At the heart of sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one.
We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.
Alain de Botton
A few weeks ago I made the statement that one of the skills I need to learn is how to end relationships in a healthy constructive way.
A few things.
Frankly, based on this chart, I’ve had one romantic relationship in my life end in what appears to be a healthy power parting: a parting that leaves both partners empowered to move forward.
I can also tell you, the way my relationship with my xp ended was not healthy. There were plenty of healthy things in our relationship but this was definitely not one of them. My xp just sulked away and ghosted. I was expected to know.
When I saw Esther Perel’s continuum summarizing a Relationship Accountability Spectrum, I was like, “Holy FUCK! Ghosting?! That is exactly what has happened over the last year! That is what she did! That is how I feel and behave! I’m not crazy or irrational!”
This is why both my doctors refer to the silence and ghosting as abusiveness. My xp’s ghosting has seriously damaged some of the best parts of me and delayed healing.
However, more importantly, I also see where I left K simmering.
I think that tends to be how I avoid ending relationships. I start something new and not address the old leaving open options. The way I treated K was horrific on so many levels. I can see the confusion and pain I created from the simmering I put her – and those before her – through. Simmering has been my method for ending relationships.
Now that I see it, that shit is gonna stop now.
Over the last year, I’ve come to recognize my relationship bandwidth is narrow.
Therefore, I need to develop the skills to use the tools that will allow me to reclaim integrity and self-respect. Learning these skills is one of the reasons I read and listen to Brene Brown, Tara Brach, Esther Perel, Alain de Botton, Deb Goldberg, Caroline Madden, and other compassionate, knowledgeable, and experienced professionals and people.
I’ve come to realize nearly everything that goes wrong in a relationship can be addressed simply with vulnerability and a change in the angle of approach. I firmly believe now, that if I had better skills when I was younger, I would still have a loving marriage with my ex-wife.
As such, in January I am going to Seattle to take the Seven Principles for Single People course at the Gottman Institute. I’m taking the class, and some other online classes, because I want to learn to be more whole and reset all unskillful survival tactics I’ve learned over five decades of bad relationship experiences.
Just because I know something is broken doesn’t mean I know how to fix it…but I can learn.
One of the many benefits of this experience is learning that not everything that goes wrong in a relationship is my fault or my responsibility.
The handful of emails my xp did send in February are just a list of seven years of unspoken resentments and accusations. As if her ghosting, gunnysacking, and stonewalling emotionally for seven years is my fault…but you know, the Hero is supposed to have all the silver bullets, right?
My xp is an adult and could have come to me anytime and talked about how she felt, and what she needed or wanted. Instead, she kept secrets and when it was useful she dumped them on me. Now her resentments simply reek of revisionist history and bitterness to me. They justify her own behaviors.
And here is why this matters now: if I had known those were her resentments or hurts we could have worked through them or seen earlier the relationship was unstable or nonsustainable. Maybe if the foundation of our relationship was built on vulnerability instead of simply safety we would have been over sooner or had a better foundation to weather the hurricanes.
That isn’t simply on her, that is on Us.
Don’t misunderstand, she is not responsible for my behaviors but our relationship was far more than my betrayal et al. I am saying, she has her part in the patterns undermining communication in our relationship.
I sincerely hope my xp gets help to see and break her patterns. It is obvious watching her over the last year, experiencing all the heroing from the Flying Monkeys, Patsy I and II, what I know of IndyBartender, and how she came out of her marriage she has shit too. I don’t want that for her and D moving forward. I want her to be happy and free. However, one difficulty in being trapped by below the line patterns: you are never really free.
In reality I want to have a more useful set of skills moving forward. I genuinely want to learn how to live with my anxiety instead of in it, lean into conflict transformation as opposed to avoidance, and most importantly, recognize when my behavior is codependent instead if interdependent.
If my xp ever comes home I will be more skillful at loving her more truly. More importantly, whichever woman comes into my life next, I need her to be aware of herself and her own patterns too. It is the only way we can both ensure a healthier relationship. I cannot be lashed to my horse and the role of Hero again. I need a Partner that sees me as a person first and not simply one more Hero saving her from feeling and vulnerability.
And in my case, that means being able to end relationships with my integrity intact and a power parting. Not only will I not betray my life again, but I will also learn to avoid behaviors of ghosting, icing, and simmering that devalue the power of good people.