Conscious living requires us to make assessments. We assess risk level, cost benefits, and appropriateness of behaviors in specific situations. We have to make certain judgment calls every day. We make judgments in our relationships too, but we sometimes forget that they are personal, temporary evaluations, instead viewing them as objectively. Being judgmental in a relationship is usually disastrous because once we attach ourselves to a fixed characterization of our partner, we have a very hard time seeing them differently.
If we can’t turn the page of the photo album, we’re in real trouble.
Paul made up his mind to improve his relationship. He ordered self-help tapes and books and immersed himself in them. He took on the challenge of waking up each day with a total commitment to his marriage. What he was learning began to show up in his relationship with Cookie. He brought her flowers, he stopped watching TV after work to ask about her day, and he stopped expecting her to wait on him. He was attentive to their grandchild when she came to visit. But no matter what he did, Cookie continued to view him from her old perspective. It was as if she had taken a snapshot of Paul years ago and glued it into the photo album of her mind. She couldn’t turn the page but still had it open to the same old picture and kept staring at it. Cookie was lying in wait for evidence that Paul couldn’t be trusted. Since no one is perfect, of course, she found it. One day, when Paul slipped and told her to bring his coffee, Cookie confronted him with the accusation that he really hadn’t changed.
It’s exhausting to hold the commitment for two.
After a while Paul began to feel like there wasn’t any point in trying because he knew that sooner or later he was bound to lapse into an old behavior and Cookie would condemn him once again. Although he initially began to change his behavior for the sake of the marriage, he was now doing it for himself. He realized he had no control over how Cookie viewed him. Her intractable view of Paul made her the bigger loser. Being attached to her judgments prevented her from appreciating the changes Paul was making. She couldn’t see that their relationship had actually improved. Her attachment to her judgments was so strong that it prevented her from seeing the part she was playing in their relationship being stuck.
When Paul eventually told Cookie that he was no longer willing to keep trying to prove his love, Cookie took this as another piece of evidence that he didn’t really care and had been pretending all along. Shortly thereafter, Paul made the judgment call that he was unable to persuade Cookie to recognize his love for her as sincere. Cookie’s judgments of Paul kept her expectations of him to a minimum, thus protecting her from the pain of disappointment. This couple did stay married, but they were never really happy together. Ultimately, Cookie’s attachment to her judgments prevented them both from experiencing a satisfying and fulfilling connection.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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