How Your Story Might Be Hurting Your Relationship
We each tell ourselves a story when it comes to the dynamic of our relationships. And unfortunately, most of the time, that story does not serve us.
In my own case, the tale that I chose to tell myself when my marriage fell apart (and the one that I believed for entirely too long) was that “my husband left me”. But I didn’t just stop at that. Instead, I carried the narrative even further and came to frame and internalize those events as my husband “abandoning” me.
That was my self-talk, and it fully represented what I felt and believed had happened.
And in one sense, sure, my husband did leave me. He walked out the door of our house, drove away, and refused to consider going to counseling or working on our relationship with me in the way we would have needed for it to continue forward.
But is the story that he left me, that he abandoned me, one hundred percent true?
We all see and experience reality through the lens of our own perspectives and perceptions. And, with that in mind, one could fairly argue that nothing we see or experience is ever one hundred percent true. Because everything is colored by the unique lens and frame through which we interpret it.
The problem is, too often, we don’t acknowledge that the story we’re telling ourselves is simply one perspective out of many that could be had.
Too often we rely on our story as truth, as objective fact, as reality. And the only way to combat that frequent error is to consider other possible explanations for what happened.
So, turning back to my situation, what are some other potential, even plausible, stories that could be woven to describe what took place?
Well, how about this one: My husband was running away, yes. But not from me. He was running away from a life in which he felt trapped. And he was running towards what he believed to be freedom.
I was associated with a life and with circumstances that my husband perceived to be threatening. He felt pressure to meet certain expectations and achieve certain goals. He felt as if his responsibilities as a husband weren’t allowing him to live the way he really wanted to live - weren’t allowing him to be his authentic self.
So you see, maybe he didn’t exactly leave me. Maybe he just chose a different path.
And regarding my feelings of abandonment? My word choice there - “abandoned” - carries with it the connotation that I had needed my husband to take care of me. It suggests a dynamic that shouldn’t have existed (and, in actuality, that didn’t exist) in my relationship.
The truth is, I was perfectly capable of living independently and supporting myself. And I would go on to do so quite adeptly after my marriage ended.
Now, to further complicate matters, my husband had his own story within the context of our relationship. And the story he told himself was that he wanted to be a “strong” husband. Someone who pulled his own weight and had a solid, stable grip on life. Someone who could provide for and take good care of his kids once he had them.
And the thing is, he was modeling after his own father in constructing this story for himself. Unfortunately, his model may have been particularly difficult for him to live up to because his dad happened to be a “father” on more than one level.
As the pastor of a large church, not only was his dad a father at home with his family, but he was also a father figure to an entire congregation of people whom he served throughout his life. And those were daunting shoes to fill for a guy who felt trapped by a thus-far-childless marriage.
But that tale, the internal monologue that plagued my husband, wasn’t one that he shared with me while we were together. He didn’t choose to open up about it (or his apprehensions around all of it) until after our divorce.
And it was that story and the pressure that it put on him (i.e., the pressure that he put on himself) that ultimately drove him to leave -- that drove him to want to break free and go his own way.
He felt trapped by his own story. And I couldn’t unravel it for him in time to save our relationship.
The stories that we tell ourselves with respect to our relationships with other people wield power - a lot of power - in that they can actually serve to dictate and determine the course of our relationships without us even being conscious or aware of it.
For precisely that reason, it’s crucially important to choose your story wisely.
So please take a moment to consider, what's the narrative that you’ve been telling yourself? How do you see yourself in relation to your partner? And is that story one hundred percent true?
For example, do you tell yourself that your partner is the smart, knowledgeable, all-knowing one in your relationship? That they're the “pretty” one? That they're the better cook or caregiver?
Sooner or later, unless you learn to question it, you might even start to feel trapped by your own story, like my husband did. And if you can't break away from it in a healthy way, you'll likely find another more hurtful way to do it - whether that takes shape in the form of self-destruction, infidelity, leaving your partner, or something else altogether.
So, again, please consider, what's the message that you’ve internalized? What's your self-talk? And what’s the dynamic of your relationship?
It’s important to ask yourself these questions for two fundamental reasons. First, it’s crucial to understand the story you’ve been telling yourself with respect to your relationship because it tends to be self-fulfilling. You’ll project your beliefs onto your relationship dynamic, and you’ll interpret things from that lens.
Second, it’s powerful to acknowledge your story because you can then choose to change it. Once you recognize your story for what it is - merely a version of the truth that you’ve been telling yourself as opposed to objective fact - you then have the opportunity and the power to transform it.
Regardless of your relationship’s dynamic, you always have the power to alter it. You always have the choice to begin telling a new story.
So what story will you choose?