Recently, Huffington Post put a slideshow on their “Divorce” page that was very enlightening. They asked readers to respond with “the moment I knew my marriage was over.” There are over 150 responses in that slide show and, boy, do they range far and wide! Yet they do tend to fall into a discrete number of set categories.
One category is the “I just woke up one morning and knew.” That’s a hard one to work with, as I often liken the decision that the relationship is over to a campfire (appropriate image for the Northwest). At the end of the night, after staring at a brilliant, dancing flame hovering over intense, glowing embers, we turn in – and upon awakening, sometimes the logs are still there, charred, but partly intact. If you lift one up you may see a bit of life that, if blown upon intensely enough, will start to smoke and a flame may emerge. However, other times, it may have rained overnight and in the morning, we emerge from our tent to find a dead fire. No amount of effort will revive anything. The fire is simply……gone. That’s like the woman who responded, “when I took my wedding ring off and couldn’t bring myself to put it back on.”
There’s another category which Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy calls, “relationship traumas.” Infidelity is, of course, a leading (and searing) relationship trauma. It is difficult, but by no means impossible, to heal from this, but that’s another story for another day (post). There are others, however. Some people responded that they were facing a health crisis and their spouse was unresponsive or disappeared. An example is, “The moment I knew was when I went into the hospital for emergency surgery and nearly died. I was in the hospital for 6 days. He didn’t visit once. I got no calls and all of two texts. People I barely knew at least called.” Others describe an incredibly demeaning statement or attitude, like the one respondent who said, “”when I was picked for a prestigious conference in NY – he didn’t congratulate – asked who would watch the kids.” Others relate statements made by their partner that just floor them, like one who replied, “When he said he’d divorce me if I went to console my best friend (who is like a sister) after the passing of her mother.” For sure, these are all blows and there’s a lot of healing that needs to be done if the marriage can overcome the trauma of one spouse’s sense of utter abandonment at a moment of deepest need. Yet, when I read these kinds of posts, I don’t automatically think, “Well that marriage is over!” Actually, that’s the way I found myself responding to many of these posts. Many of the wounds that people describe are sharp and deep and they absolutely need to be talked about. Honest remorse and forgiveness are necessary and entirely possible, but, again, I don’t think people are able to do this on their own – or for that matter in an office of a couples counselor who acts as an umpire and decides who is right and who is wrong. It’s really fascinating and heart-full work. That’s why I love it so.