About Last Night: talk to your lover about your fears 18-11-18

November 18, 2018

Q: I’m an active and healthy man (80). My last three significant relationships lasted about 10 years each, and I didn’t handle them well. Now, I’ve met a younger woman, and we’ve found instant mental and physical attraction. She cares for a husband with Alzheimer’s, getting her needs met with casual lovers. I, too, am a carer. Now we have fallen in love, having never experienced a relationship as full and complete. I’m worried I’ll destroy everything, as in the past. I’d be heartbroken and desolate. I’ve already annoyed her with my responses. Help.

A: It is clear that you are self-aware enough to know that you are capable of self-sabotaging your relationships by returning to unhelpful patterns of behaviour. However, this awareness is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you cannot change your responses. At the moment, your greatest enemy is fear itself.

My husband is an experienced motorcyclist, and one of the fundamental principles of travelling on two wheels in safety is to keep your eyes on where you want to go, not on what you want to avoid. If you focus on that massive pothole, that is where the bike will go.

Unfortunately, you have continued to behave in ways that do not serve you for decades, so the pattern, or tangle, is well established, and you do not have a lot of time to straighten things out. Fortunately, you do not need to.

Steve Biddulph says that you have two options when you are confronted with a tangled, knotted mess. Either you can spend hours trying to undo the knots, or you can decide to cut out the knotted section, splice the two ends together, and get on with using the rope.

So, how can this be achieved?

Firstly, challenge the way you think. The past, including your failed relationships, does not exist. The future, where you see yourself spoiling this new relationship, does not exist. All that we ever have is this moment, and it is in this moment that your relationship is developing. Do not allow regret over a non-existent past, or fear about an imaginary future, impact negatively on the now.

There is a powerful resource you can use to help you to change your thoughts and feelings, without taking years to do it. That tool is called “The Work”, and it has been developed by American writer Byron Katie (thework.com).

Using a deceptively simple technique involving four questions, “the work” helps you to understand the stories that you are telling yourself that trigger your anxiety or unhappiness. By turning your thinking around, you lose the pain.

The best introduction to her approach is to listen to her audiobook, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. It is important that you listen to the entire book. It is also most effective if you use the worksheet template she provides. When you write things down it concretises them, getting them out of your head, and making it easier to work on them.

One word of warning: if you find American modes of expression irritating and off-putting, please persist. The introductory chapters that explain Byron Katie’s back story are spoken by her husband, and grated on me at times, but are important. Push through until you hear the live dialogues with real people.

Although “the work” is simple, the ideas can be slippery and elusive. I have listened to the audiobook three or four times now, and the way of thinking is bedding in.

Meanwhile, talk to your lover about your fears, your habitual patterns of behaviour, and your hopes for the future. She is more likely to understand what is going on, and to be willing to be patient and supportive, if you have opened your heart, revealed your vulnerability, and asked her for her help. My partner and I found it enormously helpful to listen to Loving What Is together.

You are at a time in your life when you can choose to reject self-destructive habits, and enjoy the full, rich, sustaining love for which you have been yearning.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

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