(Disclaimer: Everything described below, is of course just my personal view, it’s how I felt and experienced it all myself. But there are at least two sides to each story, and this is mine, and mine alone. It’s not meant to be accusatory in any way: Everything that happened to me, after all, was in fact facilitated by me, or was at the very least allowed by me. It’s only meant to be a description of how things have been for me, which doesn’t mean that other parties may not have experienced things completely differently.)
When you’re pouring someone a drink, you may invite the other to tell you when he has enough by saying to him: “Say when.”
In Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford’s character, Henry, is a successful lawyer at a big law firm. When he gets shot in the head, his personality changes drastically. Finally he finds that he cannot bring himself to work with ruthless lawyers anymore. After he makes that decision, his secretary — who used to pour his drinks extending exactly that same invitation, “Say when” – asks: “Mr. Turner, what’s wrong?” And Henry replies: “Well, I had enough. So I said when.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know when you should say when. Take marriage, for instance. (There’s a reason why I’m using that as an example, and that reason should become clear quite soon, so do read on…) You marry someone because you’ve fallen in love with them. At least I hope that was the reason. But the trouble with falling in love, is that it makes you partially blind, somehow. I suppose you could say that you’re probably not just in love with a person, but also with being in love, because it’s such a great feeling. Anyway, you fall in love with someone, and if the feeling is mutual, there may come a time when you decide to marry. Or move in together, or whatever — but in my case it was a decision to marry.
So here you are, at twenty-three years of age, and what do you know? Nothing! So you marry. And you try to make the most of it, having accepted the notion that you have to work at a marriage to make it work, that relationships aren’t easy, and there has to be both giving and taking in order to achieve balance in the relationship. So you give a little, and a little more, and a lot more, and you don’t even notice that there’s hardly any balance — in fact, that over the years there is less and less balance in the relationship. Because both partners seem to be forgetting that if there has to be giving and taking, each of you has to do both! But it’s just a situation that grows bit by bit, until you’re so used to it that you don’t even notice anymore how lopsided it’s become. You don’t even notice that the situation is getting you really down. That the way you’re being treated is eating away at you on the inside. That the manipulation you’re subjected to because your partner has an irresistible urge to make you do what she wants, not what you want, is frustrating you endlessly.
Ironically, people around you have seen it. They’ve wondered for years and years how a relationship could become so unbalanced, and how you could survive in such a climate of manipulation and even blackmail. But you’re blind to it yourself, you’re completely submerged in an environment with a partner who says you have a disorder, and even when that is proven to be untrue, she still attacks your most noticeable traits, putting you down, stomping on you. You reach a point where you’re so down on yourself that you hardly have any feelings of self-worth and self-confidence left due to constantly being put down, and combined with the rest of the ever present negativity this brings you to the very brink of not seeing any point in living anymore.
And then, one day, it’s as if you wake up from a long, long emotional coma. You look at the world, you look at other people, you look at yourself and your partner, and suddenly you realise that all is not well. You realise that there are things that are very fundamentally wrong with your life and your marriage, and you take a long and hard look at the question what can be done to improve it. And although you do see your own failings, you realise that there is more, that other aspects of your relationship are totally wrong.
But now that you’ve woken up, now that you’ve looked up from the deep valley where you’d ended up, you’re seeing the peaks — and you see the light at the end of the tunnel. And although you were in a deep pit of despair, you’ve spotted the ladders that have been handed you, and you climb up out of the misery, towards the light.
You start improving things, giving up self-sabotage, getting rid of excess body weight, getting rid of unhealthy living habits. You start to get a grip on your life, becoming efficient, getting healthy. You start to ignore old hang-ups and start doing things you never even dreamed you’d do, but which turn out to give you joy and pleasure.
But with all those improvements, you start to leave your partner behind. She can’t understand any of these changes, and especially not why you don’t want to be manipulated anymore, why you’re not a fellow victim of negativity anymore, why you’re making your own decisions and taking your life into your own hands. She blames (because improvements do have to be blamed on someone, after all, right?) the people around you — your family, your friends: they must have caused this, because you are just not yourself anymore, and that must have come from somewhere!
Showdowns are the result, in which attempts are made to reverse the developments. In fact, your partner at one point claims that everything was better a year ago, and if only you and she could go back to that time, then all would be well. But you know that things were NOT better a year ago, you know that they were all wrong, all upside down and inside out! You were living in your own personal hell a year ago — your close friends and relatives could see that, and finally you saw that as well. And knowing this, you can’t go back.
You know that if you want to be true to yourself, you have to continue doing what you’re doing. You’re finally experiencing some joy in life, be it within the limitations of an unbalanced relationship, and you can’t let go of that joy, you just can’t. So you make it clear what it is that you need in order to make the relationship work and stay in it. Unfortunately, this is not received well — not at all well. And after having been blackmailed with the threat of divorce for some 26 years, and now again, you realise that the time has come to reverse roles. It's the only chance you can get to be happy.
There is a reaction of disbelief, despair, anger, and denial. And accusation. Especially the denial is obvious. Of course it isn’t the unbalanced relationship that caused you to make this decision, it has to be something else. Oh, got it: you must have fallen in love with someone else, it must be that person who kept handing you ladders to climb out of your pit of despair. Yes, that’s it, that must be it, because it can’t be anything else, can it? Surely you’re cheating on your wife, and that explains why you want to get out. You must be going through a mid-life crisis or something. Yeah, right. Dream on…
Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just a mid-life crisis. Nothing a motorcycle, a sportscar or a toupée couldn’t fix, right? And wouldn’t it be nice to know that once you started living alone, you had a lover. Sadly, the truth is that it isn’t like that at all. I happen to be a loyal and faithful man. But I suppose denial is an easy way of avoiding the truth, because they who deny the truth, don’t have to face reality.
And my own reality is that I now know what life should be like, and I can’t bring myself to go back to the misery I was in.
So I said when…
(This is the best description of what was going on in the relationship: link. If you recognise my description above at all, you may benefit from following this link and reading the explanation.)