Blended: How to Stay

It is sometimes hard to stay where we are.  When I go to a yoga class and the instructor tells us to hold a pose for a long period of time, I find myself getting angry.  I’m not normally an angry person, but there is something about holding that yoga pose that makes me feel enraged.  I internally blame the instructor for making me hold this pose.  This pose is challenging me.  Doesn’t the instructor know I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to give up and I will hold this pose as long as I’m told to do so?  This pose doesn’t feel good, and, in the heat of the moment and in my own head, I blame the yoga instructor for making me hold the pose for so long.

So you see, it is sometimes hard to stay where we are.

I recently visited a friend at work.  She introduced me to a colleague of hers and explained that her colleague is also a part of a blended family.  Her colleague asked me, “Do you have step-kids?”

I said, “my fiance has two children.”

Her response:  “Good luck.”

I laughed, hoping she was joking.  She looked at me and said, “Seriously, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I have children and step-children.  I wanted to leave so many times”

I quickly sobered and asked, “Are you still with your husband?”

In response, she again stated, “I wanted to leave so many times.”

“But are you still with your husband,” I questioned again.

It wasn’t even she who answered, but it was my friend.  “Yes, they are still married,” my friend answered on behalf of her colleague.

“We’ve been together since 1986,” she said.

My friend’s colleague isn’t the only person who has advised me against being a part of a blended family.  I have had two other people actually come out and tell me not to do it.  I have had countless conversations with friends who have warned me.  I have read books and articles that make the prospect of being in a blended family so unappealing that I feel like an idiot for even continuing in the relationship.  Some statistics show that the divorce rate for people in blended families is between 60 and 70%.  It is 60% for families with children from one parent, and 70% for families with children from both parents.  The statistics are certainly grim.  Not only that, but why aren’t more people concerned about these statistics?  Why aren’t people up in arms about these facts?  If we know that divorce is devastating to all members of a family, why aren’t we even more alarmed by the fact that so many people are experiencing more than one divorce?

I suspect it is simply this:  most people just don’t know what to say.  I have read countless books on relationships and marriages.  There are incredibly intelligent researchers who passionately advocate for their positions regarding what makes marriages and relationships last.  I find some of their advice elusive.  What a blessing to the world for these people to be doing the work they are doing and to be dedicated to helping relationships last.  But I sometimes wonder if they have the answer.

Some of the best information regarding relationships I have come across hasn’t been about relationships at all.  It’s been about business.  And why wouldn’t business have something in common with relationships?  After all, business is all about relationships.

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he writes the following:

For many people, shenpa and anxiety are related to community.  Whether it’s throwing a party, joining a club, attending a meeting, or giving a speech, it tends to involve interactions with other people.  The killer: our anxiety not only makes us miserable, but ruins the interaction.  People smell it on you.  They react to it.  They’re less likely to hire you or buy from you or have fun at your party.  The very thing you are afraid of occurs, precisely because you are afraid of it, which of course makes the shenpa cycle even worse.  Shenpa is caused by a conflict between the lizard brain (which wants to strike out or to flee) and the rest of our brain, which desires achievement, connection, and grace.  Oscillating between the two merely makes things worse.  It seems that you have two choices for ending the cycle: you can feel or you can stay.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fleeing.  If you can’t handle a certain kind of interaction or event, don’t do it.  Avoid it.  Some people weren’t born to be baseball umpires.  The other alternative is to stay.  If you believe that it’s important enough, then your challenge is to overrule the resistance.  Not to feel and return, flee and return.  No, you must stay.  Sit with it.  Give the resistance no quarter.  Just stay.

Seth Godin, Linchpin, Do You Zoom: 2010, p. 140.

I love to think of this advice in terms of a relationship.  Not just any relationship, but specifically a relationship involving children, as well as mutual appreciation, love, and respect.  A relationship that is good but that is also hard.

The resistance (or the lizard brain) tells us to strike out or flee.  How many of our interactions with our partners go something like that?  We either strike out or flee, or we want to strike out or flee.  Given enough of those interactions where we either strike out or flee, and the attendant emotions, we come to a point where we wonder, “stay or flee?”  As Godin advises, just stay.  Sit with the feelings, but stay.  As Godin says later, the result will be a wave of confidence.  And when things are going poorly in a relationship, what problem won’t a wave of confidence resolve?

This is not to say that staying in a bad situation is the solution.  Certainly not.  If someone does not want to be with you or treats you poorly, please, please don’t stay.  In those circumstances, stay by yourself.  Stay with the pain and the rejection and the sadness.  Stay by yourself and take comfort in your strength.  Again, this is not to say that staying in a bad relationship is right.

But it is to say that staying in a hard situation, one where you must fight the resistance, is the right thing to do.  Is it so bad to challenge yourself?  To work with your partner to create innovative ways of connecting and feeling like you both belong?  Is it really so bad to try to find hope in a situation that may, at times, feel hopeless?  Is it really so bad to fight for something bigger than yourself?  I don’t think so.

Just stay.

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