When I married Brian at the ripe old age of 19 years old, I had no idea what I was doing. My longest relationship prior to my relationship with Brian lasted all of seven months and five of those months were spent passive-aggressively trying to get the boy to break up with me. (I could write a book on that twisted saga alone.) But ten months after meeting, Brian and I somehow ended up in front of our families and friends pledging our troth to each other. What I’ve learned about relationships through the tumult of our earliest years, the apathy of years five and six, and the amazing turnaround that has encompassed years seven through almost ten, could fill a book. Maybe someday it will. But if I could just pick one illusion that repaid my buy-in with heartache, gut-wrenching pain, alienation from Brian, and mistrust, it would be the illusion that relationships with the ‘right’ people never break your heart.
I use the example of my relationship with Brian because our marriage has been, for me, a sort of laboratory for deciphering and improving relationships with people in general. The illusion of good relationships = painless relationships affects friendships, families, and even relationships with people at work or in community groups. Too often momentary discomfort or even true pain between two people is considered grounds for complete and utter dismissal of a connection as ‘bad’, ‘harmful’, and ‘unhealthy’. Certainly, there are unhealthy relationships that should be avoided or abandoned, but not every incident of hurt inflicted on you by someone you love means it is time to throw in the towel.
In nearly all of my closest relationships throughout the years, there have been moments of agony so deep that I felt like I was going to vomit from the pain and the anger resulting from the pain. But only once have I completely shut the door on a relationship, locked the doors and windows, packed my emotional bags, and moved away from it, leaving no forwarding address. Only once. Despite hundreds of moments when I have been the one guilty of causing pain or the one on whom pain has been inflicted, only one relationship was lost forever. There have been some close calls and some are still up in the air, but at the end of the day grace, humility, and forgiveness triumph and we begin again wiser and more committed to the relationship for having been through hell together.
The illusion that the ‘right’ relationships won’t hurt sometimes, won’t ever require uncomfortable conversations or self-examination, and should be easy can author the destruction of some of the most meaningful relationships we will ever have if we continue to buy into it. Breaking free of that illusion was a turning point in my relationship with Brian and has salvaged other fractured relationships, too. Disillusionment to the rescue again.