A snow-white sandy beach in the middle of the ocean, 580 staff members and approximately 300 guests. This is Dhidhoofinolhu island, where I spent several days with my family recently. It was a long way from home, but I was not the only Czech or Slovak there, and I was unfortunate to be recognised by one sorry individual.
This is something that I have never discussed publicly before or written about in my books, so I’m sure that you will find it very interesting. Especially if you feel that something bad is happening in your relationship, SOMETHING that you can’t turn around…
Moths in the Gingerbread
I love the Maldives for their people. They are very helpful, accommodating and incredibly welcoming to children. In a nutshell: they understand the importance of relationships and they nurture them.
They have a beautiful saying here: Giving the other person all of your attention makes half a happy relationship. Perhaps it’s supposed to be implicit in the saying, but I like to emphasise it anyway: to make a happy relationship complete, BOTH partners need to give the other all of their attention.
Since I have an 18-month-old child, I found myself watching other children around the same age. I would frequently see one child in particular with mum or dad, but never with both of them at the same time. “Excuse me, are you…?” one of them approached me one day, using my surname. And he asked for help. I was on holiday, but I couldn’t say no.
I wouldn’t wish anyone to feel how he felt. He had been with his partner for a long time, overcoming many obstacles. He had suffered and lost many times but ultimately, he always found his way back to her and things were okay again, although it always meant compromising some of his values. Despite this, despite the warmth he had given and was still giving, the relationship grew colder and colder and now he felt desperate, not having the slightest idea how to save it.
As I listened to a story I thought it sounded as if he had a beautiful and aromatic gingerbread that had slowly been eaten by moths from the inside. It still looked fine on the outside but all it would take now was one touch too many and it would crumble into dust – right there in his careful hands.
Some couples end up like this, tired of the constant clarification, the negotiation, the making compromises, and everything else a relationship requires. Or then again, they may just be tired of each other. It can be hard to face, and maybe you never wanted to admit it to yourself either, but your gingerbread is turning to dust. So, what can you do now? How can you make the gingerbread like it was before now that everything in the middle that held it together has disappeared?
In my practice, I often meet people who come to me for help when this has already happened. They’re at the “dust stage”, but by then it’s too late. They shouldn’t be seeing me, they should be seeing a divorce lawyer. As Miloš Zeman once wisely said: “Flooding needs to be addressed before the water reaches your knees.”
But the question is: WHEN is it your last chance to save it? WHEN can you kick those moths out of your gingerbread and restore the core of your cake?
I will try to answer this question in the following paragraphs.
Four Stages of the Apocalypse
I don’t need a crystal ball to be able to guess which marriages won’t survive a crisis. The ones that are going to fail go through a kind of apocalypse which has four stages, or signs if you like. These are: criticism, contempt, defence, and building a wall.
Criticism is different from complaints. Complaints are about what went wrong, but criticism is exclusively personalised, which means that it changes into an attack, or blaming. Here’s an example: one of the partners leaves a window open and rain gets into the flat, ruining a table lamp. A complaint would be aimed at the problem and not so much towards the guilty party, sounding something like this: “Oops. You’re as bad as I am and we don’t want that! I’ll remind you next time you go out if you’ll remind me.”
Criticism sounds more contemptuous. The event becomes a trigger for a torrent of feelings that have been lurking beneath the surface, and sounds something like this: “Oh my God, this is so typical of you, it’s the same with everything! Why can’t you do one simple thing like check the windows before you go out? Is that too much to ask?”
Other words that often show up in the mix are, “You ALWAYS…” or “You NEVER…”, so that whatever mistake was made is held up as yet another example in a long line of mistakes or shortcomings. An open window suddenly changes from a careless oversight into damning evidence in the trial of a partner’s character.
The second stage, contempt, is characterised by specific behaviour prompted by a partner’s words or actions, and when a partner has a passive character they may suffer greater ridicule. Of course, this is a manipulative strategy for getting the other person into a submissive position. At the same time (and to me, this is the most important part) the contemptuous partner expresses how little they respect this person, the one that they should be supporting. This is what they would do if their love was genuine. You will surely recall the simple rule from my books: who hurts does not love.
Defence is the third stage of decay of a relationship. This mostly occurs at the same time as the previous two stages but on the other side – in the partner facing the attack. This partner is in a defensive position, but this is an active rather than a passive position. He acts like a tennis player facing so much pressure during a match that he starts playing dirty. He throws up barriers. He starts to deny any responsibility, finding excuses for his behaviour, words, and actions.
The problem here is that the partner that has been chased into the corner and starts believing that this defence is the only way of protecting himself from criticism and contempt. It is a paradox that by doing this, this partner creates the perfect conditions for the final stage of the relationship’s decay – building a wall.
Building a wall is a step which signals the end to dialogue and communication in a relationship. This is typically demonstrated by an offended pose, arms folded, a fierce refusal to answer any questions, sabotaging communication, and facial expressions shot through with an icy coldness. These incredibly provocative gestures leave the other person feeling enraged, looking for any response at all and feeling completely helpless. A permanent NOTHING in communication is always the worst answer (you can find more about this in my article 5 reasons why men lose everything when the woman’s NOTHING appears).
The more common this behaviour becomes, the deeper the problems get. But why does this happen? Where does it come from? What role do our childhood and our previous relationships play? How can we recognise a rising tsunami before it overwhelms us? And why is a timely solution so important?
Please, continue to the 2nd page.