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The Coaching Situation

Give a short description of the incident or situation that's bothering you. I was just served divorce papers and I'm overwhelmed with emotions of sadness, loss, and grief and wondering about what I can or should do to save our marriage. My husband and I were married 2 ½ years ago. There is a pattern of my husband coming close, being loving and committed, then withdrawing and getting distant and wanting to end things. He's ‘ended’ things at least 4 times with me, and each time I have gone through a devastating grief process. I love my husband and feel very bonded to him, and made a commitment for life. I have been single over 20 years (was married and divorced at an early age, and raised my child alone.)

My husband also acted depressed frequently … but I attributed it to his father’s death, which happened just after our wedding. Then his mother passed away a year later. Now my husband was grieving from his mother’s death too. I began to see more serious depression. He spoke often of “life not being worth living” and “wanting to die”. I was truly concerned for his safety and mental health, and did some reading. A light bulb went off when I read about the symptoms of a mild form of Bipolar disorder. It seemed to describe him fairly accurately. I carefully mentioned it to him, but he became very angry, and didn’t want to be labeled as having a mental health problem, or feel that that’s to blame for our relationship difficulties.

Then, serendipitously, a friend of mine recently spoke with his ex-wife (of 15 years, with whom he had 2 children). She shared that a main reason for their break up was his emotional ups and downs, and that she thought he might be bi-polar. So this was a very recent and important confirmation of what I have suspected.

Then provide details on the situation you want help with. I want help with:

  • Deciding if I want to try to save the marriage,.
  • Knowing when its right to let go and move on.
  • Healing from my grief, anguish, rejection, contemplating if he is with someone else, etc.
  • Handling the divorce logistics, while trying to decide if this marriage is possible.

How do you feel about yourself? Allow feelings to free flow. Is something wrong with me that my relationships seem so difficult and always end? I wonder if I'm difficult to live with, whether I don’t compromise enough, whether I just don’t know what it takes to “be married”. I feel like I'm a wonderful person, but I don’t know why I haven’t been able to form a happy and lasting relationship. I wonder how to trust myself in the future.

Express all the self-judgments you have in this situation. I put up with and let him get away with too much. I glossed over certain “red flags”, because I loved him so much and wanted it to work. That he always seemed to put his kids first. That maybe I should have never gone back to him after he broke up with me the first time.

Is there anything else affecting how you feel right now? I have neglected caring for my home, and my own career, and put all this time and energy into dealing with my husband.

If there are other people involved, can you guess at what they feel about this situation? My husband probably feels we are just too different, and competitive with one another and fight too much. That we aren’t compatible. My family and friends feels I have given all I should, and should move on and be happier. They are angry with how much they’ve seen me hurt.

Tell us about any previous attempts to deal with the situation at hand. In previous coachingattempts, my husband got very real about some of his deep pain and emotions, admitted his fear and projections on me, stated his intention for things to work. It felt like we were making great headway. But then, he would “flip”. He has sought coachingfor himself, but I don’t believe he has discussed this with the counselors.

What results do you want from your counseling? I want to be able to see my blind spots. I want to heal and save the marriage if possible. I no longer want to settle for being treated poorly. I want to heal my loss and grief and wounds of being left and rejected. I want to deal with this as much wisdom, love, compassion, strength, and common sense as possible.

Is there a part of you you'd like to understand better or want to change? I want to understand why I would attract a partner with so many issues and not see it. I want to change the part of me that is self-sacrificial in service to others. I want to understand how to have a happy, rewarding marriage partnership. I’ve tried so hard, and have wanted that so much.

The Coaching Response

As a society, we’re conditioned to believe that we’re only whole when we have a partner. We are desperate for love and forget that we are responsible for our own emotions. We make our partners responsible for our identity, emotional needs, and happiness. This is the primary reason why most relationships fail. You point out that you ignored many “red flags”, believing that you’d finally found love for the long-term. You sacrificed various aspects of your life in order to get this man to love you in return. You say he wasn't committed the way you hoped he would be. You tolerated behavior from him that you probably wouldn’t have elsewhere. Look at is how deep your need for love is and what you will do to feel “loved”. Your partner actually gave you everything he was capable of giving you. His ability to be a healthy emotional partner is limited and you are taking his limitations personally.

Whenever we enter into a relationship, we have expectations on what it will be like. Whenever they aren’t met, we feel disappointed. We expect our partners will act a certain way with us, usually like we act with them. Whenever people act contrary to what we expect, we take their behavior personally. Another person can’t hurt you emotionally. It's a choice to feel hurt, based on the patterned behavior you developed as a child. You experience an event, your mind interprets that event based on your particular pattern, your emotions arise in reaction to the interpretation. When you’re in reaction, you’re reacting in fear to a trigger and your pattern causes you to temporarily lose the ability to understand what you’re really feeling.

The key is to look at how you’re reacting now. You can choose to understand that your partner’s behavior has everything to do with his patterned behavior and particular set of emotional reactions. Step away from the relationship for a bit to sort out your true emotions and feelings. Can you identify familiar feelings of disappointment and rejection in your past? What were your expectations? What did you ignore to get love? What were your fears and judgments about not being loved? If you want to learn and grow from this relationship, you need to do a lot of self-examination. When you look at your expectations, turn them around to see where you’re not meeting those same expectations with yourself. For example, if you expected him to treat you well and with respect, where do you not treat yourself well and without respect? Where did you lose your personal boundaries?

You made a series of choices that have left you where you are now. All relationships offer us an opportunity to learn about ourselves and to grow from our experiences. When we face our fears, we increase the opportunity to have good relationships. Take what you learn about yourself back into the same relationship or into a new one. For things to change, you must be willing to do a lot of emotional work to get clear about your patterns within the context of your intimate relationships.

It’s possible for just one person to make changes in themselves and bring that benefit into the relationship. What you feel about yourself shouldn’t be dependent on how your partner treats you or says to you. When you maintain your boundaries and self-esteem, you’ll act differently and make different choices. It is possible to go back to the old relationship and have it change. The probability of it happening is low until you make some significant shifts in your own patterns. Right now, allow the grieving process to take place. Losing someone you love is painful and the hurt from the loss needs to be expressed. The hurts you feel from what has happened in the relationship are different from loss, and need to be explored one by one to see where you need to change, so you can make different choices in the future.

It’s common to have a very high spiritual understanding while forgetting that emotions need the same level of understanding. Dealing with our deepest emotions usually involves re-experiencing hurt and anger from our past, an unpleasant experience at best. Yet once you identify and release the emotional patterns that cause you pain, you can experience the relationship you want. You changed your personal boundaries in this relationship to feel loved. As a child, you learned from your parents how relationships worked. You picked up the same fears and patterns that they had in their relationship. The subconscious information you received about what it takes to be loved in a relationship are still with you. With some more work, you’ll be able to change your patterns in relationships and break away from what you learned from your parents. Intellectual knowledge isn’t sufficient to change a pattern; the knowledge must be applied on an emotional level to change.

I can’t give you any legal advice as to how to handle the divorce papers. I recommend that you contact a lawyer for that purpose. No matter what happens with this relationship, you will heal and learn to trust yourself and the decisions you make. Right now all the hurt is fresh and clouds your ability to understand what happened. When you feel like beating yourself up over the choices you’ve made, remind yourself that you did the best that you could in each moment. Tell yourself that you are making different choices even now. You have an opportunity to learn so you don’t have to re-experience pain again in the future. You can decide if you want to try again, but wait until the emotions are less intense. Even if the divorce goes through, there will still be a possibility for reconciliation later. If you make a decision while panicked, you will make the wrong one. Time is on your side; use it wisely.

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