How Our Perceptions Can Make Or Break A Situation

Imagine you’re driving in your car.

You aren’t in any hurry nor do you have any schedule you’re following.

Just a relaxing day out running errands.

You’ve got a good job, a nice car, and money in the bank. You are singing along with the radio when all of a sudden BANG!

Yep, you’ve got a flat tire. Dang it!

While the airless tire is an inconvenience and a pain in the butt to deal with you know you can handle the situation.

Now, imagine you are driving your car, but today you are late for work. Not only are you late for work, but there’s a meeting first thing. As if being late weren’t bad enough, the tardiness made you snap at your partner before leaving the house.

The highway is cluttered with traffic and you’ve just spilled your coffee! BANG! Yep, a flat tire. Gaaawwd damnit!!!

Now you’re really pissed. I mean are you kidding me right now?!

Yes, you have a good job, a nice car, and money saved, but because your attitude is coming from a place of unease, the ability to perceive the situation in peace has been affected.

Both stories deal with a flat tire, but what is happening to us in the buildup to the flat tire is where I want to focus. I want to talk about how we can take a situation and proclaim it positively or negatively based in part by how we view what is happening.

If I’m full and centered and feeling secure, I might be perturbed by a situation but I will feel much more at ease in confronting the situation than if I am feeling empty, uncentered or insecure.

With this in mind I want to share my own dual situations to show you just how much our perceptions can affect how we see a situation.

As most of you know, John and I have had a consensually non monogamous (CNM) marriage. Recently though we’ve added another layer to our relationship. While in the past we’ve both found other people with whom we got along with and would connect with more than once, the topic of a more steady dating partner was something we had yet to find.

That changed a few months ago. John met a woman he enjoyed spending time with, Selena (not her real name). She also enjoyed spending time with John. And Serena’s husband enjoys her spending time with John!

Yes, she is happily married and her husband is a lot like John in that they both like it when their partners are seeing other men. I immediately liked the woman and was glad that if John was going to lean towards spending time with someone on a regular basis that it was with this person.

Everyone settled into a kind of routine. It wasn’t like John and Selena had a set in stone, every Tuesday night standing date thing, but they were reaching out almost weekly. This was fine with me and with her husband.

Actually, I was pretty impressed by how easy I felt about how this new element in our relationship was unfolding. I felt full, centered, and secure.

Well, you know how you’re going along and everything is smooth sailing and so you say that. “Wow! Look how everything in my life is smooth sailing.” Almost as if the universe has some twisted sense of humor it takes our calm and throws a wrench right in the middle of our harmony.

So here I am floating along all calm, when the following happens.

It all began with a trip. John and I had planned to take a brief combo work/vacation trip. He purchased the plane tickets and we had the plans all set when I got picked for jury duty. Blah! Gosh darn it!

Because the trip was also for work, it meant John would still have to go, but without me. So, keep this first incident in mind.

#1 – Can’t go on our trip.

The day arrives for John to leave for what should have been a trip for the two of us. I drove to the courthouse to report for jury duty only to be told, thank you but we no longer require your services. Oh for goodness sakes! You mean I could have gone on the trip?

Oh well, guess I might as well do something constructive at home. I know, I’ll reorganize all those junk drawers and closets screaming for attention. As I was digging through one plastic container after another, I came across some files. Files that didn’t belong to me, but files I went through all the same.

As some of you may know John has been sober over 30 years. He was able to get and stay sober by going to meetings and working the 12 steps of AA. In one of the folders was his 4th Step or moral inventory, a written objective assessment of his life to that point, including character deficits, strengths and weaknesses, fears and sexual misconduct..

It’s an overarching look at the damage he caused during the time prior to his sobriety…when he was in his early 20’s. I read it. Yeah, I know…not my most shining moment.

John returns home from the trip and I call him into my office to admit my violation. He is caught off guard by my revelation. There isn’t anything in his 4th step which he wouldn’t have shared with me, but he would have preferred that it was him sharing it and not me reading the most personal of documents.

He is understandably upset with me, and while what I did was not cool, he doesn’t hold onto any anger towards me. But me?! Oh boy, I am furious with myself. I didn’t need any kind of berating from John cause I was quite capable of beating myself up thank you very much!

I tried my hardest to jump down a rabbit hole of self depreciation. I took my actions and blew them completely out of context, in part…wait for it…because I had to own my behavior.

I abhor doing what I perceive as wrong, so to know I’d done something hurtful to someone else takes me a minute to accept. But I had hurt John and it was necessary for me to take responsibility for my actions. The amends to John was necessary not only for our relationship but for my own personal growth, which brings me to point number two.

#2 – Guilt over a violation, causing me to feel emotionally distant from John.

Okay, so looking back we can see that I was now recovering and or still dealing with physical and emotional distance from John. Why stop there, cause we all know these things happen in three’s right?!

While I’d like to say I was able to forgive and forget my behavior, I decided to hang on to what I’d done for another 24 hours, just long enough to make it to John’s next date with his new friend.

Yes, we can all see what coming next can’t we?

We can all imagine the space I was in for John’s date. Did I say anything before the date? Did I offer up a suggestion that I might not be in the best head space to feel full, centered and secure? No, of course not, that would have made far too much sense for me to do that. No, instead I fell back into old behaviors and pulled inward.

Fortunately, I did know enough to know the date wasn’t the issue. I knew enough to know that it wasn’t John or this woman that were the problem. The unease was internal. I was the one out of whack.

To my credit, this other woman, unless she reads this blog had no idea I was struggling with anything. No, I kept the joy of my meltdown for John…ugh! I say meltdown, but really it was just a lot of searching and talking and searching and talking.

Me, forever on the hunt for what makes me tick. What makes me okay one day and not another? For a window into my frame of mind that day here is a portion of my diary entry from that day:

“I don’t have an issue with John spending time with Selena when I’m full. When I am content, when I’m able to embrace compersion. Remember, it’s waaaaay easier to be happy for others when we’re happy ourselves.

Catch me on a day where I feel out of sync, and I will struggle. Learning to be conscious in those situations is a trick I’m still training myself to learn. Don’t let your ego confuse you. Don’t allow it to send you on a wild goose chase. Don’t let it convince you the rabbit hole holds the answers.

Everything in life circles around to us. How we perceive our surroundings based on how we perceive ourselves. Don’t like what’s happening on the outside? Then take a look at what’s happening inside you.

When John and Selena were together, I knew enough to know my uneasy feeling wasn’t their fault, but I didn’t feel brave enough to be vulnerable in my truth. Another lesson I’m learning.”

For the next week or so John and I stayed tethered together. We would discuss what happened a few more times from the standpoint of growth. When we come up against a difficult issue, we are good about digging through the surface stuff in order to get to the roots.

Our intent has always been to cultivate the most beautiful relationship and we know that sometimes that means fertilizer. But we’ve learned to use what some might consider “shit” to our advantage.

We understand that growth can sometimes happen from the things that test us, we take nothing for granted. The same held true in this instance. So what was the outcome? Were we able to move forward? Here’s what happened next:

John and I attended an event in which Selena and her husband were in attendance. I needed to see them. I needed to see her. I knew I hadn’t had an issue with this woman, that whatever I was going through was internal, but regardless of this insight, it was still nice to have the information confirmed.

She is an amazing person and I really like her. Funny, how she and John can connect, and yet I can also form a friendship with her. It’s the kind of situation where if you’re new to an open relationship concept, you can see how beneficial the friendships can be to everyone. Being able to connect with her one on one, confirmed to me that she is someone I want John to feel free to spend time with.

A week or so after seeing Selena, a get together was scheduled. The plan was for her and John to grab a bite to eat. I asked if it would be okay for me to tag along. John looked at me and said, “Absolutely, I want you to come.”

I want to stop here in the story to point out my assertion. This was the first time I’d invited myself or inserted myself in a date of John’s. To know that John preferred me to be on these dates surprised me. “Jackie, I would love for you to join me on dinner dates.”

Somewhere along the way I had convinced myself to pull back whenever John had a date. A train of thought that wasn’t true but that I continued to follow. I realized by me asking to tag along, I was changing a train of thought within me.

I was challenging internal messages and was finding my voice. I didn’t have to lurk in the shadows of John’s interactions with others. I could (and he preferred) me to take a much more active role. So I did.

When she arrived at the house I greeted her in fullness and in compersion. Matter of fact, I was the one to suggest the two of them have dessert first (wink wink) before we all went to lunch. The entry into my diary had this to say about our return home:

“Lunch together was easy and the conversations flowed. We talked about our jobs, new recipes we’d recently tried and oddly enough sports. After lunch we said our goodbyes and she left.

John had barely shut the front door when he was motioning for us to go to our bedroom. He wanted to make love. “My gawd, but you’re a strong woman! I’m so grateful to have you in my life!”

John was right. I felt strong. I felt firm and safe and self assured. Isn’t that strange? That another woman coming into our lives could teach me strength and assurance?

I did not see that coming nor would I have believed her arrival in my relationship with John could have been the stepping stone needed for my own growth.

But here we are.

I realized I liked this woman. I liked her company, I liked her energy, and I knew the two of us would foster our own friendship.

She had become a gift to us both. Aaaahhh…isn’t growth beautiful!”

So there you have it. Two almost identical dates. Two situations that held the same characters and location, yet they showcase the massive change in our attitudes depending on where we are emotionally, physically and psychologically.

The first date, I was off center and as a result my perception of what was happening was negative.

The second date shows how powerful a positive perception can have on our view.

If I could say anything to you, it would be to never give up.

Changing our thought patterns and well worn habits take a minute. Sometimes it’s truly an ebb and flow process. Some days you’ll be patting yourself on the back and other days you might wonder if you’ll ever be able to take more than one step forward before taking two steps back.

But I would encourage you to stay the course. Just because you fall back into old ways doesn’t mean you’re destined to remain locked in those same patterns, you CAN alter them.

I would love for you to share your own perception stories and the steps you took in bringing about your own growth.

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