Imagine that you’ve been in a good, loving relationship for a number of years; it’s something right out of a storybook and it’s so comforting and fulfilling that you actually ask yourself if it can get any better than this. But then you begin to notice changes, from things or activities that used to be done in abundance to even a change in the overall feel of the relationship. At first, you don’t pay much attention to it and if you do, you just chalk it up to the day-to-day stresses of life, i.e., jobs, kids, those emergencies that seem to crop up at all the wrong times – stuff like that.
More time passes… and now it’s clear that not only is the “honeymoon” over but things seem to be circling the drain; he or she isn’t as attentive as before, there’s a marked drop in the intimacy you shared with each other seemingly not so long ago and one or both of you are spending more time being irritable than happy. You try to cut off this downward spiral and to get at the source of it; maybe it’s him/her or maybe it’s you that’s the cause of this downturn in your overall happiness. Then, after conversations that have sounded promising but turned out to be anything more than just lip service, you realize that the needs which were being fulfilled beyond your wildest dreams are no longer being attended to in the fashion in which you’ve become accustomed… or, perhaps worse, there are new needs in the offing, things that would maybe take you to the next level of growth as a person and there seems to be no way to have these new needs taken care of without adding more friction to a situation that needs no more friction placed upon it.
You talk again, make excuses to each other as well as promises that you hope will be kept but, deep down inside, you know it’s not very damned likely that things are going to get better – and they need to get better because you can feel your instinct for self-preservation starting to kick in and it’s starting to whisper thing into the depths of your mind that your honor doesn’t want to hear, things that would benefit you but wouldn’t do much to salvage the relationship and/or restore it to its former glory because to do anything other than maintain the integrity of your relationship is anathema and forbidden by tradition.
You are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place; you know that you need to do something even if your partner, ‘obviously’ isn’t of a mind to help rectify the situation and, of course, the rules of the game prohibit you from taking matters into your own hands and wants to negate the long-accepted first rule of survival: Take care of your own ass first. But this is difficult to do; you’ve vowed to be faithful and to forsake all others but in order to get what you now so desperately need, you know that it’s going to take the efforts of an outsider and this is so appealing and so damning because you promised to let him/her take care of all of your needs and that’s just not happening.
To say that this is a fucked up position to be in does not even begin to cover it; your levels of frustration increase because you’re now stuck between duty and taking care of yourself because you know, just like so many other people do, that you cannot begin to take care of anyone else until you can take care of yourself. The pull to find other ways to fulfill your needs is great – it just gnaws at you and whispers in your ear about how easy it would be to get what you need from someone else… and the guilt of even thinking in this way gnaws at you as well, reminding you that you promised – you gave your word – that you would not do this, just as you know that if you were to do this, you would probably do irreparable damage to a relationship that’s still good… but not as good as it once was. You look for solutions that don’t involve having to engage outside help, turning to your partner and with varying degrees of difficulty, telling them what you need and asking them, in essence, to hold up their end of the bargain you made with each other and take care of your needs. Maybe more promises are made; maybe there’s some serious pushback and even some anger as they tell you – as they remind you – that they are all you will ever need and the knife in your heart comes if/when they callously say, “You should be grateful for what you already have…”
The temptation to take matters into your own hands is great and more so when you may have stumbled onto someone who you feel could provide for those needs that are now going unattended. It feels right… just as much as it feels wrong, creating yet another conflict within you. On the one hand, the answer is clear and makes perfectly good sense; you may even be aware of a very old saying that is now quite appropriate in this situation: If you can’t take care of your man/woman, someone else can and will. You want and need someone else to take care of you… and you know good and damned well that it is forbidden; you will be damned if you do and you are most certainly damned if you don’t. The more you sit and think about this, the bleaker the situation seems to be. You start running a probability study in your mind, looking at every possibility you can think of that can resolve this discontinuity in your happiness and well-being; some of them look damned good while others are clearly a waste of time and effort and more so when it’s also become quite clear that your partner is not and will not be a part of the solution because they are and have been part of the problem you’re now facing.
You. Are. Stuck. You know now that you are royally fucked and, perhaps, not even close to being fucked in the good way you need to be. There’s a certain five-letter word that has been rebounding around in your mind: Cheat. You face a really hard truth – you want to do this, you need to do this because it’s the only way to get what you want without saying goodbye to your partner forever – and all the hassles that will bring to bear. Yet, you know you cannot do this; you are very much aware of the pain you will cause your partner and how much pain will resonate inside of you because you’ve caused them pain. You know without having to give a lot of thought to it that your relationship, such as it is now, can be severely damaged and could very well come to a screeching and fatal halt. You begin to think that, yes, maybe it needs to end, that you should just walk away so that you can be free to find someone who may better see to your needs… just as you know that it would trash pretty much everything you believe in, that your moral compass will become skewed because you did promise – you vowed – to accept them and stay only with them for better or for worse.
You are irrevocably stuck… but you are either aware or have heard of other things that could be done, ways to get you what you need while preserving the integrity of a relationship you do not want to sever. You think of those things – you may even take advantage of the plethora of information available on the Internet – and while you get many answers, you also wind up with more questions that immediately prove themselves to be tough, beginning with “How can I do this?” and followed by “Will they agree to do this” and then by, “Will I be able to do this?” You become very much aware that in order to answer any of these question, you must go looking for them, a prospect that maybe be an uncomfortable thing to do because (a) you may already know how your partner is going to react to such a thing or (b) you have no fucking idea how they’re going to react. So you say nothing of this – well, not directly; maybe you decide to test the waters, dropping an “innocent” hint here and there then gauge your partner’s reaction, looking for the clues – both subtle and overt – that could tell you how they will react and respond to the thing you have on your mind. Maybe you’re a bit bolder and you tell them directly what’s on your mind about this and maybe, just maybe, they don’t flip the fuck out on you but, as you will discover shortly, deflect things by telling you that they’ll think about it.
They didn’t say yes… but they didn’t say no – hmm, that’s both good and bad and makes the situation even more ambiguous but that’s okay because now you have to crank your brain up and start looking at scenarios, the things that could happen if your partner were to definitively say yes or no and this is also the time when you have to seriously question yourself as to whether or not you could even do this thing if they said yes. One part of you says that doing it will be easy because it’s what you want and need to do while another part of you knows beyond any doubts that you are stepping deeply into the unknown because while you are fairly certain of what you want to do, you have no idea how to do it; you don’t have enough information to figure out how you’re going to get there from here. Now you’re even more frustrated than before because not only do you have a possible solution that, for now, may or may not work but your needs are still being unfulfilled and as hard as you try to ignore them, they just will not go away and leave you alone.
You begin to realize that your choices are severely limited: Do something and perhaps prosper or do nothing and continue to be stuck in place. You begin to understand that if you do something, there is great risk at hand; likewise, you already understand that if you do nothing and remain in this very static situation, you will be even more unhappy in this. There is, of course, another choice: Leave them and everything you’ve wrought together and start over again, something that incurs even more risks and penalties and at levels that a part of you just does not want to deal with because with the exception of this one “little” thing, everything else about your relationship with them is okay.
You now find yourself even more mired in place than before; you’re frustrated and your greater frustration is continuing to have a negative effect, not only on you but on the relationship; it causes you to look at your partner in ways you thought you’d never do, i.e., how inadequate they are, that they were truly not equal to the task given to them, that they are inflexible, uncaring and oh, so, unwilling to help you resolve these issues and that they now seem to be more selfish and self-serving than you thought possible because while they are aware of the crisis within you, their only consideration is all about what they don’t want, what they’re not going to do… and it can make you question their supposed love for you because you thought – you believed – that when two people love each other, there shouldn’t be anything they won’t be willing to do and for the sake of that love.
You are stuck; you’re damned if you do and doubly damned if you don’t. You are effectively trapped in place, bound by your word, your honor, and even your morality. You feel helpless because you now realize a few things that never occurred to you before, things that you hoped, believed, and trusted could never happen. You could effect change – you need to effect change – but the cost… the price and effort of change may be too high. Whatever temptations you have are still there, teasing you with their promises of a hope that you may never get to realize because while there is taking care of yourself (so that you are able to take care of others), you are bound by duty and obligation to keep right on being stuck right where you are and to remain unfulfilled.
Sucks, doesn’t it? None of it feels right or fair; you have the right to be happy and to be made happy but it’s not happening, the thrill is gone and may never return. It’s not fair for this to happen to you… but it’s not fair for you to change the rules in your favor, either. You want to just give up, to succumb to the inevitability of your situation because, after all, you are expected and required to accept it; at the same time, you don’t really give up the hope that things can and will change for the better and without effecting changes that could be harmful… but what can be worse than what you’re already going through? Again, your choices are limited: Be daring and step into the unknown – and with your partner at your side – or remain stuck in place, unfulfilled and unhappy with yourself, your partner and maybe even life itself because, after all, it’s not supposed to be like this, is it? None of this was supposed to happen! They promised me that they would take care of me, to provide for me! You know that life tends to get in the way of such things… but doesn’t that happen to other people, to other couples? Why is this happening to me and why can’t anything be done about it?
You have choices, none of which have a high degree of attractiveness: You can take matters into your own hands… or you can continue to do nothing. Both things have inherent risks and some that you are willing to take for the sake of your own happiness… and not so much. You know you can do something, that you should do something but you can’t; either your personal ethic won’t allow you and/or your partner, whom you still love dearly, will not cooperate and could probably be very angry with you and any suggestion you could bring to the table.
You ask yourself, “What do other people do when this happens?” They either change the rules – and take the risks – or they take a greater risk by cheating on their partner or they accept that resistance is, indeed, futile and continue to do nothing at all…
And remain stuck.