from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

it's Lent! – eleven things to give up in relationships

Here are some things that commonly block our ability to give and receive love. Giving them up can only make you happier!

The idea that your partner or anyone else is here to make you happy and to meet your needs. Your partner is here for his or her own journey on this earth; if you can support each other in your journeys and adventures then you have a chance of real happiness.

The view that you and your partner sail in the same boat. You are, always have been and always will be in two boats*; the choice is whether you steer side-by-side for the same open sea, or shore, or not. What you have in common is the ocean.

The need to merge or fuse with your partner. True union isn’t possible except when two individuals are clearly differentiated, knowing themselves and their partner as distinct entities. Work instead on knowing who you are, and seeing clearly who your partner is. That way, there’s a chance of real love and interdependency rather than co-dependency.

The need for that Other to be like you and to agree with you. Showing another who you really are and engaging with who the other is is an act of love; needing their agreement and approval before you can be who you are can be narcissistic, egotistical and insecure.

Controlling, whether by fault-finding, withholding, blame and coercion – or by praise. All are manipulations, and driven by fear. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t appreciate, out loud, who your partner is, nor ever express something that's pissing you off – it's more whether you are co-opting this to serve your fears. (There's an associated issue here: that of self-disclosure. This is a prerequisite for intimacy, but it's important to be aware of whether we use this as a manipulation to have the other reveal him- or herself to us, or as a genuine desire to share who we are with that Other without necessarily expecting reciprocity.)

The association of love with mind-reading: ‘If you really loved me you’d know without my telling you what I need.’ Instead, commit to knowing for yourself what you really need, and be willing to show that to your partner. Equally, learn from him or her what s/he needs.

Expecting the other to always ‘be there’ for you. It’s simply not possible when the other has his or her own life and journey, and s/he is not your mother/father.

Taking everything another says or does personally. While you may be offering him or her a 'hook' to hang their stuff on, another person's 'stuff' remains their stuff, and probably says more about them than about you.

Reacting. Instead, learn to respond. What this means is denying yourself the momentary satisfaction of blowing the other out of the water with emotional heat (you might feel it, but that doesn’t inevitably have to lead to exhibiting it), instead seeing clearly what the situation needs from you.

The need to blame – self or other. Instead, take responsibility and change a pattern for the better. We’re all human and we all get it wrong sometimes as we learn, and that is simply how it is. Learn to love yourself; then you can love another.

Struggling – with yourself or another – to be anything other than who you/the Other really are.

But you don't have to believe me; just try it for yourself... And no, of course I don't manage it myself all, or even much, of the time! And this list clearly could go on and on, and no doubt at some stage it will.

Roselle Angwin

* The boat image is from David Schnarch's book Passionate Marriage.


  1. As the veteran of a 28 year relationship with a psychopath, I say yes and eleven times yes.

  2. Deborah, thank you. And - what keeps you in such a relationship? - You don't have to answer that, of course, especially not publicly... Or maybe you're no longer in that long-haul struggle. Whatever, I hope you're thriving.

    1. C has this to say in response. Jx
      What keeps you in such a relationship?

      As the veteran (as Deborah so beautifully puts it) of a 36 year relationship with a sociopath, I may have a few thoughts on the matter.

      These wonderful eleven things not to do in a healthy relationship are almost a blueprint, turned inside out and upside down, of the kind of relationship that utterly leaches any kind of willpower from your mind and soul from your spirituality. In the toxic relationship you are responsible for the other's happiness, it is up to you to be clairvoyant in respect of the other's emotional needs,to be the punchbag for frustrations, to be on hand worshipping the other day in and day out, and to be an everlasting recipient of blame. It's a daily dance of brainwashing, it makes your head feel constantly as if you are living inside a washing machine on high spin cycle, and you are eternally terrified of putting not only a foot but a toe wrong.

      Sometimes the leaving of such a place is tremendously hard. You might have been brought up with the old idea current a couple of generations ago that you just have to put up with it and men have their needs which have to be catered for. As the years go by and you have children the leaving can feel (or be made to feel by threats) out of reach. As the children grow older (and you have been too good a lot of the time of shielding them from the worst and putting on a brave smiley face on a daily basis) you might run into problems of belief (theirs) and statements of "It can't be that bad, surely?" Sometimes, too, there's terror at the idea of being found - it may or may not be real, but leaving has proved to be a very real catalyst for physical danger for many women.

      Leaving is an act of courage that can feel on the knife edge of insanity. Financially it is often far from easy. Emotionally ....... well, there's so many kaleidoscopic aspects of that and they all come crashing in to be lived through and examined from all kinds of sides and viewpoints, over and over again. There's the guilt, especially for the recipients of constant blame, especially if the "deserted" is still in contact (of sorts) and has a good handle on manipulative spin. Hardest of all, in some ways, is learning to reclaim yourself - I say "reclaim" but that implies an initial. well-grounded sense of Self to return to - but really that ought to read "claim" yourself. You feel like you are undergoing a crash course in emotional literacy, starting from the bottom up with something as simple as learning to cry. For me, I think I lived my relationship life in a state of utter numbness and dissociation ..... So, no, leaving is far from easy and then the Work starts.

      Now, at last, I am a lucky survivor. I am now in a relationship where the these eleven things are paramount, and at least, I say with a wry smile, I know now what not to do! I am not Jinny, but Jinny's partner. She shares the blog with me regularly, and this particular piece has got me thinking a lot.

      I apologise for the length of my reply, and for the fact that I'm not so articulate and good with words. The subject is complex, to say the least! Re-reading this I see that what kept me in such a relationship for so long was fear, terror even. That's a work in progress, finding new pathways to navigate the quicksands of chronic anxiety - but, thankfully, I seem to be winning!

  3. Great post Roselle. Really got me thinking!

  4. Thanks, Angie. Am glad. Been intending to write a book on this for years (we always write/teach what we need to learn!).

  5. Four years out. Only realised what he was 18 months after I was done. What kept me in it was low self-esteem and lack of a career (having had four kids, two with autism). Feeling much better now but it's a long haul still.

  6. C, I SO appreciate all the care and time you took there. It's made the hairs stand up on my neck (in a good way), and moved me to tears. Thank you, thank you. I hope that your words will help anyone else who is or has been in that situation.

    I DO understand. I've not been there myself in the same way, but I was in a relationship in my 20s which when it was good was wonderful, but also consisted of the kind of manipulation where I was convinced that I was imagining things, and was truly thinking I'd lost my sanity before I realised what was going on, and how disempowered I was by the mind-games. I left. And I so understand, too, how one can think to oneself 'It's not that bad' - what I have elsewhere called the boiling frog syndrome.

    Deborah, I so appreciate your coming back to me too. I hope you didn't mind my asking. What a hard journey. We women are so good at surviving, aren't we?

    Both of you: I am putting together a book on relationships. Would you be willing to be quoted - anonymously of course if you'd prefer?

    And again, thank you for your honesty and courage, both.A deep bow, as they say in Buddhism.


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