Short answer, yes. Long answer, sort of...
Everyone walking around has trauma. Most people have complex traumas of similar magnitudes, most especially in dating and love relationships. We tend to find our own.
Speaking for myself, I do not want someone who doesn’t understand the complicated traumas I have survived and attempted to recover from...but that has always proved to be a double edged sword for us both. Having someone who has the same or similar trauma as you, means that they will get the feelings, the behaviors and thoughts about worth and whether they are deserving, but also they will have a whole laundry bag of issues that are likely in varying stages of healing, some of which are not even fully conscious yet.
So my pursuit of men who have been similarly traumatized as me has led us both to some pretty dark places and, in part, it seems that we end in the hurt locker because we both need things from the other that the other is not capable, or perhaps willing to provide. Often times, we don’t even know what we need. We just know that we need things and this other person should understand and just give them to us.
My work for the past almost three decades dealing with the demise of love, marriage and family has given me a great deal of information, a great deal of antidotal evidence, showing that there is a large degree of work required to heal and that when that healing is laid bare over and around a loving sexual relationship that it makes for hard going, and that would be why the divorce rate is what it is. And I would go further to say that is why even the intact relationships leave a lot to be desired for all concerned.
Name me five couples you believe are happy, support each other financially, emotionally, spiritually and lovingly 60% of the time.
Ok, now name five that meet the above criteria 80% of the time.
Ok, now how about 90% of the time?
Most of you struggled with the first ask. Which means that of all the relationships you know or privy to in an intimate way, are not supportive 50% of the time. THAT MEANS HALF THE TIME, THE RELATIONSHIP IS MOVING FORWARD WITH NEEDS NOT BEING MET ON EITHER SIDE!
I don’t think I need to drive home the point in my last two examples. The first one really kills the whole conversation, doesn’t it?
Doing what I do for a living, for as long as I have done it, has not jaded me so much as it has made me somewhat incredulous that we are even still trying. And once upon a time I had lots of theories about why and how and whose fault and blah, blah, blah. And I have written about it ad nauseum for decades. But even with all my reflection, observation, study and experience, I never felt like I had any real answers. In the early 2000s, I quit family law for about nine months because my best legal advice had boiled down to “grow up” and “get sober”. And I was tired of seeing all the pain and dysfunction and being powerless to effectuate any meaningful change. Yes, Dr. Kennedy, you were right, I should have been a psychologist...but I didn’t listen and instead ended up at a desk instead of in a chair across from a couch listening to all the reasons this marriage failed...again.
I think the stories are the same regardless of your licensure...wives come in saying it is the husband’s fault and they are right. Husbands come in saying it is the wive’s fault, and they are right. But no one, I mean almost fucking no one ever comes in saying it is their fault...not even when they are the one that cheated, or stole the money or the kids. In most cases, there is some REASON that they had to do what they did because of the other person, you know?
And I GET IT! I have done the same fucking thing repeatedly. To the demise of me and all the other people I have dated, loved and married.
But something hit me today and landed differently than it ever has before. We have a traumatic epidemic. We always have had. Life is traumatizing. But what has kicked our asses so badly and mangled loving unions beyond all recognition is our failure to have a methodology and mechanism to first own and then treat our trauma. And to find a way to do that WITHIN the loving confines of a relationship.
Oh we try. I see all the failed couple therapy rejects in my office all day, every day. Almost no one gets a divorce without the aid of at least, and I am not exaggerating, several marriage and family therapists, over a great deal of time. But the results are unproductive and they are unproductive in my experience because of one critical an absolutely necessary, foundational idea that would be a total game changer.
We have to accept that we are injured. And those injuries left unattended for decades has done damage and our attempts at healing have been faulty, and scary and painful. Resulting in our termination of therapy for ourselves and relief sought in the venues of sex, money, relationships, fame, status, consumption, alcohol and drugs. It doesn’t really make us feel better, but in the moment it provides relief and that is a whole lot easier to come by than healing. We seek relief, not healing. And that has been the problem, well the second half anyway.
The first issue is this arrogant and delusional belief that our trauma is fine, or we don’t have any or that we have already dealt with that thank you very fucking much.
Honestly, I have said all of the above about my own life, repeatedly and I meant each one fervently. But that was then and this is now.
Now I see that I have trauma, that went unhealed during the most formative years of my life. It isn’t anyone’s fault. A lot has to do with my age and when I was growing up. People didn’t really go to therapy. And consciousness was not raised to the level it is today. I blame no one. Not the persons who caused all the trauma, they were traumatized themselves. Not my parents who had no idea and sincerely did the very best they could. But they were blinded by their own unhealed and unclaimed trauma, and were busy seeking relief and taught me, inadvertently to do the same.
So we live in a culture that doesn’t really want to heal, we just want relief and for our problems and situations in this life to be someone else’s fault. So that we can continue to go on pretending like we are all good over here and if “they” would just fucking stop it, then all would be well for us and everyone.
I don’t think we will heal from the traumas of living until and unless we do a couple of very brave and very hard things:
1. Admit that we have it. Stop drinking at it, fucking at it, drugging at it, relationshiping at it, shopping at it, gambling at it, etc.
2. Seek help. I mean not the kind of help where you go for a week or a couple of months, but life sustaining assistance from someone qualified to help. We get ourselves therapy instead of new cars, houses, clothes and boyfriends.
3. We do the very hard work of really healing and not just finding new ways to pursue relief seeking behavior.
4. We develop a language to be able to speak about where we are in the process of healing, the stuff we have healed and the stuff that, while forward progress can and will be made if appropriate resources and effort is allocated, is likely never going to heal completely and will require lifetime attendance, maintenance and care.
5. Do not date anyone who hasn’t done the first four things listed above. And for the love of God and all that is holy, certainly not fucking marry them!
This is the only way people, seriously. This is the only way after 30 years of sitting at love’s demise that I can see that we have a prayer. And very unintentionally, this is what I am currently attempting to do. I have done steps one through four. And now I am working VERY FUCKING HARD at step five.
And the hardest part is realizing that people you meet, who you are attracted to, who light you up in all the best ways, are almost never the people who have done the work. Great lip service is paid and flaunted. But there is rarely real work occurring and the commitment to lifetime work is like finding a fucking unicorn...ever.
I am not preaching here. I am attempting to share what I have learned and what I have come to believe. For myself and for others. This is a life long issue for me. There is nothing I can do about it. I cannot avoid it. I cannot relief seek it away. I just have to deal with it, feel it and do what I can to manage it like a chronic medical condition that has no cure only symptomatic reprieve.
And my work on my alcoholism has been the greatest guidepost for me in healing my trauma. I get a daily reprieve based on my spiritual condition. I have steps and meetings and support and fellowship. And all of that works and helps me better deal with the trauma that warped me young and fucked me up forever.
I am broken. And I am healing. And those two things are just reality for me. And I accept them. I do not kid myself that someday, with the right relationship, with the right amount of therapy, the right amount of time, the right meds, the right whatever that I will ever be “healed” in some complete way that allows me complete freedom from the past. No, instead, I just have to live with it and see it when it pops up, repeatedly. And treat it and heal and move forward and give myself permission to have that be good enough. A life long commitment to heal that which is broken in me, and then attempt to help others do the same.
And to stop dating and loving people, allowing them access to me and my life, when they have no intention or motivation to commit to doing all the work I have done and continue to do. Because it is a fruitless endeavor that only produces more trauma on top of other trauma. And at some point, we all have to acknowledge and accept that we are responsible for our own trauma, even if we had no part in the traumatic circumstances that brought the trauma about. We all, and I do mean all, have to deal with the traumatic aftermath. And in my experience, the sooner we do this, the better our lives become.
And we can get busy healing and living and loving in ways that perhaps someday will lead us to a partner who has perhaps walked a similar road, for similar reasons and who has found recovery and purpose in healing that which ails them. And finally, that same recovery will and can grant them an all access pass to a loving, committed, healing relationship with another human being.
I haven’t found it yet but I believe that if I do the work, the hard, gut wrenching work on me and settle for nothing less than that commitment in another, it is possible. And if I never find it, at least I continued to hope and heal and grow and give. And that is pretty good use of taking the things that break us down and threaten to take us out and using them as catalysts for change. To move us from being fear based people to loving based people. And so far, that is the best use of life as I see it, experience it and live it. One fucking day at a time.
It is trudging people, but so very often the long haul is the gift.