Some say that people don’t change. Some say you can do anything you put your mind to and people can change if they really want to. So which is true?
The person someone is, at their core, doesn’t change. Some things are simply set. However, as people experience life and survive struggles, their outlook changes and they learn different coping mechanisms (some good, some….not so much).
As parents we learn that our children change in some ways, but not others. My oldest has always been the most fearless person I know. My youngest is cautious and thinks things through. The fussy baby in need of constant stimulation is still ridiculously active. The one who played with her feet for hours in the infant swing, still prefers to be alone and do her own thing. Most parents call bullshit on tabula rasa once you have more than one child and realize that you did the same crap and they are completely different. These things will remain because they have been this way since they were born. On the other hand, my oldest who once loved everything pink now chooses blue because “pink is a baby color, mom”. My youngest has learned to make people laugh when they are mad at her (which makes discipline a challenge), instead of crying. When we are dealing with adults though, we forget that they change too.
I am often surprised by my ex. The man I knew who survived on Skittles and Dr. Pepper and who considered exercise to be the hand movements necessary to play video games, suddenly shuns carbs, runs, cycles, and consumes sushi? I don’t know why I’m surprised, I’ve changed as well.
For various reasons during my formative years (I will not bore you with the details), I developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms. My sister and I were constantly thrown curve balls (generally in the form of a screaming parent that you had no idea you upset). As a result, I learned to plan ahead of time for everything (even insignificant things), to try to gain control and head off problems. In addition to this neurotic habit, the younger version of me didn’t like rocking the boat. I would hold things in until I lost…my…shit. This left the recipient assuming I was having a bad day instead of an understanding that they had been an asshole for an extended period. So I ended up with a reputation for having a bad temper while they were left confused because of all the times I had said nothing. Wasn’t that nice of me? No. I wasn’t giving them an opportunity to change the behavior. Keeping shit in while planning every moment of your life is a horrible combination.
These things are rarely an issue now. Sure, I have my mental health lapses, but these are cured with deep breathing and wine (sometimes it requires more wine than breathing). I am now more direct and explain what I need before I’m ready to twist someone’s head off. While I still plan events in advance (mostly because I’m responsible for juggling several people and their associated responsibilities), I’m no longer as frazzled when plans change.
This isn’t because I reached some magical state of enlightenment. It’s because my life is different. My kids are older (I really don’t miss wiping butts), I enjoy my work, I’ve earned my degrees, I have more stable friendships, etc.
I didn’t always handle things well and therefore people who have known me prior to these changes rely on what they used to know about me. When childcare falls through and the girls suddenly need to go to day-camp at the rate of $140 per day, my ex will assume it’s my need to plan or that I’m freaking out. When I say, “I need to budget because I don’t have the funds to not plan for these expenses”, I mean just that. I’m saying what I need, and why. It’s not because I always have to plan. It’s because I have to budget as well as make transportation arrangements, because I don’t want to get shit-canned by my job. I’m being direct so this doesn’t keep happening (which eventually leads to an explosion). I cannot work with this, means just that. It does not mean I’m having a panic attack over it or blaming anyone.
When dealing with your ex (or anyone for that matter), don’t assume you know them. People actually do adjust their coping mechanisms and their outlook. I know it’s hard but when your ex speaks to you, simply listen to the words and remember you don’t know them like you did. Even if they haven’t changed, the dynamic has. The other thing to remember….if you understood them so well, you probably wouldn’t be divorced. Take a deep breath, take things at face value, and remember that people change.