Three days ago I stood on a precipice. I could have jumped into the unknown of single life. I could have worked through separation, sorting out the messy business of joint custody, house being sold, starting a-fresh. I could have walked. I didn’t.
I have been down that road before. I look back at my past decisions and I know they were right but I also lament the fallout from those decisions. Tom, mainly. His growth, his development. Would have have been better with a consistent fatherly influence in his life? Of that I have no doubt. If he had me in his life consistently rather than as a bit-part player would he be doing better at school? Would have had to see a child behavioural therapist? Maybe. Maybe not. The thing with being human is that we cannot go back and change decisions we make. Time is linear. Decisions are permanent. The path we choose cannot be changed.
In 2011 I left Tom behind. I saw him irregularly. His mother didn’t help but it was my decision to become a part-time parent. I discussed this yesterday with Terry who had a similar experience with his daughter. After the demise of his relationship he saw her infrequently and he said he often wonders if her development or lack thereof is down to his decision to leave rather than stick. He has another daughter now and has often looked at the experience of raising her fulltime compared to what happened before.
For a long time I have said that you should never stay in a relationship for the sake of the children. I used that as justification for leaving Tom’s mother. I believed that my happiness was more important than him having two parents. I believed that I had to ensure that I was in a good place and that it was better for him to have two happy parents living apart than two miserable parents living together. Is it? I don’t know. …and this it the thing; we will never know. You make a decision. You take action. It’s not possible to go back and find out what might’ve happened. “I wonder what if…”
Why am I still here? Why did I stand at the precipice and then step back and continue living in this situation? I found the explanation. It’s the region-beta paradox. This anomaly was first described 20 years ago, in a paper entitled The Peculiar Longevity of Things Not So Bad, by the psychologist Dan Gilbert and colleagues:
“The region-beta paradox is the phenomenon that people can sometimes recover more quickly from more distressing experiences than from less distressing ones. The hypothesized reason is that intense states trigger psychological defence processes that reduce the distress, while less intense states do not trigger the same psychological defence processes and, therefore, less effective attenuation of the stress occurs. However, people typically predict intense states to last longer.”
Basically, things aren’t bad enough to quit. I might leave and I might be happier. She might leave and be happier. Our relationship is far from perfect. It’s not great but it’s not quite bad enough to quit. It’s the same reason why people stay in shitty jobs. They know they could find a better job but things aren’t quite bad enough to force them to look for something else. They might live in a house with noisy neighbours but the rent is affordable and they’ve grown familiar with their surroundings. There are better places to live, but this house isn’t bad enough to look for somewhere else to live.
By deciding to stay I have the perfect opportunity to start making things better. I can change things from not quite bad enough to more than good enough. It’ll take effort. Both of us need to be more patient and understanding of each other. It’s worth it for these two little boys. It’s worth it for us. We both deserve to be happy. Life is too short to remain miserable. Only we can do what’s necessary to improve our circumstances.
When I picked timetostartliving.net as the new name for this site it was with a view to starting afresh. It doesn’t have to be that way. It can also be time to start living this life. It can be a time to start living this family. It can be time to start living this relationship.
What have I got to lose by trying?