This I Believe

Teri - Culver City, California
Entered on December 18, 2006

I believe that you cannot control anyone else’s behavior. You may not even be able to control your initial reaction to someone else’s behavior, but eventually, recognizing that which is beyond your control is very liberating.

When I was pregnant with my second child, my husband made a devastating choice that affected me for years afterward. He left what he considered a stifling marriage to pursue something, though I’m still not sure what it was. It seemed impossible to me that someone could behave this way, and for a long time I struggled to understand what he was doing. Why had he left? What was my part? How was I going to raise my two daughters without him? Ours was not a quick separation; he came and left a few times over the next few years while I desperately tried to “save my marriage.” Finally, on my 34th birthday, my husband woke up early, left the house, and didn’t return until after midnight. As I sat at the dining room table alone that evening, having put my two young daughters to bed hours before, I asked myself the following question: What do you want your life to look like a year from now? Confronting that question gave me the strength to accept what I already knew. Nothing I said or did was going to change his feelings toward me.

I spent the next several years raising my daughters and mourning the loss of my marriage. I then entered a horrid period known as single parent dating, which led to a few long term relationships. Unfortunately, my loneliness and downright weariness led me to again accept unacceptable behavior. My happily married mother used to say to me, “I don’t understand these women who allow men to treat them so horribly”, and what could I say? I was one of those lonely, pathetic women. Finally, at the ripe old age of 47, three years into yet another floundering relationship, I put my foot down. I suspected my boyfriend had started seeing someone else, and rather than fight it, I wished him well and walked away. It had only taken a dozen years for me to put into practice what I already knew.

As a postscript, I am now engaged to a wonderful man whose behavior has borne out the adage, actions speak louder than words. I hope his behavior never changes. As for my ex-husband, his behavior is none of my business except as it relates to our daughters, who love him dearly but are occasionally frustrated by his behavioral choices, to which I can only reply, darlings, you cannot control anyone else’s behavior.