I first started writing these series of posts at the end of September, in a fit of pre-holiday nerves. Seeing hints of Thanksgiving reminded me of the prior year’s holiday experience, and during one nervous weekend, I wrote out the majority of the past five posts. Between September and the last few weeks, things became so stressful that I didn’t even think about these posts, much less go back and reread them. And it was interesting to me, going back to reread them now, that there are a lot of the same themes still occurring in our relationship: time management, Lora being abusive, things needing to get really bad before they begin to get better.
It might sound ridiculous, but between September and now, I completely forgot the extent and content of the conflicts that came before. As I wrote in part 3, I really hate remembering and holding onto past griefs. If I am, it must be a pretty spectacular thing. This has been both a good thing and a bad thing for me. A good thing because it feels good not to hold onto things and always have them gnawing at me. A bad thing because I believe that sometimes I do give people too many chances before I realize that I should stop and walk away. The bad side of that is actually part of what I started writing. Being able to search for past wrongs that upset me enough to write about is a good way for me to take a look at what’s happened in my relationships and decide if a relationship is truly good for me.
By remembering the past, I’m now aware that this recent explosion of fighting, abuse, and anger is the second such explosion that the three of us have weathered. Having had an average of one a year, I’m not willing to believe that there won’t be another one. Having another one won’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for me – depending on the severity, length, and if it feels like we’re treading old ground or discovering new problems will tell me if it’s a deal-breaker. If it’s the same shit, just repackaged into a newer box, then I’m going to have to have a talk with Jon about the insanity of staying in at situation where all the worst aspects of the past continue to repeat themselves. If it’s something new and less contentious, then depending on what it is, I may still consider this living situation to be workable – or at least, be comfortable staying in it as it’s still a work-in-progress that needs considerable more work.
Though we’ve had major conflict twice over the same issues, I would say that the second time was far more productive. The first time, Lora and I had very little direct communication about it; what talking we did was more in terms of apologizing and smoothing things over. This time, the three of us had a serious, painful talk about Lora’s abusive language. Also, last time the time management issues weren’t directly addressed, though they did get better after the new year. This time, we all communicated directly about time, and we continue to talk directly about time. Jon continues to be up-front about how much time he’s spending with each of us. More importantly, the time that Jon and Lora spend together when I’m at work is no longer some magical un-counted time that doesn’t count when the three of us are home and Jon is dividing up his evening (so now, I see Jon significantly more on the evenings of days when he and Lora aren’t working, as he spends the majority of his time with her during the day, when I’m at work).
The important thing to me is that it feels like we’re all treating each another fairly. Because of that, I feel a lot more relaxed and giving. As I’ve done all along, I also aim to keep rough track of Jon’s work schedule and the time he spends with both of us, because I do continue to let him know if/when I notice he hasn’t had as much time with Lora, because I do want him to have that time. Also, now that I no longer feel like I’m at the bottom of Jon’s time-list, I feel less stressed, more comfortable, and more OK during the times when I’m not seeing much of Jon – because his actions have continued (now for nearly a month!) to show that he is actively managing his time.
There is only one part of this time management that concerns me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been having an exceptionally hard time the past few months with my health and my job. Part of what made this whole situation so stressful was that, while having such a difficult time in other parts of my life, I must admit that I was hoping to have more than an equal share of Jon’s time and attention – I really needed the extra help/care/love. But because we’d had such a massive imbalance, the end result is that I’m finally having an equal amount of Jon’s attention. Although I’m not usually a tit-for-tat person, the overall experience has left me feeling less generous towards Lora than I would otherwise. Meaning that if she were to go through an extraordinarily hard time in her life, I’d be a lot less likely to have a private talk with Jon about how I’m comfortable with him spending significantly more time and energy on Lora until she’s in a better place.
Before this whole situation occurred, that would have been exactly what I would have done – and is something that I am still willing to do on a very short-term basis. I truly believe in looking after all the relationships we’re in, and that it’s best for everybody to shift time and energy towards the person who is struggling the most. But I’ve also learned (from painful past experience) that extending extra time and energy towards someone who is never willing to reciprocate can often just end in the person doing the expending feeling perpetually over-extended and taken-advantage of.
This isn’t an exact science, mind you. If I extend…let’s call it “energies”…so if I ten energies at someone when they’re down, I don’t make a note of that and demand ten energies back. Sometimes people can only afford to extend eight later. Or sometimes they extend twelve. But I’ve had relationships before where I regularly extend ten energies when someone is having a rough time, and they regularly extend two energies when I’m having a rough time. If that’s something that I’m comfortable with, then that’s fine. But if I’m expecting about an equal amount of energies, and the imbalance feels uncomfortable, then I’m going to be much less generous in the future.
To put it more concretely, let’s say I have two friends. One friend (Tom) makes as much money as I do. The other (Rose) makes about half of what I do. When Rose and I go to dinner, chances are good that I’ll treat her, or I’ll tell her up front (if we’re going to a more expensive restaurant) that I’m going to treat her. If she’s not comfortable with that, then we may focus on going to inexpensive restaurants, so that we can split the bill in half. But when Tom and I go out, I’d expect us to pretty regularly split the bill, or take turns paying at fairly equally-priced restaurants. But if I notice that Tom is perpetually forgetting his wallet (and forgetting to pay me back), or always suggests expensive restaurants when I treat, but cheap ones when it’s his turn, then I’m going to have a problem. If I try to talk to Tom about this problem, and he blows me off, then I’m going to go out with Tom a lot less. But if, say, Tom tells me that his mom is sick and he’s paying a lot of her medical bills the past few months, chances are good that I’m going to tell him that I don’t mind being more generous during that time (or maybe telling him we need to stick to cheaper places). If Tom tells me he can’t afford to eat out with me because he just decided to buy a giant new TV, and remodel his kitchen, AND buy an expensive car, then I’m going to reevaluate Tom and Tom’s money priorities, because it feels to me like Tom is living large in part by living off of his friends – and if I didn’t consent to have that kind of friendship with Tom, then I’m going to back away, because it’s not what I’m looking for.
I hope that makes sense. My feelings towards Lora and energies (to get back to calling it energies) are complex and ever-changing. If she were doing extremely poorly, or having a really hard time, my first impulse is to do everything I can to help her, both for herself, and also for Jon. But, given the stress of the last few months (and given my continued poor health), I know I need to hold back on that, because I can’t necessarily expect her to respond in-kind (and I definitely don’t have the energy to spare that I normally would). Until I get into a better place, I need to make sure that I’m saving the energy that I need for myself – and also request that Jon both remembers to treat us equally in that regard, as we do both need him and that he remembers to let us know when he needs our energy.
I think time will tell as to how it goes for all of us, when it comes to supporting and being supported. Right now, it feels like the good place we got to a few months ago continues to be here and feel good for all of us. Even now that Lora is working again, and Jon has gotten busy again, things have continued to be fair and reasonable. And once Lora’s school semester is over, she should be getting into therapy, and that will hopefully mean some excellent progress for her. Fingers crossed!