We had been writing a book about our relationship for a few months and had the basic structure and first few chapters written. We had faced a number of difficulties in developing the structure and had both been, in turn, depressed, surprised and unsettled by reading some of our early journals. We put the project on hold as Christmas 2012 approached; the whole family were coming for Christmas and we needed to have the house and food organised in advance. I would be preparing food for up to thirteen people for a period of ten days.
We also had a Christmas party in London booked for early December. This was going to be an all-night affair. Eva had spent weeks designing and making her “fluffy Barbarella” outfit and was looking forward to flirting with a host of young men. Before we left for London Eva was having trouble with her back, largely as a result of her determination to assist me in the garden by emptying compost bins into the new vegetable beds inside the second poly-tunnel I had erected a few weeks earlier. In retrospect there were two design flaws in Eva’s outfit. The first was the use of platform heels on her thigh length boots; these produced an unhelpful strain on her back. The second was the very revealing top that as well as displaying her wonderful chest also made it so cold that she would end up with bronchitis. The end result was that within a week of returning home Eva was seriously ill with a very bad back and a cough that aggravated her back condition. Well before Christmas we had to cancel a series of outings, including meeting our children and grandchildren at the airport, to enable Eva to rest and recover.
However she didn’t recover. Instead she became progressively more unwell. She eventually resolved her cough and bronchitis using anti-biotics; but it became clear by then that she had slipped a disc in her back and was suffering from acute sciatica. Using pain killers and by lying in bed or on the floor most of the day she was able to survive over Christmas and her birthday in early January. But life was becoming progressively more difficult. Eva slept on the sofa bed in the lounge because climbing the stairs to our bedroom was far too painful. I made a soft path from the lounge to the downstairs loo to enable her to comfortably crawl from bed to the toilet. She had to have all her meals lying on her side; we arranged a massage couch at the end of the table for her to use for her birthday feast. Her days were spent managing pain taking a succession of analgesics.
Initially I revelled in the opportunity to take care of Eva; I love serving her and enjoyed having a new channel through which to express my love for her. It was difficult coping with the 13 people over Christmas and the 9 who came to her birthday celebrations. However provided I took the occasional day off I was able to avoid becoming too exhausted. Eva started seeing the doctor and a string of practitioners to aid her recovery process; this posed new problems of helping her negotiate her way to the car, find a way for her to lie down during the journey and then repeat the process to return home. But by the middle of February her back was starting to ease – though now she was having trouble sleeping and with hot flushes.
We were both continuing to confront ourselves over issues that arose. Eva jokingly referred to the pain in her back as “being caused by seven tigers”. Over the next few weeks she negotiated with each tiger and confronted, in turn, her dismissive attitude to her body, her continuous rushing – not taking time, her lack of forgiveness toward herself, her untidiness and her lack of attention to her body. She resolved to make headway on all these issues, though some would have to wait for her to be mobile again.
By the middle of March Eva had been diagnosed with diabetes; this explained her hot flushes, her continuous need to pee and a number of other symptoms. Although she resisted it for a while the truth was that her blood sugar levels were consistently too high and unless she took action to remedy this her body would suffer serious deterioration. For me this was a tipping point. Just as her back was recovering a whole new raft of health issues meant that Eva remained entirely focussed on herself and her health. I was feeling seriously neglected and started to experience hurt each time I felt her disregard my state. Each incident was in itself fairly trivial, but the cumulative effect on me was overwhelming. For example Eva would start to talk to me without looking to see what I was doing, or she would ignore something I said about myself and start talking about what she had just found out about diabetes or MRI scans. At one point I became very annoyed at her failure to be tidy; when I pointed out her lack of care she started to cry and said “I can’t help it”. I felt rage and anger, but stuffed it because she was in such obvious distress. However over the next week or so the effects of me continuing to stuff my anger grew until one evening I decided I had had enough. Without saying what I was doing I simply went into town by car and had a meal out on my own; I had cooked for Eva every day for four months and was not going to do it again!
I continued to feel awful. My energy was low and I noticed I was continually critical of Eva. One day I became so angry with her that I shouted at her and then went to the wood shed and let off steam by annihilating a few blocks of wood with an axe. After releasing the pent up anger I felt much better and was able to see better what was going on with us. I also felt foolish; I had learned years ago that stuffing my anger did me no good, I had just forgotten!
Things went from bad to worse. There was an accumulation of hurt each time I felt disregarded by Eva and I noticed a growing resentment and criticalness within me. By the end of March I had reached the end of my tether and one afternoon, after failing to sleep during my rest period, I came downstairs (where Eva was still in bed) and told her that I had reached the end of the line with our relationship. In particular I had seen how I set myself up as superman and was ashamed of the dynamic operating between us. I did everything. I cooked, I cleaned, I tidied up, I looked after the garden, grew our vegetables and fixed everything – including the relationship. I was the one who wanted to make contact, I initiated sex, I was the one who called it when things were not right between us – I was superman – and fed up with the role. Partly in response to me being superman, and partly because of who she is, Eva had become a lazy self-obsessed person who failed to consider me, failed to be affectionate to me or to take care of my needs. I had had enough. I was totally ashamed of the imbalance to which I had so whole-heartedly contributed. I was also utterly exhausted, and was experiencing an intolerable level of hurt and grief.
As I reflected on what was happening to me I realised that I had always tolerated and accepted that the women in my life would disregard me –starting with my distant and rejecting mother. But now my defence against being disregarded was down and I was able to see when I was disregarded – and I found it extremely painful. It was as if a form of blindness had been penetrated: by not seeing the lack of consideration I avoided the pain. Feeling the pain made me extremely vulnerable – a state that I had avoided almost all my life. Superman is invulnerable; he doesn’t need anything from anyone, he can cope on his own, he can look after himself just fine.
I spent an hour or so explaining my state to Eva. She was shocked by where I had ended up, but recognised the validity of my description of the dynamic that had been operating between us. Over the next two days we talked at length about all the issues and we resolved to change the dynamic between us by adopting six intentions (or resolutions).
First we agreed that we would work together to have the energy exchange between us more balanced. This required me to step back and for Eva to step forward.
Second Eva intended to be the one who notices when something is wrong between us and voice it in some way. This requires her to overcome her fear that I would attack her for challenging me.
Third I have the intention of letting Eva see me being vulnerable and to let her know that I need her. This would make a large difference to Eva’s ability to be loving and affectionate to me.
Fourth Eva will show her love and affection more physically, even when I appear uninviting. If I know that I want to be alone I will say so, otherwise I will be open to letting in physical affection.
Fifth I intend to be more aware of when I am exhausting myself and Eva will help me with this.
Finally Eva will use her intelligence more in dealing with difficult issues between us. Up to now we have relied upon my ability to see what is going on and clear up misunderstandings.
The conversations and intentions did enough to bring us back into contact and be ‘on the same side’ once more. I noticed that my criticalness of Eva disappeared and I felt re-energised. However I still experienced a background feeling of misery and helplessness. Furthermore I was still suffering from a series of minor ailments; itchy eyes, stiff neck, eczema on my legs and occasional allergic reactions. One morning I woke up early and as I lay in bed I realised that all my symptoms were an indirect way of asking to be cared for and that I was fed up with ‘having to do it myself’. When I told Eva of these thoughts she was very loving and for the next few days went out of her way to let me know that she loved me; she made sure that I received her love and affection.
It also became clear to me that the feeling of helplessness was a direct result of starting to give up my superman trip. Any move away from superman would involve feeling helpless and vulnerable, so this was a state that I needed to tolerate if I wanted to relinquish my role in the dysfunctional dynamic.
Although each of these insights brought me relief, it was only temporary. Two weeks after the crisis point I was still feeling miserable and ‘out-of touch’. I did not have my normal sense of being in contact with myself, nor in contact with Love. I found this frustrating. I could notice that I was slowly feeling closer to Eva and there was no return of the resentments and criticalness I had felt before the crisis broke. I wondered whether there was still some aspect of my behaviour or psyche that I had not yet confronted, or whether there was another layer of the dynamic between Eva and I that required attention? As life continued I also noticed that my exhaustion had not fully disappeared, I was easily tired whilst working in the garden. It became clear to me that at some level I was closed, more closed than before the whole episode started – and I didn’t know what to do about it. It was also clear that Eva was not experiencing anything similar. By now she was completely mobile and was in the process of coming to terms with her diabetes; she was also obviously present and enjoying life. She was concerned for my state and continued to be loving and attentive. She was also addressing, for herself, the issues of being lazy, of not giving herself enough time and of not paying enough attention to her body. She appeared to be content with the progress she was making on all these issues.
One thing that we had both recognised was that due to Eva’s illnesses we had not had any time alone; we had been intensely living on top of each other for about six months – hardly seeing anyone since Christmas. Whilst we love being together we also really appreciate time alone. Early in May an opportunity arose for Eva to go to a party and for me to have the weekend at home alone, an opportunity we both jumped at.
The first evening Eva was away I smoked a spliff and started an internal dialogue about what was going on with me. Quite early on I drew a diagram of my level of openness over time. I had started with a good level of openness and then in the crisis I had closed down and retreated – largely as a result of experiencing, for the first time, the pain of not being considered. Since then I had been slowly recovering my openness – and it was bound to be a slow process because I was letting go of a major defence – being invulnerable. Allowing myself to feel vulnerable meant that I was more likely to feel hurt, which also meant a greater tendency to close down.
I saw all this in a larger context. I had recognised, many years earlier, that I was often blind to people loving me. I had never learned to read the signals, largely because they were completely absent from my childhood. However because I did not perceive people loving me, I became indifferent to their opinion of me, so I was, and appeared to be, invulnerable. Being blind to being disregarded was part of the same pattern and as I opened to the pattern I became open to more vulnerability and to more love. I also saw that as I relinquished my superman trip, and Eva let go her laziness and inertia, then not only would we be in a more healthy dynamic, we would also experience a new level of openness and love together. I was particularly pleased with this understanding because it meant that the journey we were on together was still carrying us forward.
I had not realised it but for quite a while I had a background fear that by retiring from the world and being alone together so much of the time, Eva and I might fall into collusions that would mean that our spiritual journey would stall. Without external challenges we could delude ourselves that we were OK when in fact we were just struck in a rut. The fact that we were facing up to, and seeking to change, a fundamental dynamic between us meant that we were not yet stalled and our journey together was still working for us. My superman was not going to disappear overnight, nor was Eva’s laziness, but they were both now being confronted and we had a clear agreements on how we were going to help each other climb out of these trips.