Love Life (October)
Freedom, in Scotland and elsewhere, isn’t something that is given by governments or other authorities. It’s something that’s practiced. And not just in social movements or halls of power. It’s part of everyday life. It’s in our bodies, in our relationships with ourselves and each other. ‘Love Life’ is Bella’s Agony Aunt column because the personal is political and the ‘state we’re in’ is complicated. Jamie Heckert (your host) writes: “Want to ask about ethics, erotics or ecology? Or perhaps anarchy, autonomy, or anatomy? I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer every letter, but I’ll certainly do what I can. And maybe, even if I can’t answer each one, just writing a letter down will help.”
Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re writing to ask you about trust. We’ve been a couple and are currently in a very uncertain place in our relationship. It hurts.
We’ve both just moved to Scotland from Canada after one of us, ‘Sal’ got offered an amazing opportunity to move here. We’d been together a couple of years when the offer came through and we had known it would be a possibility for us. I (Sal) am originally from Scotland and had been having a hard time in Canada and had been wanting to move back. While I (George) am from the States. George had agreed to the move and on the surface seemed pretty happy about it. And then lost the plot. Seriously. They hooked up with someone else, which was fine because we had a polyamorous relationship. But George switched off their phone for several days after having requested that one of the ‘rules’ in our relationship is that we keep in touch with each other. Then George announced that they were going to move to Japan with this other person instead. George said that they had never been honest in our relationship, that they habitually lied. And then of course, the Sal was pretty traumatised. Like, sobbing for days. It was like my world had fallen apart. You know that feeling in your stomach when a lift or roller-coaster goes down quickly. It was a hundred times worse than that. There was no ground to stand on. It just kept falling. What to believe? What George had said and done before or what they were saying now? And George? Well, I can only describe it as a nervous breakdown. I thought I could hold it together. It wasn’t until after this that I realised I didn’t have the emotional and relationship skills I thought I did.
Because our relationship was so amazingly strong before this, we’ve tried to be very patient with each other. It’s been a huge challenge for us both, acknowledging what has happened, learning to be open with each other, talking to our mutual friends about what has happened. Deciding what to do. Sal moved to Scotland first and George followed. We’re here now and we’ve agreed not to live together again. For now. Who knows what the future holds. It’s ok that this has happened. In the unsettled, there is opportunity to weave in new positive patterns.
But still, it’s hard. And we want to learn how to rebuild the trust that was lost. Or perhaps to develop fresh trust. Do you have any insights?
Aching Hearts in Auchterarder
Dear Aching Hearts,
The first thing you might do, if you haven’t already, is to acknowledge how much you’ve already done. Most people these days, I expect, would have just broken up with a great deal of anger, shame
and self-righteousness. You’ve both done wonders taking responsibility for your own emotions and trusting the strength of your shared history, even in the face of great pain. I’m deeply inspired by your story! Thank you for sharing it with me and with others.
There’s a line in the Tao Te Ching, “To give no trust is to get no trust”. So, George, if you want Sal to deepen their trust in you, you might try to give trust. This doesn’t just have to be trust in Sal. It can be broader than that.
It’s easy in these situations to try too hard, to cling to an idea of how a relationship should be, to try to make it work. Can you let it work, without deciding in advance what ‘it’ is or should be? Can you
let ‘it’ be part of something much bigger. Just like cells in the human body, each of us is a cell in the social body, in the body of the earth. We might imagine ourselves to be separate, we can get so
wrapped up in our own pleasure and pain that we don’t notice that we are part of something bigger.
Spending a little time each day trusting in the larger body, letting go of the idea of yourself as separate, experiencing yourself as part of that larger body can be profoundly liberating. There are many ways to do this. Meditation, as I’ve mentioned before, is one. Another is talking a walk in woods or a park, feeling the air you breathe in and knowing it was breathed out by the trees around you. Or even walking down a city street. See the bodies around you as part of a larger
body. Know that you are not separate from them.
And when the two of you are together, listen to yourselves and each other. Notice the feelings that arise. You don’t need to push them away or change them. Anger, fear, joy, sorrow, shame and delight may all arise. Sometimes in rapid succession. Learn to see them, rather than be caught up in them. Practising this might takes time, it might be hard. That’s ok. It’s an artform. Give it space to develop.
Learning to be the witness of emotion can make it easier to see each other, to listen to each other, as you each are rather than as you imagine each other to be, or as you want each other to be. And trust that your connection with each other is a living thing, evolving in its own way. Treat it gently. Feed it with loving attention. Give it exercise, stretching gently into those challenging places. (Watch out for overstretching.) Keep it warm. See how it develops.