by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Several years ago I worked with a guy who was sweet, soft-spoken exceedingly polite and just all-around wonderful. He became engaged and gave his fiancée a $40,000 engagement ring and bought a very large and expensive house which was in the millions at a time when the real estate market was going bust. We were both working as attorneys at a high-powered law firm, but even for us, the price tags were incredibly extravagant. He never struck me as the type to be that materialistic.
Then the next thing I knew it was over.
It turned out that she wanted the expensive ring and house and refused to settle for less. In fact, she belittled him when he suggested downsizing a bit as they were just starting out in life. She was very controlling and got upset even when he visited with his family including his mother and older brother with whom he was very close. She didn’t want him talking too much to his family. He had a twin brother and they were remarkably close (as twins tend to be) and she gave him an ultimatum where the twin was concerned. Limit his time with his brother or it was all over.
Despite the fact that he loved her and would be ultimately saddled with both the house and the ring (he took a bath on both), he had to break it off. It was very hard for him (he doesn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings and he is a church-going person who wrestled with the idea of calling off the wedding in front of his family and church members). When he broke it off, he felt guilty and embarrassed and experienced a very dark time immediately afterward. I didn’t know him all that well and yet he spent hours one night, at a firm event where we just happened to be seated next to each other, telling me all about it. It was obvious he was in excruciating emotional pain and that he needed to talk.
But he knew in his heart of hearts that breaking it off was the right thing. And still it was a nightmare. Even though it was hard for him and he had no idea what the future held, he had to break off a relationship with a person who did not have his best interests in mind. I told him that breaking off an engagement to the wrong person takes a lot of courage and he saved himself the heartache of a bitter and nasty divorce or staying married for years to the wrong person.
And even though the pain was great and his heart did not want to break, his head knew it was the right thing. Getting the head and the heart on the same page is never an easy task and it wasn’t for him either. There was something about her that he was drawn to, but his head knew she would make his life very difficult. The limitation on his twin brother was the proverbial final straw. One he was glad happened before, and not after, the wedding.
So he broke it off and weathered the storm. Took care of himself. Made plans for his future without her, cleaned up the mess of the past (mostly financial) and healed his broken heart.
About a year after he ended the engagement, he met a lovely woman who is not controlling and didn’t demand a huge engagement ring and mansion. They had a lovely courtship, a nice engagement and a beautiful wedding. I received a picture of his gorgeous baby daughter who was born last week.
This is not to say that the wedding and the baby is the happily-ever-after for everyone. Some people want to be happily single and concentrate on their own life and career. Others want a strong relationship without wedding or baby. Some people just want a baby.
But everyone has their own happily ever after in mind but they know enough to know that their present circumstances are not IT. Like my friend, sometimes people need to realize that who they are with or who they just broke up with is not going to bring them to the life they want. Being with the wrong person is a sure-fire path to misery. Being alone is much better than being with the wrong person who seeks to control you to the point of breaking your relationships with those you care about or doing other things that bring you down or cause you pain.
For this friend of mine, a nice wife and a lovely daughter was his vision. And he had to get honest, in his last relationship, that Gold-digger Annie who had problems with him speaking to anyone but her, INCLUDING his own mother, was NOT going to be his ticket to ultimate relationship success. No amount of rationalizations or justifications was going to turn her into the one meant for him.
If someone objects to you talking to your own family or your friends or has an obviously different value system than you do, something is wrong. No one has the right to possess us so completely that we need to stay away from our loved ones. No one has the right to estrange another from his or her family. No one. And yet he loved her and he was a perfect gentleman. But he knew it wasn’t RIGHT. Maybe someday she’ll meet someone who isn’t crazy about their family and won’t mind her controlling/suffocating nature. Maybe he’ll even confuse it for LOVE – many people do – in the beginning. But this guy (my friend) KNEW that no matter how he felt, no matter how far down the wedding plans they were (very very close to the wedding date), no matter how much money he would lose (A TON), he had to break it off. And it was horrible for him. He was tortured, truly tortured by the decision.
All breakups are difficult but some are much harder than others. However, sometimes moving on and having faith that the future will give you the opportunity to have what you want is the right decision. A hard decision and not one that feels fantastic now but the RIGHT one.
If you hold different value systems and different morals from the beginning, the future is going to be very difficult. In Getting Back Out There, I introduce my readers to the Standards and Boundaries inventories which tell you what you need to have in another and if it’s negotiable, non-negotiable or may be negotiable for the right person. Had my friend done those inventories before he became engaged, he would have seen that the importance of his family and the unimportance of bling and mansions would have shown him he was with the wrong person.
It’s important to know what is acceptable and unacceptable before you commit to someone who doesn’t share your visions, your hopes and your dreams. Know what you think, know what you feel and then act on what you think and feel.
When I met my husband Michael I asked him what he wanted out of life and he said, “I just want to be happy.” What made him happy was his family, fishing, NASCAR and doing a good job at work. I never understood fishing or NASCAR and he never understood my bookworm ways or need for solitude. But we both wanted to be happy and not play games with each other. Michael truly walked the “I just want to be happy” talk. He was as honest as the day is long. He didn’t want to sweat the small stuff and everything was small stuff to him. His second wife was a really difficult woman and yet, the thing that drove him out of the marriage was: she called him names in front of the kids. He could not abide that. He put up with so much from her but that was the ultimate and he asked her to stop and she would not. I made a HUGE mental note: Never call this guy a name in front of the kids. But it was easy. We never called each other names. It made life much happier. Names do hurt despite what the childhood rhyme says. THEY DO. And Michael and I NEVER called each other a name. And it was awesome. He loved it and I loved it. We were both victims of past name callers and it was so great to be with someone who didn’t dig into that bag of nastiness, no matter how angry we were (not that we were often very angry).
But he also told me about his first wife. One he married right after Vietnam. He wanted to get away from his family. His father and uncles had all served in the Navy in WWII and they wanted to talk about his Navy experience. Vietnam was not like WWII and he had a horrible time – including watching his best friend get killed in front of him – and he didn’t want to talk about it but didn’t have that much money to move out. He married his girlfriend. He said to me, “She was an angel. And I wasn’t ready and I was running to the racetrack every single weekend.” She begged him to let her come to the track and he said to her, “You won’t like it there.” I said, “Are you really that mean?” He laughed and said, “I’m not 20 anymore…I would never tell someone not to come.”
But he touched me by telling me how wonderful she was and how he regretted how he was not there for her. After they divorced (he came home one Sunday and she was gone), he still plowed her parents’ driveway in the winter and later, when she remarried, he plowed hers. When he passed I tried to find out who she was and let her know, but I never did. I honestly would have loved to have spoken to her. Listen to how people talk about their past relationships. If everyone sucked and did them wrong, that just can’t be right. It just can’t be.
A good relationship enlarges your life. A bad one narrows it. If you’re being kept away from that which makes you happy: friends, family, hobbies, interests and goals, your relationship narrows your life and is not a good one. Time to let go.
Michael and I were fiercely independent with very different hobbies and interests but we looked at life the same way. Loyalty was important to us. We both valued interests that the other one did not share and neither of us would have been willing to give them up. We did have a few interests that we shared and our times together whether traveling or riding our motorcycles or just hanging out at home, were so happy. We didn’t have to love the other one’s interests. We just had to love the other person enough to let them do what makes them happy.
We each found the person who looked at life the same way and we both were exceedingly happy together. Had I not left people who did not share my vision and values, I would have never found my true soul mate. One of my unacceptables was a messy person and my husband was one of the messiest people on the planet. We remedied the situation by hiring a housekeeper a day a week. I only relaxed that “value” to “maybe negotiable” for him because he had such wonderful ways that I was able to overlook his messiness. I couldn’t say that about many others.
In Getting Back Out There, I guide the reader through their own value system and how to check off the boxes with checks or x’s when you meet someone new. It’s important to know the weight of each value and know what you will do if it’s not met. The only thing you can do is accept it, change it or leave. Those are the only 3 options. (Deciding not to decide is NOT an option!)
I tell my Getting Past Your Breakup readers not to wait to do the GBOT inventories. Many want to wait until they are ready to date, but you have to know NOW where you stand on things and how you will frame your future interest in someone else. That is what the GBOT inventories are about.
Knowledge is power but self-knowledge is the most powerful tool you can have.
Michael and I had a happy, healthy relationship because we both knew what we valued, what we wanted, what our standards were and what we would and would not put up with. It was SO OBVIOUS the night we met that we both were very self-aware. We knew what we wanted and why.
I stress the Standards and Compatibility Inventory because I know what that level of self-knowledge and insistence on certain morals and values can do in the partner picking department. You don’t go wrong. You just don’t. If you know and you’re committed to “This MUST be there and this MUST NOT be there….” you will NOT go wrong. It’s amazing to me that I have to TALK PEOPLE INTO DOING SOMETHING THAT WILL CHANGE THEIR LIFE FOR THE ABSOLUTE BETTER. Do the Standards and Compatibility Inventory NOW. DO. NOT. WAIT. If you want a partner who looks at life as you do, who wants to be treated as you do, who knows that relationships need to make your life larger and not smaller, YOU HAVE TO DO THE INVENTORY. It kills me that I have to hit people over the head with this exercise. It opens up so much. It makes everything so much better.
It’s scary not knowing what the future holds and sometimes we might think the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know, but that’s not true. Your chance of happiness is much greater when you let go those who do not enhance your life and make it larger than if you let life narrowing people in.
If we don’t let go we might never find what is looking for us. There is something that probably fits us better than the relationship we are leaving our claw marks in and refusing to let go of.
Let go. Find you and then find what is looking for you. Know yourself and don’t be led down a rabbit hole by a pretty face or charming smile. It’s a value system that counts. When that is not in sync, it’s time to move on. Best of luck to you!
Copyright 2018 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
“I Teach What I Know. I Have The Degrees, but I Have The EXPERIENCE and I don’t ask anyone to do anything I have not done.”
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author
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