Princess Diana caught the hearts of many when she said, “There were three people in this marriage from the start.” Anyone who had ever lived with someone whose attention was focussed elsewhere was able to relate to the comment.
Recently I’ve noticed that it can be difficult for some couples to recognise that there are two people in their relationship. Sometimes, as with Diana, it can seem that there’s a third party, whether that’s another person, a job or a hobby. Sometimes, it can seem there’s only one person who matters. And sometimes, the partners don’t see each other as people at all.
The expression “Golf Widow” is an old one, acknowledging that sometimes one partner’s hobbies can take them away from the relationship to the extent that they are effectively absent. Many people can relate to the sense of playing second fiddle to one partner’s job, which takes them away at all hours of the day and night, intruding on family meal times, holidays and special occasions. Children can take so much of a mother’s time, that the relationship with their father can become a non-event, and fathers can feel excluded or left out. One father I spoke to told bitterly of his sense of being a sperm bank, to provide his wife with children, and that once she got those, he became irrelevant to her.
People who have partners whose interests completely monopolise them, can feel insignificant and unimportant by comparison. What does golf (or the job, or the children) have that I don’t?
Sometimes, it can seem there’s only one person in the relationship that matters. One person can speak and think for the other, both buying into the myth that one person really does know better. Recently, I spoke to a man who told me he didn’t need to ask his wife how she felt about a particular situation they were facing. He knew how she felt, and he didn’t need to ask her opinion of how he was going to deal with it. He saw their situation as one for him to find a solution to, and she had no part in it.
Sometimes, people in relationships don’t really see each other as people at all. We can see the others in our lives as a cameo of themselves. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone who has a problem to be seen as that problem. You will often hear this from people who struggle with their weight, that others see them as the weight, and disregard all other aspects of them. Sometimes when we become focussed on a problem, especially one that someone else has, in time that’s all we may see.
In “Why God is Laughing,” Deepak Chopra suggests that many difficulties in relationships are caused by us taking up a position where we are right and the other person is wrong, and that the solution is to let go of the need to be right. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But not all that easy. Holding out that we are right assumes that we know everything there is to know about a situation and the other people in our lives. We don’t. It assumes that things are how they are and cannot change. They can.
Letting go of the need to be right is another way of taking responsibility for ourselves. It affords us an opportunity to see ourselves and others as we really are, and not just the image or illusion that we present to the world. We may see our partner as strong and capable of looking after us, and in buying into that, we ignore their frailties and vulnerability, and ignore too our own strengths. We may be afraid of our partner’s anger, and fail to see the fear behind it. We may see our partner as controlling and ignore our own power and freedom to choose for ourselves. The habit of seeing the other person as the problem can become so ingrained that we can forget we’re doing it. If you’re thinking as you read this, that’s what he/she does, ask yourself where is your part in it?
When we are willing to let go of how we see ourselves and others, and the illusions and assumptions we make about them, we make space for seeing something different. We make space for them to grow into something different, and for ourselves to be all of who we are.
There are two people in the relationship. Underneath the illusions, there are two people trying to find happiness, two people trying to have their needs met. And two people who have felt fear and sadness and alone.