Relationships are complex, organic, complicated, confusing things that can often take on a life of their own. Each person brings his or her own ideas and expectations to the table. Many of these are never communicated out loud, or in the right words or context, so we may involve ourselves in a web of unidentified disappointments and missteps.
Eventually, if we're not careful, these disappointments and missteps can lead to resentment, outrage, intense frustration and we can completely lose it. "It" being patience, respect, passion, our temper ...
We may lose it by lashing out in anger and hurtful words or by closing off a part of our hearts in stone cold reserve. We may lose it by suppressing the values that matter to us or by ending the friendship or relationship.
However we lose it, the person we hurt the most is ourselves, until we find a way to accept what has happened and move forward. Whether moving forward is acknowledging and working around a relationship road block, finding peace within our hearts to accept our faults or those of another, reaching out to the other person, or finding peace with the natural end of a relationship, the only way out of the purgatory of an uncontrollable emotional state is to work towards acceptance.
When working on a character in a work of fiction or non-fiction, it is very important to understand the status of their relationships with others and with themselves. A writer must intrinsically feel when the excitement of getting to know a new person seeps into the comfort of familiarity, and when that bleeds into the yearning for something new or the resentment of interdependence, then whether that splits off into a renaissance of the self or acceptance of the relationship and eventual contentment at growing together.
One of the best ways to feel your character, of course, is to tap into personal experience. So, today's writercize asks you to do just that.
writing exercise: Reflect on a time when you've lost track of a personal relationship, and what it took to find resolution.
Click "read more" to see writercizer sample response on the mother-in-law relationship dynamic.
writercizer sample response:
When I first met my mother-in-law, when she was just my boyfriend's mom, I think we hit it off pretty well. I found her charming, a little devious, entertaining and warm. She took her mother role as chief chef and cleaner very seriously and poured on the love with a clean house and food, and more food, and more food. My mom, an incredible and caring woman, occasionally shows her love through baking, but cooking is not a priority of hers, and I was intrigued by a woman who took mothering in a traditional sense so seriously. She also intrigued me in that she didn't seem to have any personal barriers. She loves to joke and play little tricks on people, so her relationship with my husband almost seemed more like a pair of siblings than mother and son, even throwing in some potty humor every now and then.
Shortly after I got engaged, a colleague was telling me sour stories of her mother-in-law visiting, and the difficulties they were having. I was hopeful and naive and dismissed her comment, "You'll see, it'll happen to you too." Impossible, I thought. We got along swimmingly, I could see no problems on the horizon. My mom and paternal grandmother never had any disagreements or tension, so why wouldn't it be possible to create our own family sans hostility.
Then we got married, her son, her only child, and me, and things started to change a little. Our relationship started to falter. We come from different cultures and different countries; we speak different languages and value different ideas of family and femininity. It seemed that in marrying him, what had been his decision to move far from home years before he met me was solidified as my responsibility, and I had effectively taken him away. Before our marriage, there was possibility that he would return to the nest, but that dream seemed to have been squashed. For my part, what I once saw as charming idiosyncrasies (a solid belief in old wives' tails, for example) began to wear on me and I dismissed them as ignorant or childish. Neither of us had changed, but the energy between us was on the hostile side.
After marriage came children, and that was really the straw that broke the camel's back in our relationship. They were mine, and I wanted to make all the decisions. I didn't want to hear about her fears or insecurities when she was a young mother. I wasn't afraid and I wasn't insecure. I resented her stories and felt that she was babbling when all I wanted was rest and quiet. She resented my cold demeanor and impatience. Although I love to cook for my family and fill their bellies with food, I felt a backlash against the kitchen and traditional motherly roles and held firmly to my own mother's sort of love, the one that supports her child's decisions and shows her love by encouraging dreams of their own but isn't concerned with a childhood free of household chores or being the one to cook and serve a warm meal. I viewed her as suffocating and provincial and she viewed me as brazen and cool. I admittedly was a tad petulant. We were tense and constantly on the defensive. She lives a half a world away, so this had little affect on the day-to-day, but it also meant that when we did see each other it was in close quarters for nearly a month at a time. The relationship was volatile. Over time, for the sake of those we both loved, namely my husband and children, we found a way to stand one another, but each felt the other was undermining what we wanted to do, and trust was out of the question.
This last month, during a family visit to her house, something happened and I think we've had a breakthrough and finally found some real peace. Perhaps the lack of sleep and nutrition during infancy turned up my crazy and that's subsided back to a reasonable emotional responses. Perhaps now that she's in better control of physical ailments she feels more even-keeled in approaching the world. Perhaps I'm becoming more sage in understanding that people don't change and they have to be accepted as they are - one sentiment that is easier to speak than to feel. Perhaps it is because I had bronchitis and needed medication, which the doctor prescribed as at-home injections, and I had to trust her with my fear of needles and bare my rear end in her kitchen for the daily shot. Perhaps it is because we both realized no one lives forever, and it's easier to keep the peace than harbor resentment. Perhaps it is because we're family now, whether we chose one another or not, and it's time to make it work.
Whatever it is, some of the teasing and laughter returned. I didn't cringe at her stories or dismiss her beliefs as silly or invalid. She didn't get agitated in my presence or make snide sweeping comments about Americans.
We saw each other as human again, and I think that in recognizing our humanity, we found the biggest step towards reconciliation and acceptance there could be.