Cynthia: “I just don’t trust him anymore. There’s no point in our even trying to work things out until Tom starts acting more respectfully towards me and shows me that I can trust him”. This wasn’t the first time that Cynthia had concluded that her marriage was in big trouble, but she sounded more hopeless that she had in any of the previous times. And she was justified in feeling hopeless. Tom didn’t seem motivated to do anything about his habit of raging at her whenever he felt frustrated, threatened or hurt, and after countless unsuccessful efforts to try to do anything about it, Cynthia was convinced that her efforts to change her husband were futile.
Much of their twelve-year marriage had been problematic and since she seemed to be unable to change Tom, it looked to her like she had only two options, to continue to tolerate a situation, which had become increasingly intolerable or to leave the marriage. Feeling like she had nothing to lose,
Cynthia decided to try something new, something that she had never done during the course of her marriage: She stopped focusing on Tom’s behavior, and focused instead on her responses to him. Rather than trying to get him to alter his behavior and feeling resentful and hurt when he inevitably did not, Cynthia instead sought to become more aware of her own feelings. She gave herself the care and respect that she had been trying to get Tom to give her. When she was feeling hurt, or frightened she gave herself the love and comfort that she needed, taking whatever actions and speaking whatever words were necessary to make her feel more secure. In standing up for herself rather than focusing on Tom she began to see that her husband wasn’t the only source of her pain and mistrust.
The child part of her had felt abandoned and betrayed by the adult part of her who was so busy trying to control Tom. She was neglecting her own needs. Gradually Cynthia came to realize that she was out of trust with herself for providing the care that she needed when she was frightened and hurting. “I was so busy trying to get Tom to change that I didn’t see how I was contributing to my own pain by being so neglectful ofmyself. I had to repair and rebuild my damaged self-trust by tuning in and responding to myself rather than to Tom.”
Although Cynthia’s self-trust didn’t develop overnight, over a period of months it grew and deepened significantly. As her efforts to influence Tom increased, he felt less controlled by her and the frequency of his angry outbursts gradually diminished. The more trusting Cynthia became of herself to protect herself and provide for her own needs, the less caught up they both were in their destructive pattern. Cynthia wanted her marriage to work out but she knew that if it didn’t she would be all right. The realization that she could trust herself to take care of herself allowed her to let go of attempting to control Tom. Trusting her commitment to her own self-care became the one of the most important ingredients in the repair of her marriage and of her connection with herself.
Although people with great relationships can easily be characterized as givers, their giving does not possess the quality of self-sacrifice. They are generous without being martyrs. They recognize the importance of responsibly providing for their own physical and emotional needs. They know where the limits of their care giving are and they generally are careful not to give to the point of feeling resentful or depleted. They are willing to exercise what one person referred to as “healthy selfishness.” They know that if they neglect their own needs they are not going to be much good to other people. If they expect others to take care of them, they are likely to end up feelings disappointed and resentful.
Those with highly successful partnerships have a commitment to provide responsible selfcare, and are willing to risk the disapproval of others who may judge them as being selfish or uncaring. These are Cynthia’s comments on the subject, “I’ve gotten criticism from people in my family, but I know what I need in order to thrive, and I give that to myself. The better care I take to fulfill my own needs, the more I have to give to Tom and others. It’s self neglect that is selfish, not taking good care of myself, and that has made all the difference.”