When Your Pedestal is Too High

When I first met my ex-husband, my focus was on getting to know him. I asked questions without assuming the answers and I listened to his responses without any prior assumptions blocking the way like a clog in a drain.

And then, much like what happens when you become familiar with a character in a book, I began to construct my own view of him, assembled from his words and actions over many months.

And that view was quite favorable.

I thought this was a good viewpoint to have; I had often heard the adage that one of the keys to a happy marriage was to see your spouse through rose-colored glasses. So I minimized his faults and glorified his strengths.

My error was in not recognizing (and appreciating) the distinction between a rose-colored tint and an opaque coating of naive confidence.

I had mistakenly placed him on a pedestal and that pedestal was ultimately too high.

 

When you place your partner on a pedestal…

 

You set forth unattainable expectations. 

We become disappointed not by other’s actions, but when their actions don’t match our expectations. When you have an inflated sense of your partner’s character, abilities or intentions, you are laying the groundwork for expectations set well beyond reach. Additionally, you may begin to hold yourself up to unreachable goals as your goals become more out of touch with reality.

 

You provide no allowance for mistakes.

When you perceive someone as “perfect,” you provide them with no permission to make any errors. If they are aware of the pedestal they stand upon, this can lead to a denial and concealment of any mistakes. And if you become aware of any signs that they are flawed, you can overreact because it calls into question your assumptions.

 

You discount any signs that don’t align.

We are all subject to confirmation bias. We pay more attention to those things that confirm our beliefs than to those that threaten our assumptions. And if you happen to believe that your partner is “too good to be true,” you may well miss the signs that this is indeed the case. This threat is especially concerning if you happen to be with somebody that willingly exploits your trust.

 

You create a situation where a fall from grace is inevitable.

It’s impossible for anybody to stay perched on a pedestal forever. The fall from perfection will happen and the shockwaves can be catastrophic. This is especially acute when you feel as though your partner has “rescued” you from your past or some difficult situation. At some point, you’re going to realize that the shining armor is merely tinfoil.

 

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The mistake I made in my first marriage was to only view the good in my ex husband. As a result, it was difficult for me to be aware of his deceptions and manipulations. Any slip-ups that I knew of were magnified beyond their scope because they threatened to destroy my image of him. When the truth was finally revealed, I went from seeing him as all-good to all-bad, as though he was some malevolent monster. The reality of it is that he always had elements of both.

 

I’ve learned from my earlier mistakes. Now, with my current husband, I choose to see the truth of him (that he is both awesome and human) and focus on the best. It’s a good balance. I emphasize (and hopefully magnify) his strengths while at the same time being realistic and open-minded.

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Jumping to Conclusions

jumping to conclusions

My 8th graders are finishing up a unit on geometric proofs. This material has even my live-and-breathe-math kids questioning, “When will we ever have to use this?”

And I’m honest with them. I confess that they will never be asked to write a two-column proof justifying why two triangles are congruent in order to clinch a job interview. No romantic interest will ever look over their paragraph constructed to show that a quadrilateral is, in fact, a rectangle and criticize the fact that they failed to correctly use the slopes to show right angles. In fact, the only time that this exact skill will come in handy is if they happen to become math teachers. (In fact, I’m kicking myself now for making my way through 9th grade geometry in a zombie-like haze.)

But I don’t stop there.

“Forget the content for a moment,” I advise them. “What does this process, as painful as it may be, actually teach you?”

There are confused looks. A few random and half-hearted attempts to answer my question. And then I hear it from the back corner –

 

“It teaches us how to think. How to move from one fact to another and not jump to conclusions.”

 

When I was four, I had not yet had the benefit of geometric proofs to teach me how to think. At my grandmother’s house, I would spend hours sitting by her side as she narrated her way through countless family photos. Photos, that were for the most part, in black and white.

So I reached the obvious (well, to a four-year-old at least), conclusion: the world used to be in black and white.

That made sense. But I still struggled to understand how my grandmother, who sat next to me in full color, could have become pigmented as a young adult. I wrestled with this dilemma for a time until I finally solved the problem (and felt quite proud of myself for my powers of deduction) –  Rainbow Brite was responsible for bringing color to the world.

Well, it sure seemed reasonable then.

I had leaped from one fact – photos had transitioned from black and white to color over time – to a completely arbitrary conclusion that was based solely on the information generated within my own mind.

That particular assumption was harmless (and humorous). But that’s not always the case.

 

Once we believe something, even if we leapt recklessly to that opinion, we then proceed to ignore that which doesn’t support our conclusion. 

 

We become willfully blind. Feeding on an information diet filtered through confirmation bias. Conclusions, like habits, are much more difficult to shape once they’ve hardened into place. The time to be careful is when you’re laying down the initial layers. Jumping to conclusions has a tendency to keep you in one place.

And that’s what my students are learning. Just like you can’t claim that an angle is right because it “looks” like 90º, you can’t assume things in life just because it “feels” a certain way. 

It’s harder in life than in the classroom. After all, the stakes are higher when you’re you’re talking about real life instead of a poorly drawn polygon. Yet the lesson is still the same as we learn how to not carelessly jump to conclusions:

 

Base everything on the facts.

Move from one fact to another. No jumping.

Accept that there may be more than one correct way to link these facts and don’t be afraid to explore these options.

Ask for another person’s opinion. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes will see something you do not.

When you have enough facts, make a conclusion.

If you find other facts that refute your conclusion, be ready with the eraser.

In fact, actively look for ways that your reasoning may be wrong. That’s how you test its strength.

It’s okay to make temporary assumptions to test a theory, but refrain from putting it in writing until you can prove it using facts.

 

Here’s an example of how I put this into practice in my own life as it pertains to learning to trust again after betrayal.

 

Five Surprising Ways Trust is Frayed

There are some actions whose impact on trust is obvious and catastrophic. Infidelity, sudden abuse, revealing or withholding important information and financial betrayal all sever the ties of emotional security with one brutal slash.

Yet many times, the erosion of trust is much more subtle and the belief in your partner happens slowly, one frayed stand of reilance at a time. It’s possible (and even common) for neither partner to realize the deleterious and compounding effect of these actions; they remain unnoticed until it becomes too late and trust may be beyond recovery.

Learn to recognize these crafty threats to trust so that you can address them before it’s too late:

 

1 – Not Showing Excitement

Ask any dog guardian about their favorite part about having a dog, and you will most likely hear something about how good it feels to be greeted every time with a wagging tail. Likewise, we want our partners to be excited to see us, no matter if we just returned from a month away or just walked in from a stroll around the block. A lackluster welcome can begin to make your presence feel unnoticed or even unwanted.

Apart from enthusiastic greetings, we want our partners to share in our successes. When we have reached some goal or garnered some praise, we want them to share in our sense of achievement. When we initiate a conversation with excitement and that energy is not returned, it is a feeling of trying to play tennis with a partner who refuses to return the serve.

Over time, you may begin to withhold your good news, refrain from sharing your passion, deciding that it’s less painful to celebrate alone than to have your smile countered with a shrug.

 

2 – Disappointment

Sometime disappointment comes from a person who deliberately fails to follow through on their promises. Their words soon become meaningless as their actions never manifest. You begin to expect that they won’t do as they say and you find yourself surprised when the behavior matches the claim.

Other times, the intention of the promise-maker is good and the lack of follow-through is more sporadic. Strangely, this situation is often more painful and causes more damage to trust than the first case, because the intermittent rewards keep you hoping for the desired outcome.

Especially if you have experienced major betrayal, these disappointments can register at a larger magnitude than they actually are. Furthermore, past injuries may encourage you to assume intent where there is only carelessness.

 

3 – Overreacting

We expect (and rightfully so) our partners to be our “safe space.” We want to be able to express our inner worries and reveal even our ugliest thoughts without the fear of being ridiculed or rejected. And if name-calling commences or the tone turns abusive, the impact on trust is overt and clear.

Yet the damaging impact to trust can occur even without a negative word uttered or a thought belittled. When every reaction to a statement is over-the-top, a five-alarm response to a two-alarm fire, your partner shifts from your safe space to someone you feel you have to keep safe from your thoughts and feelings.

Part of trust comes from consistency. And when you’re unsure how your partner is going to respond in a given moment or to a given piece of information, faith can be replaced with a sense of unease and wariness.

 

 

4 – Dismissing

When your perceptions and conclusions are constantly called into question or continually brushed aside as inconsequential, you can begin to doubt yourself. This doubt and confusion can spread, permeating the relationship. Additionally, a continual disregard of your thoughts and opinions can easily lead you to conclude that you’re not that important to your partner.

There is a balance between overreacting and shrugging everything off as “not that bad.” Trust comes from listening to everything with an open mind and with a mouth that often remains closed.

 

5 – Not Showing Support

When you’re falling and you’ve been led to expect a safety net, the sudden appearance of hard ground will cause you to question the dependability of the person who pledged to have your back. This can be as minute as a late pickup without communication at the airport or not picking up the slack around the house when you’re under a deadline at work.

 

None of these are relationship deal-breakers on their own. They are not unforgivable offenses and, in most cases, no offense was meant by them. In each case, the underlying cause of the erosion of trust comes down to unexpressed expectations and poorly communicated reactions. And the road back to trust is relatively straight forward: Talk more. And assume less.

 

Learning to Trust Again: How to Deal With the Triggers

In my experience, the most persistent side effect of being cheated on is the unrelenting and underlying uncertainty if you’re responding to your intuition or over-reacting to something from your past. I have often had internal internal arguments where one side, afraid of being caught unaware again, is pulling all of the alarms, screaming that the sky is, indeed, falling and the other side is calmly dismissing these fears, reassuring me that the danger is only an echo from the past. This can manifest as an inability to trust others, but really it comes down to learning to trust myself again.

There are times when the triggers are activated because of a legitimate and present concern. At those times, it’s important to listen to your gut and pay attention to its warnings. And there are other times when the alarms were pulled too soon, acting more from perceived danger than from a true emergency.

The problem lies in knowing which voice to listen in which situation. Dismiss all warnings, and you open yourself up to betrayal again. Listen to every advisory and you’re preventing trust from ever building (and also making yourself crazy in the process).

Here are five questions that I’ve learned to ask myself over the years to determine if I am being triggered by a true threat or merely the fear of one.  And, as with everything, practice makes better.

 

Letting Go of the Fear of Abandonment