“But I just wanted to be happy,” my couldn’t-be-ex-quickly-enough whined to the police officer in the interview room where he was being questioned for bigamy.
“That doesn’t give you an excuse to commit a felony,” the officer responded. I could hear him shaking his head in disbelief as he related this encounter to me on the phone later that day.
It brings up an interesting question though – when is it okay to cause distress to others on your own path to self fulfillment?
Your first impulse may be, “never.” Yet, we are not responsible for another’s happiness and we are in charge of our own. And there are times when you may have to step on some toes in order to make the changes that you need to make for you.
And it’s actually more harmful to engage in the people-pleasing (or cowardly) dance around the toes than to be honest and upfront from the beginning. When we try to protect people from our truth, we are acting as gatekeepers, something no relationship on common footing should ever have. Additionally, in trying to avoid hurting anyone, you create an environment seeded for deception (if you do want you want and lie about it to protect the other or yourself) or contempt and resentment (if you don’t follow your dreams and you blame your partner for your circumstances).
There are times when you have to step on some toes. Bruise some egos. Utter words that you know will lead to tears. And maybe even make a decision that causes a heart to break.
It’s not your job to ensure that your partner never feels pain. It’s not your role to act as security guard for your partner’s ego. And it’s not your responsibility to protect your partner’s cheeks from tears.
There are times that you may have to step on some toes in order to find your happiness.
But you are responsible for ensuring that you step as gently as possible. (Unlike my ex, who pretty much tap danced in combat boots over everyone in his life.)
If you are feeling unfulfilled in your life and you suspect that the pursuit of your own happiness will end up hurting others, here is what you need to consider if you want to tread as lightly as possible:
Don’t Be Impulsive
We all get irritated at times. We all reach a breaking point where eruptions are inevitable. This is not the time to throw out some news that will hurt your partner. Wait until you are calm and deliberate. Words can never be erased.
Speak Your Truth Clearly
Say it as it is. Provide the basics and only elaborate if asked.
Do Not Spread Blame
Even if you see your partner as responsible, this is not the time to point fingers. Own your part. And make sure you’re not on a snipe hunt for happiness. Not only is that not fair to your partner, you will never find what you’re looking for.
This may be old news to you, but it’s a breaking headline to your partner. Give them the time and space needed to adjust.
Accept That Some Pain is Inevitable
You can’t keep your partner from hurting. Offer comfort if it is welcome and don’t censor or try to minimize the pain.
Strive to Not Respond to Anger
When we are surprised and in pain, we often lash out. Try to not respond to anger; it won’t lessen the impact of your announcement.
Enlist Professional Help If Needed
Whether the news is delivered in a counseling office or a therapist is secured after-the-fact, recognize that help may be needed.
Listen and Keep an Open Mind
You may have reached a conclusion on your own. Be willing to listen to your partner. First, so that they can feel understood and also because you may find an alternative you did not consider.
And I discourage bigamy; you’ll find the police aren’t very sympathetic:)