You can, and must, accept the imperfections and weaknesses of those you love. It is easy enough to do. We all have our faults and we all need to be accepted as the damaged souls we are. We should also try to do better once we know that certain of our tics are hurtful to someone we love.
Not everyone is capable of self-reflection and change, sadly, such things terrify some people. But it’s important to the health and mutuality of intimate relationships to try to do both of those things, when needed. Criticism from a loved one does not mean repudiation and rejection — it means you need to be aware of the hurtful effects of your actions on someone you care about. You need to sometimes accept criticism from those you love, it may be fair or unfair, and it can be discussed, but it is brutal, and deadly, to angrily shut down any talk about it.
What you must not accept is blame for the imperfections, weaknesses and vices of those you love. If the ultimatum below sounds familiar, and does not change no matter how calmly you manage to proceed, walk away:
“As long as you don’t ever criticize me, or show impatience, or raise your voice, or employ mean body language, as long as you accept everything I say as beyond dispute, we will remain dear friends forever. Once you make me feel bad about myself, even one time, I will show you who the actual irredeemable asshole is in this equation.”
Rest assured that if they set those conditions, and insist on them, that they will make good on their threat, because, no matter how patient you might be able to remain most of the time, we all have our limits and will be pushed to them.
Once you reach your limit, and start banging your head on the wall, as I found myself doing recently (actually, I picked up a small wooden stool and bopped myself in the forehead with it), the proof is now there for everyone to see — only an irredeemable asshole acts that way after only an hour or two of no-holds-barred conflict over who has a greater right to feel hurt for the last year and over what.
Somebody recently called me a saint because I’ve been trying to remain very patient with two, dear old friends in the face of this kind of ongoing ultimatum. I told her “I am one very goddamned fucking angry saint, I can tell you for sure.” While faintly amusing, it was also true.
If you can accept that you must remain eternally patient while those who feel criticized or challenged by you can show immediate anger whenever they feel desperate, I’m not sure what to tell you, except, perhaps, that you need to think it through again. It is very, very hard, unthinkable, really, to leave people you love — there may be nothing harder to do. Except, in my experience, it is even harder, and much more destructive, to cling to one-sided relationships where every conflict can only be stopped by assuming the entire fault for it and never again making the other person feel discomfort by talking about anything you need to resolve.
The damage to yourself of accepting this kind of lack of mutuality is ongoing, and will never stop until you put a stop to it. Once the cycle of blame, and who has a greater right to be aggrieved, sets in, you cannot change it on your end alone, no matter how sincerely you try to show love. You must be blamed, and accept all fault, or be destroyed. If you have friends in common, it will be necessary to destroy your good name among them as well.
It’s as hard as death itself to leave a long, loving relationship that has become corrosive, but harder still is living in a ruthless funhouse where honesty is discarded and angry desperation is turned relentlessly and implacably on you. I grew up in a house like that, moved out when I was 17, many years ago. The harm it did has been a long lifetime healing, as far as I have been able to heal. The echoes of it, whenever I am made the focus of other people’s hurt and anger, extending to a tyrannical insistence that I simply stop fucking talking about what’s bothering me, have become impossible to bear.
So I recognize now that I am in mourning, having finally, and with extreme reluctance, seen what a healthier person would probably have been able to observe a year ago, ten months ago, six months ago, last month. It does nobody any kind of favor to carry the heavy cadaver of what was once a loving friendship around, hoping it will begin to breathe again, and smile, and thank you for having undying faith in resurrection.
And just like physical death, or maybe even more so, the thought of a forever parting can feel unbearable, which is why we cling to things even after we’ve seen over and over they are not as they were. Even after they have become intensely painful and impossible to stop pondering.
So, mourn I must, as I forgive my understandable slowness to take my leave from an unbearably painful situation. The only alternative is pretending there is nothing to fix that can’t be fixed by simply not bringing up pain ever again and placidly accepting the entire fault for a deadly impasse I am at best 50% responsible for, and somehow accepting that doing those things will magically restore something, including trust, that is now irretrievably gone.
Accept all the blame and simply act like everything is fine again? No can do. Neither should you.