I believe that romanticizing the idea of “through thick and thin” in relationships is dangerous.
I will tell you why that was true for me, at least.
As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) I experience broad spectrum feelings. Sometimes I experience from rage to joy to sorrow and grief in the span of an hour.
This is, to me, the emotional equivalent of a triathalon in my brain. All day every day.
My most effective coping strategy to date is mindfulness & radical acceptance.
“But Cassie, that’s two skills!” You may say.
I posit that radical acceptance is impossible without mindfulness.
To be clear:
Radical acceptance is the practice of knowing the gravity or exuberance of every situation and accepting it for reality without trying to escape, or change the present or past.
Mindfulness is – to me – the practice of awareness.
Awareness of your body, feelings, situation and the sources of sensory input.
Mindfulness is being able to parse internal and external sources for certain stimuli.
✔ pain (stubbed toe v swollen muscles)
✔ cold (poor circulation v cold rain)
✔ afraid (phobia v imminent danger v overactive nervous system)
Mindfulness is great as a trend because there is science to self-healing through self-awareness.
Radical acceptance involves making a conscious choice to reduce using valuable resources (time & energy) on the past or present that is outside of your control and redirect those resources to the present you have power over & planning for a better future. It’s laughing about a situation instead of being stuck crying. It’s acknowledging the intolerable, unjust, and inconceivable while moving forward and gathering strength.
I cannot accept the truth of the present moment without a mindful awareness of the reality of a situation. To accept a situatiom does not mean we condone or approve of it, rather it is embracing the truth of the present in order to make informed decisions that can benefit us in the future.
This brings us back to the “through thick or thin” narrative. I can often accept inconsiderate behaviour when I know the cause. I can appreciate a horrendous reaction to something I view as benign when I can accept someones motivations and priorities as either unknown to me. When I can approach someone where they are at with a compassionate stance then this is where I have an opportunity to learn.
Through thick and thin denotes that no matter how somebody treats me or themselves or others around me that I should find it in my heart to forgive and forget. It implies that if somebody does wrong and then is sorry that you must forgive them. If one does not forgive the person who caused harm then they are bad. You are a bad friend for not standing by, you are a bad partner for not trying harder, you are a bad lover for not just loving more.
The idea that we are to stand by loved ones through thick and thin I have now come to understand as toxic. I believe it was created with the institution of monogamous marriage in mind. It does not account for autonomy, or an expectation that the people in our lives do better and try harder. Or that sometimes no matter how much you love someone, they are not good for you and you deserve better. This concept seems to imply that we cannot let go of people that are toxic to us, and often shames folks who even consider that possibility.
When somebody is actively and regularly doing us harm, whether intentional or not, we have a choice. We can tolerate that behavior hoping that it will change, while we observe patterns repeating. Or we can choose ourselves. The latter choice is often seen as selfish and often inherently negative. Putting yourself first, by definition, is factually selfish but being selfish isn’t always a bad thing. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Filling your own cup first is the responsible thing to do. If somebody is continually draining your cup and never giving back or rarely giving back it is up to you to be mindful of your current capacity and make informed decisions about your next steps.
It is up to you to advocate for yourself and your own needs.
It is up to you to clearly communicate your needs, your wants, your hopes and expectations.
If a person hears you, says they understand your needs and still choose themselves over you again and again, they may be demonstrating a (subconscious) lack of respect or taking you for granted on the expectation that you will always be there. You don’t need to stick with them through thick and thin. You may feel obligated, you may feel guilty, you may feel hurt, but we are only responsible for our own actions.
I believe all of this deep into my heart because I loved someone that I took for granted. I was loved in such a pure and encompassing way that I felt safe putting it to the side. Because I thought it would always be there. I felt so secure in their love for me that I forgot to offer security back. I was careless, I was neglectful, and ignored their needs while filling my cup from the incomparable river of their heart, that flowed so strongly and so freely I never imagined it would run dry.
I took too much and gave too little. I thought they would always be there. But one day, they asked for more, and I chose not to give it. They built a dam, and diverted the flow of their river to a jungle that would appreciate its abundance in a way that I had forgotten how.
I spent a long time hoping that when they were ready the dam would open again and I’d have a chance to give my love in earnest. I railed against it’s boundary wishing for more time, another chance. But the reality is, that river is strong and beautiful, and no matter how good my intentions were, I did not deserve it.
I learned many lessons. I learned “through thick and thin” can be abused as a tool to manipulate others into staying beyond what is good for them. I learned that I can tolerate the intolerable. I learned that rose coloured glasses made all red flags just look lile flags, and I learned the weight of regret, and I bear it every day.
Then I learned how to move through it. No longer do I lie in the dried up riverbeds outside your dam crying for even a trickle from your stream. I learned how to stand again, walk again. I learned how to harden my heart and build my own dams to protect my own river. I learned how to collect water from the world around me, and how to splash my own water beyond where I think it could reach.
Most importantly, I learned to never take a river for granted again.