Good day my Friend.
Relationships are mirrors and our Partners allow us the opportunity to see ourselves as we are.
We rarely take that opportunity because when we do our weaknesses, fears, and hypocrisy will show themselves.
We love our children yet we yell at them or berate them. We are pro-life but we support capital punishment. We care for our parents but we avoid their phone calls. We want to be Tigger but carry ourselves like Eeyore.
We love our Partners but we betrayed them.
Owning these contradictions, without shame or defensiveness, is important because I can see what is true for me today doesn’t have to be true for me tomorrow. I can change my mind and therefore change my choices. Just because you cheated once – or fifty times – doesn’t mean you will cheat again.
Just because you hurt in this moment doesn’t mean you will hurt in the next. Loss and sorrow give way to joy and laughter only to be replaced a moment later by grief.
The belief that if we hurt there must be an cause external, leads to the desire to blame someone and run. We expect to be happy all the time, to feel good. I’ve come to realize this is not simply entitlement as much as a complete misunderstanding of feelings and thoughts, roles and meanings in my life. A misunderstanding distilled into my life by others, culture, and experience. A misunderstanding taught to me by others that misunderstood too.
Until this experience it never occured to me that feelings and thoughts are temporary and are neither right or wrong, good or bad. “The mind secretes thoughts like the body secretes enzymes,” wrote Dr. Tara Brach.
I would add the heart secretes feelings as well.
The lifelong misunderstanding of my feelings and thoughts, and those of other people, led directly to my choices and actions in relationship after relationship. More’s the pity.
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year,” writes Alain de Botton, “probably isn’t learning enough.” You are allowed to change your mind, values, principles, and opinions as new information presents itself and as time passes.
Not only are you allowed to change your mind but you should.
This means you are allowed to change relationships even if no one else understands. You are allowed to try again. You are allowed to break promises. You are allowed to renegotiate vows. You are allowed to redefine relationships. You are allowed to walk away. You are allowed to grow and change and learn and make new decisions.
What made sense at 25 might be different at 50. You are allowed to be wrong and make mistakes and try again.
You are not the same person you were yesterday. You are free to chose your life even if it is misunderstood. Even if it appears to be a contradiction. Even if you cannot explain the change.
Don’t be afraid of contradicting yourself. Embrace it. Be curious about it. Do not be a slave to convention, expectations, or the past. “Do I contradict myself?” asks Walt Whitman. “Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Contradicting ourselves doesn’t necessarily make us liars or fickle or unreliable. Those things make us human.
Contradicting ourselves means we are open to the possibilities to learn and to change. Contradicting ourselves mean we are learning.
Sometimes I can feel more than one thing at a time even when they seem contradictory. I can feel joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, love and hate for the same thing, at the same moment. I can have integrity here and be a liar there.
“Can I love someone and betray them too?” asks Brene Brown. Of course, because that is my experience. It doesn’t make anything I feel or said less true. Like Whitman, “I am large. I contain multitudes.”
Does this excuse or justify my decision to lie, keep secrets, or to carry on a multiple year affair? Of course not. I can know I contain multitudes but not know what to do about it in a constructive way. However, learning to live with integrity allows me to embrace contradictions and to live more fully and honestly.
For someone we betray, their rule might be infidelity is a deal killer. Yet, when details emerge they remain. They too are contradicting themselves.
Listen to any partner that was betrayed and remain, this contradiction becomes evident too. They are equally confused. Their principle demands they leave, yet they remain. How confusing must that be for them, their friends, family, and the strangers on Twitter they turn towards for understanding.
Or when confronted with the betrayal they become cruel, judgemental, vindictive.
They cannot believe they are acting this way but nonetheless find themselves compelled to tear their own house down. They struggle against the tide of their own conflicting feelings and occasionally become ensnared by the shame-fueled spells cast by a vocally bitter and unskillful mob promoting the snakeoil solutions of revenge, shaming, and entitlement.
They look in the mirror and do not recognize themselves and wonder who they have become and who is to blame.
The simple answer, without judgment, is they too contain multitudes. They are more than they know. They are more than we know either.
It happens because, like Whitman, they too have a large and rich inner life hidden and teeming with contradictions. What we call hypocrisy in others is just contradictions made visible. What we call contradictions hidden within is often leverage for shame.
For example, I loved C and betrayed her. That is a contradiction because both are true. The behavior makes me a hypocrite and is a source of much shame.
I loved my former wife and divorced her. And again, being a contradiction doesn’t make either less true. Like with C, it does make me a hypocrite and is a source of much shame.
However, once I embrace the reality of my contradictions I can chose more skillful boundaries and make more informed choices so that what are contradictions become a foundation for integrity. Through this process I reconcile, finding a way to coexist in harmony with who I am – the good, the bad, and the Ugly. I learn my feelings are compatible with my choices.
But again, healing doesn’t require romantic reconciliation. Reconciliation isn’t about getting someone else to forgive us or love us or take us back. You can reconcile and still divorce. You can reconcile and still take to your Consort. You can reconcile and still lose everything.
I can never un-become who I am. My only choice is to reconcile my past self with my future self moment by moment through incremental changes. “It’s not enough [for me] to assume the entirely new personality,” writes John Yorke, “[I] have to learn how to merge the good from the new with the good from the old.”
I have to reconcile the contradictions of my choices with who I am before I can fully reconcile with others. Reconciliation is about more fully belonging through a vulnerable ownership of my contradictions. It is about reconciling the contradictions between my good and my bad and my Ugly. To hate on any of those is to hate myself. Accepting my contradictions opens the door to self-compassion and forgiveness. It opens the door to see ourselves in a way that lets us choose what we want to be next.
Do not be the slave to your own past. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by statesmen and philosophers and divines,” declares Ralph Waldo Emerson. Abandon empty bravado, grafted on roles, and other people’s expectations and embrace vulnerability and you will change. What you were does not mean that is who have to be today or tomorrow. The bell cannot be unrung but you can strike a new tone.
As I say, we are all more than we appear, we are all more than one thing. Embracing my contradicts gave me permission to be myself. It freed me to explore my life and relationships in a deeper and more meaningfully way. I frees me to choose my life as my life changes.
Also, if no one else says this to you today: You matter and you are important.