easy. They see their once stable Father acting erratically and doing crazy things. Trying to explain why only makes it worse.
Often relationships are unhealthy because we are acting out unfinished business from childhood.
If we get in a relationship, but at some point don’t want to commit for whatever reason, it means that we are a commitment phobe.
And lastly, if we want want a relationship we must learn to love ourselves first. We should be perfectly happy being single, but just want to share our lives with someone.
This has all made things way too complicated. I don’t want to wonder why I am not perfectly happy and content being single, or wonder if wanting a relationship means that I am weak. Most of the people I know seem to desperately want someone in their lives, or have found ways to cope with being single. If someone is perfectly happy being single why would any rational person want to be in a relationship?
I am going back to looking at things simply and doing what feels natural. I can use some of what I learned and can be a better partner, but I don’t think either person should work too hard. The real test is whether a person is happier being in the relationship than being alone. We don’t really need to know more than that.