Practicing Intellectual Foreplay
I am starting a new relationship after a divorce. I feel cynical about marriage and long-term relationships, yet I understand the incredible gift of lessons from my first marriage. How can I set a foundation for a very different experience?
Congrats for the self-awareness required to know you are being cynical and for recognizing the gifts from your first marriage. When someone is unaware of what she does, there is little chance for change, and when she is unaware of the lessons, she misses the blessings.
It is helpful to recognize that what we do — even our attitude — is actually a choice, not something that is done to us. I invite you to continue being self-observant, notice when you are being cynical, and ask yourself, “Is this serving me?” If it is, be cynical, but do so with intention and choice. That way, you are clear that being cynical is your decision, and you are not a victim of the results. On the other hand, if you find that being cynical is not serving you or is actually an obstacle to what you want, then take a deep breath, let “cynical” go, and choose a new attitude — one that is in alignment with your target goal, which I’m assuming is to create a loving, lasting, harmonious relationship.
I’m a huge advocate of practicing what I call intellectual foreplay — a process of asking important questions of yourself and your potential partner, based on your values, goals, and interests. In this way, you can be sure you are building the relationship on a worthy foundation. You may want to start by asking yourself what your role was in your divorce. If you want to create a different experience, it will be important for you to recognize your responsibility in the initial experience.
Also, ask yourself what you want and your level of readiness. Since I don’t know how old you are, how long it has been since you were divorced, or how long you were married, you need to do some self-analysis. It may well be that you are not ready to start another long-term relationship, and your cynicism is really a guiding message.
The best foundation for any relationship with someone else is a healthy relationship with yourself. Begin by noticing your self-talk, and when you hear yourself full of self-doubt or judgment, see if you can choose self-talk that builds you up and leads you in the direction of your goals, rather than the other way around.
My brother is in his late 20s and is gay. He hasn’t come out to my mom yet, but she mentioned it recently. When I talked to her about the possibility, she started crying and said, “It would be so much easier for me if he wasn’t gay!” I was surprised that she thought his sexuality could have any kind of impact on her life, and since he’s happy, who cares? How can I move her past hysterics to help my brother feel more comfortable?
When we listen with our ears to what people say, we can easily get triggered to defend, argue, or convince. When we listen with our hearts to what people mean, we are able to address the real issue and move toward compassion, acceptance, and solutions.
Honor your mom’s need to cry and grieve over the challenge to her belief system and her expectations, hopes, and dreams. Hold her or hold the space while she grieves. Your ability to understand and accept her will help move her toward understanding and accepting your brother.
When someone is really upset, it helps to agree and then offer an alternative perspective: “Yes, it would be easier — for you and for him — if he were not gay. And thank goodness it is easier now than at any time in history to be gay or to have a gay family member.” After she feels heard and understood, encourage and educate her. “However, this isn’t about what is ‘easy’; this is about accepting and loving your son and being the one to make it easier for him.
Share what helped you in your own acceptance of your brother’s sexuality. For example: “At first I was afraid as well, because I didn’t know how it was going to be. But I have known for a while, and now all I care about is that he is happy. I am sure that is what you want for him, too.”
Also, encourage your brother and your mom to talk as soon as possible. The secrecy and silence may actually be keeping the issue a problem for them both. We tend to make up stories to fill in the gaps of missing information, and the stories of our imagination are usually far worse than the truth. When the issue is open for discussion, there will be an opportunity to move into acceptance of reality. As long as it is still the unspoken secret that everyone knows about, everyone is walking around waiting for the confrontation and imagining the worst. Fear and resentment start to grow in that kind of space.
Ask her what kind of support she might need in moving through her emotions so that she is ready to discuss this with her son in a loving way. Then, if you can, provide that support. I wish you all the best.