16: Growth and Change

Relationships change unilaterally. They don’t change bilaterally.

Rick Reynolds, Affair Recovery

There is a great deal of wisdom in Reynold’s sentiment.

Reynolds statement reminds me of something Mason Cooley wrote, “We resist change even as we call for it.”

Upon reflection I have come to recognize that more than simply changing, “relationships grow unilaterally. They don’t grow bilaterally.” We don’t simply change relationships, we outgrow them.

…or they outgrow us.

…or we grow into it.

I see lots of demands for change when I read and listen to other people. What I rarely hear are demands for growth.

In reality we want others to change what they are doing to make us more comfortable. Often the change demanded of others is for our benefit, not theirs. In the process conversations devolve into issues of what is the status quo and what the other person needs to change to restore our internal balance.

Unfortunately, there is no balance, there is only momentum.

People become invested in fighting about the status quo, even when the status quo hurts. And from the person that cheats perspective, infidelity becomes normalized. As a result, the impact is infidelity becomes the status quo. We fight to maintain a balance between multiple lives where none can exist.

This means there are times when if I want something different in my life I have to be willing to be perceived as the bad guy. For many, I think the story of infidelity is of villainy and victimization. I have to be willing to be the villain in someone else’s story to grow. I have to choose growth even as it is resisted by my pride, fears, anxieties, and the other people.

For some, where narcissism/psychopathy, sexual assault/rape, war trauma, and incest/pedophilia, or another type of physical, mental or sexual damage exists the experience of victimization is the truth of the experience.

I’m not minimizing those experiences.

However, generally, of the many things I understand now is that if I love someone I will hurt them. They will hurt me. As Reynolds discusses elsewhere, “Love is suffering.”

This is consistent with what I have learned are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism stated in simple terms as: “Suffering, pain, and misery exist in life. Suffering arises from attachment to desires.”

Often the pursuit of joy, painlessness, and excitement gives rise to the suffering I am trying to escape. I’ve come to realize the tacks I have taken to avoid the winds of sorrow and tides of discomfort simple sailed me back to the rocky shores I was so desperate to escape.

All of my pain and grief is attached to my desire to be loved, accepted, heard, seen, wanted, happy, joyous, and a hundred other subtle and not so subtle emotions. I have gone great lengths to avoid anything I perceive as negative. This included lying and keeping secrets. All in an attempt to maintain joy. I really believed subconsciously if I pursued these ambitions I could escape the uncurrent of loneliness, sorrow, and grief the trauma in my life powers.

It never occured to me that this is life.

As such, I avoided many of the hard things that needed confronted. I was so enamored with the feelings of joy and happiness I overlooked the feelings and needs of other people. In the process I used people…and I allowed myself to be used.

The harsh reality is other people are not responsible for meeting my emotional ambitions. As Brene Brown says in her Unlocking Us podcast entitled Shame and Accountability, “No one is making me feel jack[crap]. I’m simply feeling. I’m in charge of my emotions. I’m in charge of regulating them.”

As such, I have begun to recognize my desires are attached to unreasonable expectations on myself, other people, places, and things. I now recognize I cannot be intimate without being vulnerable to hurt and loss.

That doesn’t make the motivations and the impact intentional or maliciously hurtful. As Dr. Alexandra Solomon writes, “Somebody’s behavior can hurt you WITHOUT them intending to hurt you.⁣” 

Often it’s not even wrong.

As a sidebar, it also means, that if I’m treating other people as villains in my life, I am choosing a story where I play the victim, martyr, and/or hero.

If I want the status quo to change I have to grow through the status quo. Growth is the result of internal actions externalized. Even the seed grows from the inside out.

“It hurts to grow alone,” writes C. JoyBell C. “It hurts to realise that someone else won’t be coming with you.” As a result, I now recognize growth is always a selfish act.


We cannot want for others more than they want for themselves. They cannot want more for me than I want for myself. This means that real growth is self-directed and internal. For this reason, shaming others is always an ineffective tool for creating meaningful, lasting growth.

Using someone’s pain and fear as leverage is a manipulative act of coercion. No meaningful constructive change will last if it is coerced. It just leads to resentments and more pain; driving behaviors further underground and stunting the conversations that need had in order to build a deeper and more meaningful life.

Which takes me back to the unilateral nature of change.

By changing my angle of approach I change the problem and once the problem changes so are the possible solutions. Throughout my infidelity my angle of approach to the betrayal of my Love(s), life, and self provided a limited set of options that relied on more secrets and lies.

I will not live that way again.

And because I will not live that way again I have lost seemingly important and meaningful relationships. However, what I know now is if I am owning my truth, exploring my life, and being vulnerable and those relationships end? Well, it will hurt but in that discomfort is where all the opportunity for growth exists. In that discomfort between joy and sorrow is a change in momentum necessary to overcome the inertia of the status quo.

There is no growth in the status quo. The discomfort is allowing me to more fully experience my emotional life. Pain is not the enemy.

All of my affair partners were convenient in the moment because I lacked the skills to connect on a more meaningful level. It won’t happen again because I am committed to growth led by vulnerability and conscious skill development.

I will still make mistakes of course. Sometimes they will be catastrophic but I know my intentions and that matters far more than the opinions of outsiders. Most days.

I will still hurt people I care about. I will still fail.

They will still hurt me.

However, I am making better choices about who to be vulnerable with and where my boundaries begin and end. In that process I find a space for grace, generosity, and compassion for other people and seek growth from the experience. In that experience I’m learning to better own only what is true and necessary while allowing them the dignity of mistakes without shaming or humiliating them which only furthers their aggression.

As a sidebar, an outcome of this approach is when someone is choosing conscious maliciousness it is much easier to spot.

Today, I am pursuing growth, not relationships and not emotional objectives. Instead my focus is on growing my awareness and heart. As such, I’m pursuing a different path, finding a more mature light allowing my to see myself more clearly in relationship to the world and the people around me.

As a result I find myself with people where growth is encouraged and mistakes are allowed. Even of it makes them uncomfortable. Growth and mistakes are encouraged because they are exploring their life too.

When I do that my life changes and my relationships will simply follow the momentum. I just need to show up and be willing to grow towards the light.