Saturday, September 29, 2012

Relationship Non-Negotiables in Fairytale

Well, this tale might not have actually involved a fairy. I forgot where I read it, since what she was, didn't seem to be the main point. Or maybe there were variations of the tale, one with a hulda, maybe, another with a fairy, maybe another with an undine.

But, the template of the story is something that I've found some comfort in lately.

Once upon a time, this mortal human man proposes to this magical otherworldly person. She presents to her would-be husband, the condition that if he strikes her more than twice? Then she must return to the otherworld. (I'll just call her a fairy.)

She fit in quite well with the people in this world, for the most part. The lesser part that didn't, was demonstrated one day that she and her husband had house guests, and for no discernible reason she halted her hostess duties to just stare out into space. (I remember this detail well, because I do that sometimes and I'm human.) Irritated, her husband struck her to get her attention.

At another time, they were at a funeral, and for no discernible reason she burst out laughing. Humiliated, her husband struck her again, and at that she sadly told him that was the second time he'd struck her. If he struck her once more, as per their bargain, she would have to leave.

And of course he did strike her a third time, although I don't recall exactly what the situation was. Maybe it was that she started weeping for no reason at all or when everybody else was happy-- for which striking her would really paint the human spouse as a capital-a arsehole and I would have left if that were the first strike.

I recently heard of this relationship coach/counselor, David Steele, who proposed (what was news to me, but rung true all the same) that we all innately have non-negotiables. That is, an aspect of another person that, if absolutely everything else in both your lives were utterly perfect, except for that, you would still leave. Most people just never learn to articulate them, or were never challenged into defining them... it's not that across the board people with non-negotiables are just intolerant and arrogant.

And I thought of the fairy woman in the story, how she definitely knew her non-negotiables and could articulate them. Physical violence: non-negotiable at this specific certain point. Perhaps this wasn't magic after all, unless you count the kind of magic from knowing who you are.

So, Steele's idea seemed to be that, everybody has these requirements-- and they're different for everybody, some people actually won't leave if they're abused by their spouse or partner, because it's negotiable for them, and that part of their nature shouldn't be judged harshly-- neither should people who theorize their non-negotiables, but find it negotiable in practice; or those who discover non-negotiables in the course of the relationship that they hadn't mentioned before because they just didn't know it themselves-- But once you know what your non-negotiables are, (says Steele) it's really best to hold out for somebody who is 100% compatible on that level. That was a comfort to me, to believe that we are all under this sort of magickal contract, of our own character and nature, at a vital level.

On another level, though: compromise. What I saw in the fairy tale was that for a time, physical safety seemed more of a need for the fairy than a non-negotiable. Steele defined needs as, an aspect of another person that you won't leave them over... but remains an issue every time they show it. (Actually, I define need as "you'll die if this is not met" whether you want to die or not, or whether somebody else wants you to live... whereas a person can be literally chained up somewhere to literally force them to live with a non-negotiable, so a need is far more basic than a non-negotiable to me. So, any other word for this definition of need, would be welcome.) This must be the "compromise" that folk wisdom says marriage is all about. Or, the "imperfections" that folk wisdom says we must come to terms with in other people-- and in the world we live in.

Those are different for everyone, too, is what I realized. What somebody sees as a "mere" need, can be non-negotiable for somebody else. And, in a good relationship, a relationship based on goodwill, the needs of both parties would be mutually honored. Too often, I see this minimizing somebody else's need: "You're being ridiculous, you're being oversensitive, this is just the way I am-- it's not horrible, it's not perfect but life isn't perfect and people aren't perfect and you're expecting..." blah. If acceptance of your violent impulsive tendencies are your non-negotiable, then... well, surely there must still be somebody out there for you. But if it's somebody else's need, well, there's this thing called "work" and this thing called "communication" that is also part of a relationship... and the fairy woman did give her husband some leeway to work out his violent tendencies.

(At the same time, I kind of can't help making those minimizations at the fictional husband. He married a fairy-- or a hulda, or an undine. They are weird. They are weird! They're... I mean... someone check my thinking on this? I guess I'm saying that he could have, like, learned more about her culture before signing up to have and to hold-- or, I don't know, just been more chill.)

So, in the fairy tale, I saw the human guy as actually very immature. He knew that he would lose his wife if he hit her, and he did anyway. This seems to stem from the fact that, unlike his wife, he didn't know what his needs were-- let alone how to express them constructively. "I need you to be fully consciously present when we're keeping the household running and when we're hosting my friends." "Right now I really need you to be sensitive and respectful of our attitudes towards death. If you can't, then I'll take you home right now and won't bring you to funerals in the future." Unfortunately, three strikes is still not enough leeway for him to learn.

So... thoughts? Have you heard a version of this fairytale, any different details that would be worth considering from this angle or another angle? How fluid do you believe these categories of non-negotiables and needs really are, in a relationship? Would you share yours?

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