Maybe It Didn’t Mean That Much, But It Meant Everything To Me


empty-swing

A number of years ago I was in the process of trying to renew my mortgage for the first time.

When I bought my house I had assumed the mortgage from the person I bought it from, so I didn’t really have any choice at the time.  But now that mortgage was coming due, and I had the freedom to go with whoever I wanted.

This was new waters for me, and I didn’t really know how to approach it.

But I have always been a very loyal person – to family, friends, and even the businesses I deal with.  So I went to the bank I had been dealing with since I was a child.

I worked with my banker for a few weeks, understanding how mortgages worked and ensuring I was getting a competitive rate; until finally I was ready to sign my first mortgage.

I tried getting a hold of my banker one day to say “alright, let’s do this.  Sign me up and let me know what you need from me”.  She wasn’t there, so I left a message on her phone.

The next morning she called me back, apologizing for not getting back to me earlier.  And also to tell me that she could no longer honor the rate we had discussed because it had gone up overnight.

I was confused.

I had given the verbal “let’s do this” BEFORE the rates had gone up.  There had been no out of office message for her, so in my opinion I had done my part.

She told me her hands were tied, so I asked to talk to her manager – convinced that when I explained what happened, the manager would extend the rate we had previously agreed upon.

Yeah, not so much.

The manager came told me rates had changed, end of story.  I explained my side, that in my opinion this was an issue on the banks end and not mine, and I was essentially told too bad.

Then, the manager tried explaining to me that the rate change wasn’t really that large.  And over the length of the mortgage the difference would only end up costing me around $500.

Hmm, only around $500.  Fair enough.  So I asked him, since $500 wasn’t such a big deal would HE be willing to pay it to me or have the bank cover it?  After all, $500 likely means a lot less to a bank than it does to a kid in his early 20’s.

He told me no that was not what he meant; and that the bank could do nothing further to help me.

So I moved my business elsewhere, and I have never been back.

 

In my bank story above, my issue wasn’t really with the bank making a mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, that upset me and was an inconvenience to me.  Rather, the issue was with the lack of accountability.  And worse, the attempt on the part of the bank to minimize it.  To try and tell me “yeah, the rates have changed – but it’s not really going to impact you that much”.

It may not have mattered much to THEM, but it meant a lot to me.

 

I see this all the time.  In life, and in relationships

A while back I wrote a post on accountability, and doing the right thing.  And one of the main points I was trying to make is that “doing the right thing” isn’t about being perfect.

We ALL screw up sometime.

Rather, it’s about how often we screw up, and more importantly how we respond and try to address problems when they occur.

Accountability is about saying “I’ve got this”, or “although it wasn’t my intention, I can see how I’ve hurt you”.  And then taking the next step and SHOWING the other person HOW WE WILL MAKE THIS BETTER both now and in the future.

And it needs to be through actions, not just words.

 

Here’s a scenario for you:

One person does something.  It doesn’t really matter what it is, so let’s just call it “X”, and their partner is hurt by it.

But when they find out their partner is hurt they say something like, “hey you are overreacting.  I don’t see what the problem is here”.  Or “I don’t know why you are reacting this way; I didn’t actually mean to hurt you”.

I’m pretty sure we have all both done this and been on the receiving end of it.  And although it can often be legitimate (to the person saying it), it is also a way of invalidating the feelings of the other person.

 

Here’s the thing.

I can’t tell you what matters to you.  I can only tell you what matters to me.  And although I may not understand WHY you feel the way you do, that doesn’t make it any less real to you.

Of course this can become hugely complicated by thing like mood disorders or even just peoples insecurities, but the fact remains – one person cannot dictate another person’s reality.

 

A few posts back I talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In it, there are different levels of needs that people have.  These needs stack, and the lower level needs must be met before we are in a position to have our higher needs met.

maslow-pyramid

Well, at the bottom we have physiological and safety needs.  Food, shelter, security.  Basically we need to feel safe.  But it’s important to understand safety isn’t just about physical safety, it’s also emotional safety.  And if we don’t feel safe we are unable to move to the higher level which includes love.

Think about this for a moment…

Your ability to feel love for someone is impacted by how safe you feel around them.

So what are we doing when we minimize our partners feelings simply because we don’t understand them?  When we try to force them to conform to how WE feel they should think?  Or when we blame them for our own actions?

When we do those things we are impeding their ability to feel safe with us.  And in the process we are damaging the connection that allows love to exist.

 

This is where empathy and emotional intelligence comes in.

In a relationship, our goal should NEVER be to have someone else meet our needs.  The relationship needs to be about more than just the individuals.

For that to happen we need to strive to understand each other.  To accept that we are different, and we see things differently – and that is alright.

We WON’T always agree.  We WILL hurt each other at times.

And that’s part of what it means to be two different people.

But instead of allowing those moments to pull us apart, we need to be able to use them as opportunities for growth.  Opportunities to further our understanding of each other, so that we are better able to support each other in the future.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement.

Frequently our conflict points are caused by our personal issues and insecurities, and we owe it to both our partner and ourselves to grow as a person; to identify and improve our personal issues.  Trying to grow as a person, while in a supportive relationship should only help strengthen the bond between two people.

But relationships need to be places of mutual understanding and acceptance.  They always need to be places of safety for us – physically and emotionally.

And that cannot happen if we are always made to feel that we are wrong, that our feelings don’t matter, or that we are to blame for our partners actions and emotional state.

 

Sometimes this can’t happen.  Sometimes we are unable or unwilling to accept our partner as they are.  Maybe we feel it’s a one sided relationship where we are constantly expected to accommodate them but they will not accommodate us.  Maybe our partners insecurities put so much stress on the relationship that we can’t accept things any more.  Or maybe we feel that the actually ARE wrong, and as a result we are unwilling to accept them.

We all probably feel these things sometimes.  But when it has become common it is likely the sign of deeper issues.  Maybe your fundamental values are different.  And as a result maybe the two of you simply aren’t good for each other anymore.

Things happen, and people change.

To stay together and have a healthy and strong relationship you need to be able to accept each other for who they are.  You need to be able to communicate and continue trying to understand each other as you grow both individually and as a couple.

And if something matters to one, even if the other person doesn’t understand it, it has to matter to both.

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18 thoughts on “Maybe It Didn’t Mean That Much, But It Meant Everything To Me

    • Maslow’s makes a lot of sense to me. And the idea that all the little things we do to each other to corrode our sense of trust in each other and our sense of safety in the relationship puts us below the level where love can happen just feels right to me.

      When the foundation is damaged, it needs to be strengthened before we can continue to grow.

      Instead people ignore the foundational issues, and then wonder why they are struggling as a couple.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Excellent stuff.

    Love the bank example. I used to love to work customer service. I still enjoy it some but it’s much more difficult in today’s environment where it seems more common than ever before for companies to take the position of being an institution with solid rules and structure and that the customer service just need to accept that and suck it up even when the company’s end is unethical AND our society has become more rude, more harried, and more stressed than it used to be so it’s become more common than before come for some percentage of customers to come into any situation already too stressed to cope no matter what or just used to a mode of operating that has nothing to do with cooperation or understanding.

    I’ve been thinking about the interplay or crossover between the basic need of safety and the emotional and psychological needs of love, friendship, and support. It often seems this effects women more than men or at least very differently, such that we may feel foundationally unsafe when our partner is emotionally unsafe, as if there is a deeper need for a husband to be good to us emotionally at the core of our ability to operate well in a relationship and once that is screwed up it’s sooo difficult to ever get your feet back under you. Then it’s years upon years before a husband decides to even admit to himself that your feelings of being hurt or loved or safe or unsafe mean even the smallest blip of interest to him or to anyone, at which point depending on who he is he may have his justifications all set up firmly in his mind that you don’t matter because you’re not “good enough” for him and his needs and demands anyway. Sorry this sounds so one-sided. I’m just still trying to process through my 20 years of emotional abuse. But I have come to see a lot more balance despite it probably not showing enough here.

    I guess the breakdown I see happening too often is that few people ever learn the balance and the difference between the concept of that other person not being responsible for your happiness (and you not responsible for their’s) versus both of you totally responsible for how you treat each other and the needs that each of you have that you should each be striving to fulfill for each other. There are valid points to be made on both sides of these seemingly mutually exclusive concepts. When people can’t hear and accept that they’ve done something that from the other person’s perspective was brutal and figure out how to participate in repairing the breach in trust they are in fact making the same mistake that any abuser makes when they can’t take responsibility for their actions damaging another human being. We put far too much into trying to make the distinction that nothing is really all that bad and that nothing really matters in emotional connections because the other person is responsible for their own happiness or for our needs first, or because that just feels judgey rather than acknowledging that our relationship skills do matter and that the harder we fight against that the more damage we do to the person who entrusted their heart and their entire being to us when they trusted enough to marry.

    We all mistreat others sometimes. We all have to be able to face that unpleasant reality and take responsibility rather than focusing on how wrong the other person is to think so, or to not be absolute perfection in addressing it, or just feeling hurt and judged and angry and defensive with no further work to understand at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree fully.

      You have a lot of really valuable things in here.

      First, you mention emotional abuse. I have a post on emotional abuse that has been percolating for a long time now (and I really need to finish). I find it both amazing and disturbing that most people will agree that it is wrong to physically strike someone, yes SO many people will actively engage in emotionally abusive behaviours. I think maybe emotional abuse is kind of difficult to talk about, because even the “best” of us (most healthy individually and in relationships) will have moments that they do things that could be considered emotionally abusive. But with emotional abuse it’s not even just the activities and behaviours, it’s also the frequency with which they are used. And I think another challenge with emotional abuse is that the people who do it may not even realize that they are being emotionally abusive. Some DEFINITELY do, but for others it’s more a matter of broken coping mechanisms that cause a LOT of harm. And they may know that the way they approach things isn’t healthy, but they don’t really understand that their coping mechanisms are learned behaviours and could (with effort) be unlearned.

      You mention the men vs. women differences, and I’m glad you say at the end that although your comment seems one-sided you have come to see more balance. I will agree with you that men, and particularly our lack of emotional availability can really do a number on relationships. I will say it’s definitely not all of us, and I think much of it comes down to gender roles and the way boys are frequently raised vs how women are raised. Here’s a video I think EVERYONE (men and women) should watch:

      If you watch that, and then think about how many men are broken emotionally I think it gives it some context. I believe with all my heart that men NEED emotions, and love, just as much as women. But many of us are taught from such a young age this broken notion of what it means to be a man, and as a result we are raising a future generation of shitty husbands/partners. We are creating emotionally broken people by trying to teach young boys that their emotions are a negative thing.

      You mention “the concept of that other person not being responsible for your happiness (and you not responsible for their’s) versus both of you totally responsible for how you treat each other and the needs that each of you have that you should each be striving to fulfill for each other.”

      That in a nutshell is probably one of the biggest keys to a healthy relationship, and also one of the hardest things for people to grasp. If I’m not happy – it’s probably NOT my partners fault. Sure, it’s bad news if they treat me like crap. But happiness comes from within, not from anything external. And trying to find someone to “make you happy” will NEVER work. Further, when it comes to my feelings of love for my partner, I am responsible for those feelings. Not them. I need to maintain and nurture those feelings through my actions and thoughts, each and every day. So if/when I “fall out of love” with my partner, that’s on me.

      To me the ideal is being someone who is happy and confident in who I am. Being someone who is fine on my own, and can be fully independent. But at the same time I do believe we are social animals, and I think it’s awesome to have someone to SHARE my life with. That means they are there because I WANT them there, and I am actively CHOOSING to be with them. Not because I need them to fill some sort of hole within myself. When you are actively sharing with someone, I think their development and growth becomes just as important to you as your own. And you want to grow and learn together. To me, THAT sort of relationship is a beautiful thing.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. FSM, I also want to addresses your comments “the concept of that other person not being responsible for your happiness (and you not responsible for their’s) versus both of you totally responsible for how you treat each other and the needs that each of you have that you should each be striving to fulfill for each other.”..
    It does seem mutually exclusive, but I really don’t believe it is. I may not be perfect in expressing what I mean, but the things I’m learning about personal responsibility tend to make me empowered and in control of my life. It makes me feel alive and an active participant in my life and in what God is doing in the world. My relationships are just one area that effects.
    I don’t buy into anything that says I’m me, you’re you so I don’t care about you. It’s more like I am me, you are you and I will walk beside you, root for you and grieve with you as you too take responsibility and engage in this active process also.
    The issues comes up when I’m in one place and the other is in another place. Where one person isn’t moving, or has a greater need or seem to be growing in different ways.
    I honestly believe what I stated before still applies. I will take an active interest in where they are growing (walking,rooting,or grieving with them). And if they aren’t growing the love would be the same – they would take interest even if what ever was going on in me weren’t true for them. (Though I think one person changing will change other things).
    But let’s get real- significant change and growth isn’t a constant thing, or even a frequent thing.
    The reasons to be active in taking on the responsibity for emotions , or “your own happiness” inside or outside of romantic relationships are many.
    I feel like it empowers and strengthens me, it helps me be clear about what I want a d don’t want – and it doesn’t leave me in a position of trading the things I truly want, (as my wants are a reflection of who God made me to be, and a part of the purpose he has designed for me) for the hope that the relationship will be the fulfillment of that.
    Relationships can be awesome when shared between people who are experiencing and loving life, living their purpose. It’s so much easier to give, to love, to be present when you are living fully.
    Too often we compromise this for relationship – thinking it’s the loving thing to do, and that sacrifice is a way to show love. I still believe in sacrifice – but we have to ask what we are sacrificing and to what end?
    If we sacrifice our inner well being, if we sacrifice our purpose , I feel like it’s a wasted offering.(especially when offered to another human being) .
    In the end, it often turns out it’s not so much sacrifice for the true benefit of our loved one , but a compromise so we can maintain a relationship. ..if the compromise hurts you, it’s not worth it. It never is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s more like I am me, you are you and I will walk beside you, root for you and grieve with you as you too take responsibility and engage in this active process also.”

      I really like that.

      Compromise is a tricky thing. It’s important, and is something that has to happen in all healthy interpersonal settings (not just romantic relationships).

      I believe my life is not really my own. It is, and I need to look out for me first as I need to be content in who I am and what I do.

      But as a parent, a child, a friend, a lover, whatever – I also need to consider the people I care about and how my actions and choices will impact them.

      Sometimes that means I will refrain from doing something I would like to, and that’s alright. When I do it, it’s because I’m looking at a bigger picture than just myself.

      It really comes down to *what* you are compromising on though. I think there are some things, core parts of who you are and what you do that you should never compromise on. To me those areas are your boundaries, and having strong boundaries is just part of being a healthy individual.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Drew,
    It’s true that there is a difference between compromising small things and core issues. Small compromises seem to be a necessary thing when two lives are so inter-twined but I think when we are really engaged with each other, when there is a positive and loving relationship then doing things like working in the garden instead of loafing on the couch; or whatever, are less of a chore and more of a chance to do something together (and vis-à-vis sometimes loafing on the couch and not doing whatever needs to be done would be equally enjoyed.) …

    But, I want to stress that what I am talking about isn’t “selfishness”. It’s not a matter of “This is my life, and I am not going to compromise.” Or even “This is my life and my life alone.”

    It really is just about self differentiation and being a whole person. It’s about differentiating between feeling and thinking- so that our first response to a person isn’t the emotional reaction but a thoughtful one.

    One example may be a mom who is highly anxious about her children. This anxiety spreads to the spouse and the children- and then they would change their behavior to alleviate the anxiety of the mom.
    The spouse and the child take on the responsibility of the mothers anxiety, instead of the mom taking on the responsibility.

    In a differentiated family the mom would work through her anxiety, so that she could live more functionally and it wouldn’t be the spouses or the child’s responsibility to make sure mom didn’t get anxious. (For me, it would be a relationship if the spouse took interest in and did support the mom as she worked out her issues- but he couldn’t ever be the one to fix them and it would be unfair for everyone else to change their behavior to accommodate mom .)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s funny, but with 20/20 hindsight I can see exactly when I realized my marriage was ending. We had been running errands and had to drive under a narrow stone bridge. As my ex started driving through it, another car entered from the other side, and looked to me (I have really bad depth perception) like it was going to hit us, and I gasped and grabbed the armrest. Once we got out — completely unscathed — he snapped that I always overreacted, and we had been perfectly safe. When we got to the grocery store, I told him his response upset me as I had honestly been scared. He simply shrugged and turned away.

    It still took at least another year, and him leaving me, for me to realize that what I thought and felt didn’t matter to him. I’m with someone now who *does* care about how I feel, and I’m still getting used to it.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks.

      I remember the moment for me as well. She had been distant for a while, but I never really worried about it. I thought “hey, we’re married. It’s just a phase and something for us to get through”.

      We were also driving, and sometimes we would hold hands while we drove. So I reached out my hand while driving waiting for her to take it the way she normally would. But she didn’t. After a few seconds I looked over, and she was staring straight ahead, not looking at me at all. And I realized it was intentional. This wasn’t a moment where she didn’t see it, she was making a conscious effort to ignore me.

      I was hurt, but didn’t say anything.

      It was a few months later that everything started to fall apart. But I will never forget that day, and the way it made me feel.

      Lots of lessons learned. Painful ones perhaps, but still, things that allowed me to grow and understand what I will and won’t accept in life ever again.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I liked this read. I think the older I get the more I understand exactly where you are coming from. It kind of makes me think that the people who choose to wait for marriage well into their thirties are onto something. In this day and age I almost question whether we can fully grip who we are as people in our twenties. With everything thrown at us in the crazy hectic society, I’m not sure many people have time for it. And if you’re like me, you had kids really young(22) and all of the sudden your needs whether it be physical or emotional, don’t matter nearly as much as someone else’s.
    Thank you for sharing this perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “I can’t tell you what matters to you. I can only tell you what matters to me.”

    That’s a secret to staying married. Respecting that even though something means nothing to you, it means soemthing to your partner. And thus it’s real.

    Liked by 1 person

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