Your Feelings are Your Feelings

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What does it mean to cross the watershed and identify yourself as both offender and victim? It means that you go through the same process of guilt, acknowledgement of shortcomings, restitution, and reconciliation as the person who hurt you. 

If you’re going to ask him to apologize for his shortcomings or to eradicate them, you have to do the same for yours. It’s only fair. It also only makes sense. When you come to terms with the things you have done to harm others, only then do you have appreciation of what’s involved. You know how hard it is, so, when you see someone do it authentically, you understand what they went through and won’t dismiss it out of hand. If you see someone try to apologize inauthentically or make a half-assed attempt at restitution, you’ll recognize that, too and won’t confuse cheap repentance for the real thing.

The choice you’re making at the watershed moment is between moving on, or not; between a sophisticated understanding of the problem or a simple one; between doing what you can about the problem or waiting for your partner to solve the problem for you.

It would be nice if others could solve problems for you. If only she behaved better, you’d be happy. If he wasn’t such a prick, you wouldn’t be angry all the time. If she were more trustworthy, you’d be able to trust her. It’s nice when that happens, but you don’t have to wait for it to happen. You play a part in how you feel; actually, a bigger part than anyone else.

Let’s go back to the situation with the husband who had an emotional affair. We talked about it in the last post. You confront him and he admits it. He promises to end it. He says he’ll never talk to her again. You demand access to his phone and his computer at random intervals so you can check on him. For a few months you do just that; but, if that’s all you do, a funny thing happens with your feelings: nothing. You continue to be just as suspicious as when you started. How do you know he isn’t just deleting the correspondence? How do you know he doesn’t have another email account or a second phone or another laptop stashed away? How do you know they’re not carrying on in a motel room, so they have no need to text or email one another? You don’t and that’s the point. Your feelings are your feelings and there’s only so much he can do about them.

To really change the situation, you have to confront the circumstances that created it. If you had been ignoring him, you created the conditions under which he chose to have this affair. It’s true, he could have chosen differently; but you could have, too. Taking on the underlying problem will do more to restore your trust in him than any amount of surveillance ever will.

The watershed moment is when you’ve waited for the other person long enough. You’re ready to get started. Well, get started. Maybe he’s done everything he can do to restore trust, but the rest is up to you. Maybe he’ll never take a single step on the road to reconciliation; but, if you fail to do your part, if you fail to admit your faults and begin to work towards restitution, that’s something you’re going to have to answer to.

So, what does it mean to cross the watershed and identify yourself as both offender and victim? It means you accept your part of the blame. You change the conditions under which your offender offended you. You don’t just put all the responsibility for change on him; you take responsibility for yourself.