Plus one

You know how you’ll have a friend who you’ve known for many years and then she will get a boyfriend that you don’t like? Or worse yet, it is a spouse that you don’t like. So then you don’t want to spend any time with that friend, because she feels like she has to bring her boyfriend or spouse along to every single thing that you two normally did just together. I think the same thing about people’s children as well.

These are all their “plus one” relationships. They are invited to the party, and they bring someone extra that you don’t know. You haven’t really agreed to them being there, but you have to go on trust. Except it isn’t a party, it is a relationship between friends.

I want to have a relationship with just that person, not the significant other and not their child. To me, it shouldn’t be a package deal. Sometimes I luck out and the s/o or the child is very pleasant. But more often than not the opposite is true. The s/o is self-centered or abusive, and the child is, well, a child. Children can’t help being annoying when they are young. They can’t help being loud and interrupting all the time. That is just part of the nature of young children.

Sometimes you might try to arrange the gatherings when you know that the child is with his other parent. I know a lady who will invite her friend out for seafood – knowing that her husband is allergic to shellfish. This way just the two of them can be together.

Sometimes adding a s/o or a child to the mix signals the end of a relationship. Sometimes it is because people get too busy to spend time with friends. But sometimes it is because they don’t realize that their friends didn’t sign up for the s/o or the child. They’ll try to drag them along, and then nobody is happy.

Having a relationship with someone is like a contract. We agree on how we will be together as friends. We agree that we’ll call or write or visit a certain amount of times with each other to keep the relationship going. We agree that we’ll share each other’s good times and bad. But when you add a significant other or a child, it adds a whole other person to the contract. Everything has to get renegotiated, and rarely do people even talk about this. They seem to think of it as “Love me, love my partner or child” and it isn’t always that way. Just because I like you doesn’t mean I like who you live with.

Sometimes partners are abusive. Sometimes children are unruly. Sometimes the problem isn’t just dealing with the abusive or unruly other person that is suddenly in the mix, it is dealing with your feelings about this new and unpleasant person in your friend’s life.

You love your friend, and you don’t want to see her hurt. You can tell that this guy is bad for her. You can tell she’s totally inept at parenting. Watching her with these people hurts, because you know she is in for a lot of pain.

So some of the problem is about how you feel with this “plus one” added to the party. Some of it is about how it changes or destroys the relationship you had with your friend. Some of it is about how you feel bad for her, living with such difficult people.

The other side of grief

You know how it hurts when you see something that reminds you of your loved one? Or hear a song that they liked, or eat a food that the used to make for you? Sometimes you’ll see something and think Hey, I need to call her and tell her about this.

But you can’t call her, because she has died. And then it hurts a lot. Then that wound of grief is opened back up, raw.

This happens often when you are newly grieving, but can also happen years later.

I’ve realized something that can help.

Every time you have one of those moments, that is your loved one thinking of you. That is your loved one saying “Hey, I’m still around. You can’t see me, but I’m still here.”

Every time you hear that song, see something that would make her a great present, find a book you want to tell her about – every time she comes to mind that is her saying that she loves you – and she is thinking about you just as much as you are thinking about her.

Death just changes the relationship. It doesn’t end it. It shifts it sideways instead of straight on. With death, the spirit is free to be with you any time. There is no limitation of a body.

Compatibility test

If you want to find out if someone is compatible with you, do any activity where you have to work together. This is true for business or personal relationships.

Simply ordering a pizza is a good indicator of whether you can get along with each other.

Does he want all meat, and you think meat is murder? Is she allergic to all your favorite toppings? Do you have to get two separate pizzas to both be content? This does not bode well for a harmonious relationship.

Try doing a jigsaw puzzle together. Does he try to work on the same area you are working on, getting in your way? Does she get jealous when you finish an area before her?

You both don’t have to do the same things or be exactly the same. That would be a little weird. But you do both have to work well together, encouraging each other and building each other up.

Relationships are a lot like three legged races. If you aren’t working together, you are going nowhere.

Authority and abuse.

Abuse is abuse no matter who it comes from. It is easy to spot someone being abusive if they are a stranger or a bad guy on TV. It is much harder when it is a person in authority, or a person you should be able to trust. I’ve already written about some of this before but it is important enough to say again from a different perspective.

We are taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to give them second chances. We are taught to put our own needs second, or even last. We are taught to put up and shut up. But if someone is abusing you, you have not only the right but the obligation to tell them to stop, and if they don’t stop, then you have a choice. Continue to be abused, or leave the relationship.

I’ve already provided a list of helpful books in the “resources” section that I call “survival books”. They aren’t about how to start a campfire with a bit of string and wood, but they will keep you alive. Pick one or two of those to read and you’ll be on your way.

I was abused psychologically by my brother for many years. The breaking point was when I realized that if he was anyone other than my brother I would have left him years ago. I was operating under the Christian idea that I’m supposed to love my brother. While “brother” isn’t just literally “brother” but “everybody”, it is extra hard when that actual brother isn’t a nice person. He was (and probably is still) manipulative. He didn’t care about other people’s feelings. He only cared about what it meant to him.

After reading “Difficult Conversations” and “Codependent No More,” I decided to tell him how his behavior towards me made me feel. He backed off for a little bit, but then started with the same behavior all over again. He started slowly so I wouldn’t notice. It worked. Soon he was back to his same level of manipulation and guilt-trips and harassment. Soon I was feeling guilty for even saying anything. Perhaps I deserved this treatment. Perhaps I was supposed to take it. After all, this is my brother. Our Mom expected him to take care of me after she died. Older brothers are supposed to do that, right?

Then something amazing happened. I realized that he had addressed me as “Sister” for many years. I wasn’t even “Betsy.” I was a placeholder. I wasn’t a person. So I started to think. If he was anybody other than my brother, I wouldn’t even be talking to him. He isn’t a nice person. He certainly isn’t a friend. He can’t even be spoken to without expecting a confrontation. He was the kind of person where you could say “What a beautiful day it is outside!” and he would say “Are you saying it is time for me to mow the lawn?!” Every conversation went like that. He assumed that you were attacking him in some indirect way. My sister-in-law (a counselor) thinks he might be a paranoid schizophrenic. Perhaps he is. I don’t know. I just know he isn’t a nice person, and I took his abuse for way too long.

I want to encourage you to analyze your relationships. If you are not being treated as a valuable person, as a friend in all your relationships, then you need to speak up. Tell that person how you feel. Tell them how their words and actions make you feel. If they don’t take your words to heart, leave.

It is better to be alone than be in a relationship that is abusive. Our society doesn’t say this. Our society says that being alone means that something is wrong with you. I say that being together with an abusive person is far more wrong. Walk away. You can do better.

Now – here’s the big thing. This applies to everyone – regardless of position. We are taught to trust our family, and our friends, and our teachers, and our church. They are not to be questioned. They are supposed to be good to us. But remember the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. People gain a certain level of power when they are in positions of authority. They gain even more when we give them free reign.

So if your parent, or your priest, or your politician does not treat you in a healthy, respectful way, speak up. If they don’t change, leave.