Thursday, January 20, 2011

Help... I Have Made A Terrible Mistake

What happens if we leave our partner during mid life crisis only to find we made a terrible mistake?

There have been many of us who leave a long standing relationship (not always for another partner, some just for space) during mid life only to regret the decision when we realize the impact on our lives. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have sought counseling and been able to repair the rift before divorce became the only answer. Others have not been so lucky.

Looking outside ourselves for answers doesn't work. Happy isn't out there somewhere... happy is an inside job. If we aren't happy with our lives when we hit midlife it's time to reassess... not immediately look for an escape route. The level of maturity we have when midlife arrives determines how we handle it. Immature, coddled, self centered adults act out. Mature grown ups communicate.

It may be difficult or frightening to share our disappointments with our partner... but if we think clearly we will realize that they must have their own lost dreams to deal with as well. We are not the only one in the relationship. Acknowledging our limitations... becoming vulnerable... allowing ourselves to re-experience emotional intimacy... these are all paths back to wholeness.

We may have spent many years building walls instead of bridges. Our expectations must be realistic. We cannot undo what has taken years to create in a short time. Patience... hard work... honest self exploration and gentle sharing all work together to create the environment necessary to reinvent our relationship.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Confessions, Betrayal and Intimacy

What do I do? My partner has had an affair which ended... has come to me to confess the betrayal... and wants to work through it in counseling to better our relationship.
We get maybe an hour to an hour and a half once a week with the counselor... let us use that time to find out what was missing in our relationship (probably emotional intimacy) that caused our partner to look elsewhere to fulfill unmet emotional needs (btw - emotional intimacy doesn't equal sex).

A fair guess is that either or both of us felt emotionally abandoned at some level long before the affair happened. If that's the case, the way to salvage the relationship and rebuild trust is to begin to give each other what was missing in the first place. People in emotionally satisfying relationships don't get involved in extramarital avenues because they aren't looking. Period. In order to avoid the trap of a repeat of the same problem later on down the line we need to create an emotionally satisfying relationship. Getting tools to accomplish that should be the focus of our counseling sessions.

We may feel that getting our questions answered will lead to figuring out why our partner looked elsewhere... to discover what was missing. But the truth is that unless each of us begins to be vulnerable to one another and risk being known with all our lumps and bumps... emotional intimacy won't be possible. The way to find out what was missing isn't by questioning... it's by being emotionally available and letting the walls down. When we do that our partner feels safe enough to finally be honest and tell us the truth.
That's a scary thing to do after all the hurt and betrayal that has happened... but if we really are serious about wanting to improve our relationship... that is the recipe my friend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Donuts and the Truth

If you don't want the truth... don't ask me. If you want something sugarcoated... go eat a donut.

Today while surfing online I read a post that struck me. It really got me thinking... do we want to hear the truth when we come to a counselor looking for support? Or are we just there to have someone reinforce our own point of view? Are we looking for truth or validation?

Personally, I think we attend counseling to allow another to tell us the truth. It may be the awful truth... it may be something we'd rather not hear... but in the end what we really desire is for someone... anyone... to finally be 100% honest with us.

Why do I think that is the case? Because for many of us we have been deceived and manipulated by others for so long that we doubt our ability to discern the truth. We have lost our innate trust in our own gut.

It may have happened when we were kids and our parents refused to discuss the elephant in the room... an alcoholic or abusive parent or sibling for example... and we began to believe that somehow we were wrong. We saw that elephant... didn't they? Why wouldn't they talk to us about it? Why did they insist it wasn't there? Were we unable to properly distinguish reality? They are big... we are small... they know what's real... we don't. We are scared by this difference in perception. In order to feel safe we decide to believe they are right.

Here we are... many years later. We try to select a partner with whom to create a life. We pick someone who "feels right". All goes well at first... we then discover we have chosen a person who mirrors some of the same dysfunction we experienced in our childhoods. It "felt right" because as dysfunctional as our childhoods may have been... it's comfortable... familiar.

Years pass and we and our partner drift apart. We come to counseling and we vent... we cry... we allow ourselves to be seen in all our pain. We want answers. We want someone... anyone... to finally tell us why this happened in our relationship.

Finally we begin to see the truth. We are told something in counseling that infuriates us and realize we are still reacting to the same old pain. Sometimes we read a book and see ourselves in a new light. Sometimes others situations are similar and we learn from their wisdom. However it happens... we learn more about ourselves through the process.

In the end we come through the experience with new wisdom... an inner strength we never knew existed... and discover serenity and acceptance.