Change

Let’s assume for the moment that my wife’s views of our marriage, of our differences, and of me are correct: that everything she’s doing is completely legitimate, fair, and the right thing to be doing for both of us. After all she’s a skilled and very intelligent professional observer of human psychology. Her opinions should not be taken lightly, much less rejected. She says she only wants the best for me, however much I may not want this divorce. I need to believe this.

This isn’t easy. To confront her perspective, and the emotions she attaches to it, in the naked light of day requires a fresh look at everything I have believed, learned, and practiced. The old worldview needs to go if I am to accept her judgments.

I’m reading Change, by the Austrian-American psychologist and communication theorist Paul Watzlawick. My friend Sean recommended it. Watzlawick believed that people create their own suffering in the very act of trying to fix their emotional problems.

I often create my own suffering.

Watzlawick wrote,

It is difficult to imagine how any behavior in the presence of another person can avoid being a communication of one’s own view of the nature of one’s relationship with that person and how it can, therefore, fail to influence that person. 

We are trapped in our views of one another. I see my wife through the lens of my beliefs—my past, my hopes, and my vision of reality that I want to be real. She sees me through hers.

 A long time ago, in the early years of my first marriage, I underwent a year of serious Jungian analysis, with the then director of the Jung Institute in Manhattan. He was rigid, the weekly sessions were expensive, and when we got too close to truths I didn’t want to confront I quit. Those truths remain.

My wife says I am too dependent on pleasing her, that my attentions to her were invasive, a violation of her personal boundaries. I will accept this as true. I called it a need for togetherness. I called it my definition of love. Someone else might call it co-dependent. I was so invested in these beliefs that I failed to hear, or heed, her admonitions, her warnings.

I think I was afraid that I would lose her, that from the start there was doubt that we had a marriage of true minds. That if I tried, and tried harder all the time, I could bridge this divide, and save us. I missed the point entirely. I didn’t accept that her independence was simply her independence, and not a drawing away from me, until it was. By trying to be too close I indeed crossed her boundaries of self-preservation. She could only erect a wall.

There’s a saying in the advertising world that an agency begins losing a new client on the first day of the relationship. It’s downhill from there, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly—but in the end, the relationship ends.

My experience of love is that it doesn’t last. Or rather, my experience of love as I want it to be doesn’t last. These might be two different experiences—one real, one in my head.

The change I need to effect is to understand—thoroughly, deeply—that I am complete myself, that I do not need another person to make me whole. I need to actualize my own boundaries, boundaries of selfhood, dignity, integrity, and freedom. I do not need a partner to realize these qualities with me.

I want a partner to share my life, to enjoy me for who I am and what I enjoy, rather than me only sharing her life, enjoying only what she enjoys. I need to learn how to realize this.

My wife never asked me to step into her shoes and participate so fully in the life she had established and was living.  I thought it was my duty as a husband, and as the newcomer. And because she was so clear about what she would not do—even if it was something I wanted—I doubled down on becoming the man I thought she wanted me to be—the man who pleased, did what she did, adopted all her friends, and lived her life as she was living it.

To be honest this came with many benefits; but too many liabilities.

Yes, my work is different, and I have friends separate from her, and more friends back east. I have my sons. Somehow they never all came together as I wanted. I blamed my wife, but can see that my desires were simply out of sync with the person she is. My hope for what wasn’t only served to make me try harder, which served to push her further away.

There are things I wish could have happened, but didn’t.  There are no second chances. My wife has told me that people don’t change. I don’t think that’s true–and have personal evidence to prove it–but again I must respect her belief and try to see its validity.  Maybe she’s also talking about herself.

My necessary change is future-focused.  There’s no going home again, here.

Onward!

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4 Comments

    • “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”
      Great article. Thank you for sending it.

      Reply
  1. Niland,many of us believe that those traits you were penalized for are actually key to having a healthy marriage and, in fact, boost healthy relationships

    Reply
    • Thank you, Kare. It’s what I believe, too–but my error was not recognizing that these traits were unwanted, or ignoring warning signs that really were bright red stop signs. It’s said “opposites attract,” but they ought not get married!!

      Reply

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