When we pollute our relationships with unloving thoughts, or destroy or abort them with unloving attitudes, we are threatening our emotional survival.
- MARIANNE WILLIAMSON
You are holding this book for a reason. You may be hurting or confused over a marriage or a relationship that has been disturbing you for a long time. You may even feel threatened with what is ahead: a break in communications, a separation, or even a divorce. You are doing everything possible to avoid confrontation with your partner, and sometimes you are able to create the most ingenious plans to prevent pain or to put a Band-Aid on the bleeding wound, loneliness. Do you want your relationship to improve and to last? If your answer is "No, I've had it; I've tried everything and nothing works," then this book is not for you. You have made up your mind that your relationship is irreparable. It is over. But suppose that in the privacy of your mind there is a ray of hope that touches your heart and evokes lingering feelings of love and compassion. Although you hesitate to admit it, you want to say, "Yes, I want this marriage to work; this relationship is important to me. I want to restore it." If this is the case, then this book is written for you. Stay with it. As soon as you say yes to yourself, shift your thoughts and emotional center toward loving and working with patience toward yes and away from no. Simply, surrender yourself to your goal and give yourself time, as long as it takes-three months, six months, nine months-to have purposeful encounters with your partner. The word "surrender" may appear scary to you, but sometimes what seems like surrender isn't that at all. It's about what's going on in your hearts. It's about seeing clearly the way life is, accepting it, and being true to it, whatever the pain, because the pain of not being true to it is far, far greater. Make reconciliation the first priority in your life. During this period, things will not be easy, let alone immediately productive. Certain well-intentioned rescuers may try to persuade you that reconciling with your partner is a pipe dream. "It never works," they'll say. "Get yourself another partner who can love you and make you happy." With or without these "rescuers," doubts about the future success of this relationship will resurface in your mind. This is normal, for in spite of earnest efforts to make the relationship work, sometimes you will err and clash; fragile feelings will get hurt. We are not perfect. You simply must trust that patience and persistence can perform miracles. Give yourself permission to make a new beginning.
You are sensitive, scared, afraid; you do not want to get hurt again. You must fight the urge to withdraw, to recoil. Fight it with the very powerful idea that very often the negative thought you may have about your partner is something you are thinking about yourself. When Peggy, a lawyer in a prestigious firm, learned that her husband had an affair, she did not display any angry reaction, but deep in her heart she felt hurt and betrayed. Bernie had committed adultery. Since the night he had confessed his mistake, their love life, previously intimate and happy, was blighted. "It was just a fling," she rationalized, "a common event in our times. I can rise above my anger. It can happen to anyone. I almost had an affair myself-with a colleague-but I was able to control my impulses." However, the reality of what he had done nagged her painfully. "How can I trust him again?" Bernie, a brilliant civil engineer in his mid-forties, had been married to Peggy for twenty years. Their only daughter was a junior in college. "There's a lot of love in my relationship with Peg," he claimed, "but six months ago I blew it." He was angry with himself. "How did I succumb to such stupidity? It meant nothing to me."
People today often seem eager to confess to this type of lapse, and they confess it to the very person it hurts most. Six months after his brief affair, guilt-ridden Bernie told Peggy of his fall from grace when he was in Japan on business for his company. Remorsefully, he told his wife how sorry he was. He believed she forgave him, and he felt much better for being such an honest man. Bernie's confession was not a mature and loving act. Honesty expressed for the wrong intention is the worst form of hostility. Did Bernie know that? He wanted to relieve himself front the burden of his guilt-truly a wrong intention. Furthermore, perhaps unconsciously, he wanted to test his wife: Will she continue to love me as much even when I reveal something ugly about myself? Mature love would have prompted him to say, "I messed up. It was my wrongdoing, my cross to bear. I have no right to free myself of my guilt at my partner's expense. I can seek help and counsel from a minister, priest, rabbi, therapist, close friend. They can provide me with some relief. Although there was enough love in Peggy's heart to forgive Bernie, the scar remained raw and sensitive for along time. However, with the help of a therapist, she took a personal inventory to explore areas that needed improvement for herself and for the marriage. She focused on the positive qualities of their relationship. In spite of his violation of his marital vows, Bernie was a thoughtful, sensitive, hard working, good man with whom she had shared wonderful years together. "We took delightful vacations, traveled oversees, played and prayed together, and built a beautiful home for ourselves. If I can let go of the hurt he has caused me and be a better mate to him, he will be capable of being a better mate to me. In my heart I know he can. We can still have a productive life together." As she pondered these thoughts, Peggy felt an inner strength. When she shared her thoughts with Bernie, he agreed that their emotional investment was too precious to let go. "We must work together to maintain and develop what we have, each other," he said gratefully. "I promise to do my best to be a good husband." Ultimately, their efforts to be attentive to each other's needs resulted in making their relationship stronger. Sometimes we think and feel that so much is wrong that we come to accept defeat. "There is nothing I can do," we may say. But every negative thought and its precipitating feeling are potential energy toward a better way of being. Give yourself time and space to move toward what could be right and beneficial for you. Replace negative thoughts (the wrongs that your partner has done) with positive ones (the good qualities that your partner is capable of contributing to your relationship), and you will feel better and stronger. Avoid the notion that you must be right all the time; just do what seems right to you. It is a difficult art, and it calls for awareness, skill, and patience. But it can be learned; and those who learn it have in their hands the means of restoring a positive relationship as partners without violating the integrity of each other's identity.
The Strength within You
What if, instead of vacillating, you were to make a commitment to work hard, giving your relationship a new chance? What if you were to believe that within you lies the power to bring about a change in your life? Get deeper into yourself and learn from your inner self what you must do, advises an ancient Greek adage. And Elisabeth Kubler-Ross adds, "Learn to be in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose." Think about it: these are things that you decide on your own, by yourself, for yourself. Your physical body is at work every moment. Your heart beats, your lungs breathe, your eyes see, your ears hear, your hair grows; you don't have to make them work - they just do. When we suffer some physical damage, a physician treats the ailing part with medication, but healing takes place on its own. The broken bone mends, the injured part heals as long as we don't do anything to prevent the healing process. Your spiritual self, your soul, yearns for reconciliation and peace. In addition to the physical, material, and legal aspects of your marriage or relationship there is an emotional involvement as well. It needs special attention. Like your physical growth and survival, your relationship needs ongoing care and responsibility. All of your best qualities-and none more so than your own natural yearning for reconciliation-need to be activated and put in motion for the restoration and safekeeping of your relationship.
The Johnsons, a young couple in their early thirties and married for seven years, had a turbulent relationship. Marriage did not meet their expectations. Eventually they agreed that they did not care enough for each other to maintain the marriage much longer. And since both came from broken homes, divorce appeared to be a viable solution. Each one engaged an attorney, and by the time they appeared in court, they had incurred over twelve thousand dollars of debt in legal fees. In a preliminary hearing, the judge instructed the Johnsons to seek the help of a marriage therapist for at least six weeks before returning to the court. It was at this point that they came to me to discuss their situation. Both were scarred emotionally and mired in anger. It was some time before they mentioned they had three children. In a tearful angry scene, the wife removed her wedding ring and flung it at her husband as a symbolic and official gesture that the marriage was over. She informed me that four weeks after witnessing the birth of their third child, her husband had left her and had moved in with an old friend, where he lived the life of a bachelor. The couple looked at each other with contempt. They did not appear to have any intention of reconciling. "What are you looking for?" I asked. After a prolonged silence, the wife said, "He left me and our three children, and now he lives with his friends. He doesn't take any responsibility as a father or husband." "I send you money, don't I?" "Keep your money. The children need their father." "I left because I never felt appreciated." "That's nonsense. I'm a mother of three and I work. What else do you want froth me?" "Sex," he shouted in anger. The debate became so inflammatory, so verbally abusive that I had to interrupt them. "This not a boxing ring. There is no sense in throwing punches at each other," I said. "We fight like this all the time," she said. "We've made up our minds. Divorce is the solution." He sounded determined. "You have made up your mind. I don't want a divorce," she said. "Let me help you with your decision," I offered. "I guess it's over." She looked as if her spirit were broken. "It was a mistake; we don't belong together," he added. "If you had no children," I said, "divorce would not be so difficult. But, tell me, how are you going to look into the eyes of your children and tell them that you are mutilating the family, that you are changing the structure of their world by a process of radical surgery that will make all their tomorrows different. I have to tell you, the way you treat each other lacks responsibility." I could see Mr. Johnson's face turn red with anger. The word "responsibility" touched a sensitive chord. His wife's eyes widened in wonder.
"I'll give her whatever she wants. I want out."
"I want you to come back."
"I don't love you anymore."
"You don't know how I feel."
"I don't care."
"What about the children?" She wept. The natural inclination of all parents is to spare their children from as much pain as humanly possible. When the Johnsons told their children of the impending divorce, the two older ones cried inconsolably. Their eyes were ringed with dark circles, and acute grief of human hurt showed on their pale faces. They kept asking, "Why, Mommy?" "Why, Dad? Can't you do something to fix it?" As the Johnsons reported the reaction of their children, I studied their profiles and felt somewhat prophetic. They felt shaken and anxious about the condition of their children. This marriage could be salvaged, I thought, if I could convey to these two that what they really need is respect for each other and responsibility for what they created together, their family. When they came back for their sixth session, complying with the court's mandate, they asked me if they could continue their marital therapy for a few more sessions. "That's what I'm here for," I said with a smile. As I marked their next appointment in my book, Richard Taylor's statement surfaced in my mind: There are many things holding married people together besides love, and these are sometimes sufficient even when there is little or no love in the marriage. In one of the sessions, I asked the Johnsons to describe what their marriage was like after the arrival of their third child. They agreed that child bearing and caring did not leave much room for intimacy and romance, As the responsibilities of married life increased, they pulled away from each other emotionally. Physically, they shared the same bed, ate at the same dinner table, watched the same TV, talked but didn't really communicate, and halfheartedly parented their children. Occasionally they had sex, but they didn't feel love. Gradually, they moved into a state of cold isolation and experienced feelings of anger and loneliness. In marital therapy, the Johnsons gradually matured to recognize the potential in themselves and in their marriage. They recognized how important it was to share feelings and thoughts as responsible mates to avoid emotional isolation, a destructive force. Step by step, they learned to discuss small disagreements before they became major conflicts and allowed each other to have their own opinions. Almost in every session, the emotional state of the children became a focal point. Increasingly, they became aware of how their dysfunctional interaction had affected the children and decided to become creatively involved with them. Meanwhile, they spent special time together every Friday night, telling each other of their love and celebrating. Today, five years later, they are still together. Far from being dead and done for, your relationship can be resurrected and revived. The person that you are at this point needs and deserves a new kind of relationship, one without negativity, hostility, and all the bad perceptions that have caused alienation and pain. A new relationship is exactly what you will see emerging from the ashes as you try to be sensitive to your mate's needs. While other marriages are dying, yours can spring into a new life, because you have said yes.
When Mind and Heart Cooperate
Our contemporary culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only physical pain, but also emotional and mental discomfort. We live a life of denial, preferring anesthesia to the pursuit of a solution. We panic or become defensive when a sudden misunderstanding leaves us off balance. Our relationship struggles on while we use our very fallible minds, our thoughts, as anesthesia to mask the very pain whose purpose it is to pinpoint our problems. Instead of using our fallible thoughts to become bitter, what if we were to yield to the wisdom of our hearts and pursue a more creative response? When the answer to our problem remains hanging between our minds and our hands, it remains weak and superficial. If we simply react to a situation, then our frustration becomes self-righteous, our hope for improvement degenerates into a desire for quick results, and our patience is soon exhausted by disappointment. Only when our mind has descended into our heart can we expect a lasting response and potential resolution to well up from our innermost self. In your search for resolution and reconciliation, the visible changes that take place will not be as noticeable as you want or expect. Temporarily you may struggle with doubts: Is it ever going to work? Remind yourself that these doubts come from the mind, which demands results, not from the heart, which yearns on an organic level for reconciliation. If things seem hopeless, then listen to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's voice from The Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." What is essential is invisible to the eye. What do these words mean to you in your personal effort to reconcile? Could they mean that each of you may experience different feelings in the same situation? How would you know unless you try? Ask your heart: How willing am I to trust my real self to my partner? What will it take? Do I feel worthwhile? Should I risk the effort of reentering a relationship without a guarantee? Could I endure the feeling of not immediately knowing the results of my efforts? What makes this process difficult for each of us is that we have developed a fundamental orientation toward interpersonal relations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to expect in the present what we have experienced in the past. It takes renewed courage and work to challenge these biases and risk reentry into our relationship. When mind and heart work together, the change is already in motion, converting anxiety into compassion. A compassionate person can no longer look at the destructive qualities of the other without seeing them as an opportunity for self-restoration and restoration of the other.
I invite you to take time out and think. Do you want to restore this relationship? Then stay put, relax, be quiet for a few minutes, and listen attentively to your own struggle. I know it is difficult to take these initial steps. You may doubt your own abilities, your own strength. You may wish to find someone, some charismatic professional to solve your problem. However, when you cease listening to external voices and allow your soul to speak, you may come to sense that in the midst of your sadness there is joy, in the midst of your confusion there is direction, in the midst of your fear there is peace, in the midst of your helplessness there is strength. It is your strength that needs to be applied once you have said yes. You are not a puppet on a string waiting for someone to pull and push you into a performance. I cannot push you into anything. Nobody has that right. You are in charge of your life, as you ought to be. You can make things happen; you can create the difference-not in a selfish or capricious manner to serve your personal interests, but in an intentional way to seek reconciliation. A miracle? Yes, a miracle that you will make possible for yourself. Are you still in doubt? Then try to repeat, at least three times a day, a statement by the incomparable Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost." If you believe that within you there is a vitality, an energy that can be translated into action, it is time to stand tall and seek healing. Make the first move. Be the first to start the restoration process. "But that's not fair!" you protest. Fair or not, one person has to care enough about the relationship to take that first step-maybe even by going all the way to meet the other partner. Since you are the one reading this book, the responsibility falls on your shoulders. Of course, total success will come when both partners work at restoration. If you do diligently what is required of you, and your partner remains totally unresponsive, the relationship will suffer; however, you yourself will have peace, knowing that you have done everything possible to restore the relationship. Ponder the following suggestions one at a time and try to consider a good way to apply each one. If one is not working, have faith that there is more to learn. As you think about these suggestions and apply them, your skills will improve, and you will realize what else is needed. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Growth takes place in spurts. If you concentrate on the degree of success of each idea, you will become anxious. You cannot insist that your efforts have predictable outcomes. Remind yourself that you are on a journey during which you hope to restore your relationship. Don't be in a hurry to arrive at your destination. You are in a state of restoration, you have a feeling that you could have a better relationship, which is your ultimate goal. Straighten your shoulders, walk more resolutely, face and talk to your partner with energy and verve. Feel those emotions that lead to harmony. Most of all, try to cherish the process; do not hurry the journey at all.
For Your Consideration
Learn the language of love. Saying yes implies that you are willing to give your relationship a new chance. A new chance implies a different approach to relating with your partner to attain positive results. You may need to start speaking gently; you are speaking to a human being, not to an object. You need a different language, the language of love. Be lovable. Our deepest human need is to be loved, to be engaged. It is a wonderful feeling when someone truly loves you. You still need to be loved by your partner even though you have been deeply hurt in the relationship. Naturally, you are afraid that you may be rejected and hurt again. It can happen. But the possibility of being hurt again is far less dangerous to you in the long run than loneliness. Give the gift of love. In a new beginning, if you come into the relationship as a lovable person, it is unlikely that you will be rejected. You are sensitive; your partner is sensitive. Looking at each other with hostility or suspicion, or harboring an ulterior motive can make you both very fragile. Bring new life into the relationship by offering the gift of love, not just to your partner, not just to yourself, but to the relationship.
Monitor your demands. If you expect your partner to fulfill all your needs, you are asking for more than any single human being can provide. You will have greater success if you nurture the emerging needs of your relationship. Be caring and loving. Approach your partner with a sense of gentle openness, welcoming the opportunity to make this contact with caring and loving feelings. Focus on your goal as you release everything that you have been told is impossible or unrealistic, and allow yourself the freedom to make your new contact with your partner possible for you. Make haste slowly. Do not be too eager to express all your emotions and ideas at your first encounter. Become interested in the response of your partner and appreciate what the present makes available to you. Remove assumptions. Assumptions are obstacles created by the mind. For example; Other people have better relationships than I do. Many human interactions are free from problems. A conflict in a relationship is abnormal and destructive, and therefore it should be avoided. Good relationships go more smoothly. Why are they so happy and we are so tense and miserable? Beware of the control concept. No one wants to be controlled by another. Mind-driven statements such as, "I know how much we can spend!" and, "I know I'm right on this," are much more stressful than heart-driven comments such as, "Let's figure this out together." Try not to change your partner. People change if they realize that a change is necessary, not because you tell them to change. Part of change can be to discover, even slowly, the joy of sharing