“Love could be fractured and serve different purposes, and that intense love could be divided, between people just as easily as between moments of time.”
― Luke Davies
I have been thinking a fair bit about the preoccupation we have with relationships and how our attention can be captured by a single person, or a couple of people, often to the exclusion of other people who populate our lives. I have also been thinking about the way that people weigh particular relationships over others. This has some considerable significance when we think about estrangement.
First of all, we tend to prioritize relationships that trouble us.
They grab the lion’s share of our attention, particularly when we are struggling through rocky relationship terrain. We may have ten significant relationships in our lives, but if we were to make a pie chart describing where our attention resides, these “difficult” people are the often the ones who would be taking up rent in our thoughts and emotional space. They get a big cut of our emotional/psychological pie.
We also have a tendency to weigh particular relationships more heavily than others.
For instance, our family relationships are perceived as more significant than our relationships of choice. Relationships with parents or children appear to be weighted more heavily or be considered of greater importance or relevance than relationships with our siblings or extended family. Our relationships with our partners or spouses, can become more compelling than our relationships with our birth families. And so it goes.
It’s worth taking a look at how we divide up our relationship pie chart. Who gets the majority of our focus and attention?
Is it the people who deserve it or is it the people who create distress, dysfunction and pain? Who do we think about, talk about, worry about? Are the healthy relationships wilting in the background of our preoccupation with the unhealthy relationships? Do these people get slivers of our pie, when they should have big slices?
Additionally, I think it is worthwhile to consider how heavily we weigh each relationship. For instance, how much power do we give any one person in our lives?
Is it disproportionate? Do we blame one person, or two or however many people for our problems and unhappiness? In so doing, do we neglect to consider all the positive, affirming and life enhancing relationships that we have in our lives? Do we neglect to see our own power in the circumstances of our adult lives and relationships? Do we forget that actually we are the people who divide up our pies?
We can let ourselves off the hook a bit as well. We are not all powerful in anyone else’s life either.
If they are choosing to hyper focus on us and our behaviour, it’s a choice they make. For example, I recently had a client explain to me that her children blame her for all manner of things – some legitimate, but most, not at all. She has felt very burdened by a disproportionate feeling of responsibility for her children’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The reality is, her children’s lives were populated by many people. When she looked at who the main influences were in her children’s lives, she could see over a dozen significant people. She is 1/12th of her children’s relationship pie chart, yet the burden for all things problematic or negative have been assigned to her.
Yes, we can let ourselves off the hook.
We can let go of our need to carve up our relationship pie chart in ways that disadvantage our health and well being. We can decide where and on whom, we are going to spend our emotional energy. In fact, we are the only person who can make this decision. We can also put our own power and responsibility into reasonable context.
Other people may try to make us into a big chunk of their problem pies. They may try to serve us their view of us as their ‘problem person’, but we don’t have to accept that huge piece of pie, and we sure don’t have to eat it.