In preparation for family pictures three years ago, I spent at least three weeks (and an Amazon merchandise exchange) obsessing over and re-coordinating our family picture outfits. I chose a high-end photographer (we were broke at the time). It just had to look perfect. The irony? Things were far from perfect.
We took family pictures on the evening of our 11th wedding anniversary: October 22nd, 2016. We looked so perfect and happy. But, were we?
A month earlier, I was sure my marriage was over (I wrote so in my diary). And I wasn't wrong. Besides those moments of honesty in solitude, we both spent the majority of our time lying to ourselves about what we had together. Maybe we could be content playing house - living vicariously through what we imagined people saw when they imagined what it was like to be us. Maybe we could survive focusing on the great parts of our relationship (there were many). The home that was our relationship may have had a beautiful paint job, landscaping, and a nice layout. But it had major cracks in the foundation.
The home that was our relationship may have had a beautiful paint job, landscaping, and a nice layout. But it had major cracks in the foundation.
February of 2017, the house began tumbling down. It was a free-fall until May. But that didn't keep us from scrambling to prop it up. What happened? It's a really long story (currently writing the memoir). Essentially, our 'perfect' marriage was constructed with emotional immaturity and insecurity, abuse, contempt, resentment, and fear. We both brought these 'materials' to the relationship because they were in both of us (even though they manifested in dissimilar behaviors). I told myself our problems were because he struggled with depression. But the truth was: I was depressed too. I coped by talking on the co-dependent role of the rescuer. I've heard it said that depressed means: deep-rest. Well, I was tired...tired of playing 'Don't-You-Wish-You-Were-Me?'
Playing this role kept me small and afraid - kept me judging and comparing. It kept me from showing up for my clients and sharing authentically to the audience I wanted to serve. I hid because I wasn't willing to feel embarrassment, shame, guilt, and judged by others.
When my marriage fell apart, so did my identity. I went through the grief stages - grieving the death of the fantasy marriage I'd convinced myself I had. (In case you think a marriage that has major problems is a simple mathematical problem to solve, it isn't and I suggest you take an honest look at some of your beliefs about relationships. There were PLENTY of wonderful parts of our relationship. Among the disfunction, there were a lot of things that worked very well and met both of our needs.) I took some time off coaching (in hindsight, not the wisest move) and spent two years taking inventory of my life, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
It was a painful time. Blame seemed like a feel-good place to park myself - until I found myself on the other end of blame and decided indulging in blame/victimhood didn't make me feel the way I'd hoped. i decided to get curious about my victimhood and look deeper - underneath was shame and guilt. My anger and contempt quickly shifted form him to myself as I analyzed the thinking behind every life choice I'd ever made - staring bare-faced at all of the insecure thoughts that brought me to where I was. It was overwhelming and exhausting - spinning out in mind drama and trying to resist and then indulge in every emotion that came at me. The pain came in wave after wave for months.
In the end, I gave up resisting and indulging my emotions. I didn't have energy left to do anything but let go of what I thought I had to do or be to be safe, good enough, wanted, desired, needed...loved. I let myself feel all the pain. When it was intents, I coached myself to look for the gifts...and they appeared. When there was a feeling to feel, I made it safe to feel it...and then let it go. I reminded myself I wasn't bad for feeling guilt, shame, victimized. This took practice and in the beginning I failed more than I succeeded. I had become really good at being in my mind - being praised and encouraged for my intellectualism. But you can't intellectualize a feeling. Once you think, 'it's just a feeling,' you still have to feel it. This isn't a thinking deal. It's experiential.
Then there was nothing left to do but forgive - forgive myself for being exactly who I was and where I was. Forgiveness finally gave me the relief I was desperate for - the relief my brain had been telling me I'd get from shaming myself over and over again. This forgiveness didn't happen once. I did this over and over again. I'm still doing it. And after a while, I was able to forgive him. I didn't try to forgive him, it happened over time...as a result of healing together.
With the help of a marriage counselor, a loving coach, a supportive community of friends and family, many books, and most especially with God's help, we healed our hearts - we healed our relationship...together. I believe "A Course in Miracles" is correct: "The Holy Spirit's temple is not a body, but a relationship."
By the grace of God, we now love each other in much healthier ways. We have both become more whole people. And our marriage has become more whole. Mutual respect and personal responsibility grows in the spaces left by insecurity and abuse. The foundation is strong. Is it perfect? Hell no! Are we perfect people devoid of all insecurities? No way! Have we gotten better at being more emotionally mature? Yes! Have we gotten better at loving ourselves so we can behave in alignment with that energy? Yes! Are we perfect at it? NO! It's a practice. And we haven't been at it all that long. But we are able to consistently bring vulnerability and honesty to each other because we first practice accepting and loving ourselves.
I am fully aware that my relationship story could have ended very differently and I could be writing this as a single woman. There are times in our lives when we are called to choose between two options: staying the same or growing. I chose growth no matter what. I was resolved to accept nothing less than a commitment to myself, I had to accept all possible consequences of that decision - including the end of our marriage. If he hadn't also answered the call to grow in the affirmative, we wouldn't be together anymore. I am grateful every day for his decision to grown and heal together. And if he had chosen differently, I would choose to find reasons to be grateful for the valuable lessons in separation too.
Relationship is a risk. It's reaching for great joy at the same time as risking immense pain. There are no guarantees because we can't control another person (although many of us try). Relationship is like a white-water rafting ride: you have some breathtaking thrills, heart-bursting triumphs, some scrapes and bruises, sometimes maybe a concussion. And when it's over, you're lying flat on your back trying to catch your breath; the river beckons, "Wanna do it again?"
This year I spent about thirty minutes coordinating the outfits for our family portraits, no purchases required. I spent no time at all picking the location. The season's first overnight freeze occurred the night before the shoot, and instead of indulging in disappointment, I felt the disappointment and rolled with it. The pictures turned out great. And even if they didn't, so what? People will think what they want to think. Only the people photographed know the reality of the frozen moment. (It's important to remember that when perusing social media.)
How has this experience made me a better coach? Because I am practiced at and willing to feel negative emotion, I can coach courageously in service of my client's dream. Because I'm willing to ask the hard questions, I can take a stand for my client's dreams; teaching them to consistently do so for themselves. Because I'm not afraid to feel vulnerable, I can compassionately take my clientes to all the vulnerable places of their life that they have been afraid to examine honestly in order to be transformed, Because I can hold space for my won pain, I can hold space for the pain of others. Because I take fear by the hand and take risks in service of my dreams, I can teach my clients to do the same.
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