I recently completed what I thought was going to be another fabulous dialogue. I was right. It was much more though. Have you ever been with someone t…[ Bob F ] >
Allen's Outrage: When a Loved One Leaves the Relationship.
FROM JOYWORDS, BY FRANK MOSCA, PH.D
Allen was a young, successful lawyer who came in great distress because his wife had just left him. He was full of tears of anguish alternating with rage at his wife and the situation. He admitted all kinds of sins of neglect of his wife, even though he was a hardworking individual. He really wanted to be a way his wife wanted him to be now, but she had already withdrawn her affections and was adamant that she wanted a new life without him.
He felt helpless; frightened that he could not have what he felt he so desperately needed, the love of this individual, the integrity of his family, the life that, despite his long hours of work and distraction, he felt he had been building all these years. What follows is a crucial portion of some weeks of option dialogues:
F: What about your wife's having left you do you find so painful?
A: What the hell do you mean? Wouldn't you feel pain if your loved one left you?
F: If I did, I would have my own reasons for doing so. What I am asking is what your reasons are for feeling that way.
A: Jesus, isn't it self evident. My god damn wife walked out. I fucked up and now there is no way I can put it all back together. How am I supposed to feel about all that?
F: Even though it may seem that you have no alternative but to feel the way you feel, still, what specifically seems to rankle you the most about your wife's leaving?
A: (now breaking down into tears). Ah shit, I fucked up. She kept telling me that she was unhappy and I kept ignoring what she said. I should have listened, I should have responded and now it is too late!
F: What do you mean when you say "you should have listened?"
A: Just what I said; she gave me warning and I ignored it.
F: When you were ignoring her warnings, as you put it, were you not doing in those moments exactly what you knew to do given all that you understood and believed to be important in those moments?
A: What difference does that make, I should have done otherwise.
F: How could you have done other than what you knew to do?
A: Well, I guess I couldn't have, but still now I feel I should have.
F: To what do you refer when you say you should have, the time when you were actually doing what you were doing, because that's what you knew to do, i.e., ignore her, or now, after the fact when you see the results of your choices at that time?
A: Ah shit, I don't know. Well, I know that I couldn't do anything other than I did, otherwise I would have, I guess, but somehow I still feel now that I should have. Just look at what happened as the result of what I did.
F: So you’re saying that if you knew then what you know now then you would have done differently?
A: Yes precisely.
F: But you just got through saying that you didn't know that, otherwise, as you said, you would have done differently. So then what could it mean when you say that you should have done things differently?
A: I guess what I mean is I wish now I had done things differently.
F: But since you didn't why are you unhappy about what you did do?
A: Damn it again, because of what happened from what I did. How many times do I have to say I fucked up!
F: So you are telling me that you love your wife and know that you want her in your life. Then let me ask you this, do you think it would mean anything about you if you were not pained about the loss of your wife from your life?
A: What the hell kind of question is that? If I wasn't in pain then how the fuck would I know she meant anything to me!
F: So then are you saying that your way of making sure that you stay in touch with loving your wife is the degree to which you feel intense pain at her departure from your life?
A: (stops weeping and takes his head from between his hands and looks up more thoughtfully). Say that again, would you.
F: Are you saying that your way of making sure that you know you love your wife is the degree to which you feel pain at her leaving?
A: (considerably more sobered). Well I hadn't thought of it that way. Yes. But isn't that normal. I mean a wife walks out and I'm supposed to feel okay about that?
F: How do you want to feel? Even if you feel pain at her leaving, how would you want to feel if somehow, magically, I could create any feeling in you right now that you want to feel?
A: Well, put that way, yeah, I guess, no, I'm sure I would rather be okay with it.
F: Do you want to create pain to know that you love your wife? Do you not know you love her without the pain? When you first saw your child at birth, was it pain that you felt upon seeing her, or just the pure joy of knowing you loved her?
A: Yeah, no, well, I do. No, I know I love her without the pain.
F: Yes but I sense a hesitation in your voice. Is there any sense at all that to be okay with your wife's leaving would be wrong?
A: Well, it's more that I still find it hard to believe that she doesn't love me anymore.
F: Do you think it means something about you that she doesn't love you?
A: Well, yeah. If I hadn't been such a shithead then maybe she would have still loved me.
F: Are you saying that there is something wrong with you that she doesn't love you?
A: Yes, yes, that's it.
F: But weren't you being just exactly the person you thought you should be during your marriage? And, although it may have turned out to be a mistake from her point of view, weren't you doing what you knew to build a life together, at least as you understood it over those years together?
A: Yes, but it didn't work. All that time at the job, I was too busy being successful and making us financially secure. (Pause, as he ponders that) But, as you helped me see, that's what I thought was important then.
F: And are you saying that now, at this moment, and from now on, which is the only time there is, that you might be wanting to do other than you did in the past?
A: Definitely. I have learned some new values, even if they may not, or will not save my marriage and I intend to live by them.
F: And how does it feel? Are you feeling freer in your gut about your wife's decision?
A: (taking time with an evident clear facial and body expression of growing lightness). Yes. I'm not yet sure that I accept this as okay, but there is no doubt about feeling so much better than an hour ago.
F: And what seems to still hold you back from giving full vent to your good feelings?
A: Well, shit, you know, it isn't as if my wife was all sweetness and light. There were things about her that I didn't like. She always played the role of the victim, the aggrieved party and I always seemed to be the unfeeling, insensitive schmuck. Then she would shut down, shut me out and refuse to discuss things even when I would take the time to pursue what was going on. "It's too late," she would always say, "Now it’s too late to talk about it and you'll just have to live with having caused me and the children all this distress, as always." And bingo, doors slammed and I'm standing there like a complete asshole.
F: Are you saying that you don't feel okay with not liking about your wife what you don't like?
A: Yeah sort of. You know, I know I fucked up and well, but…..wait. I know that my way of being with her was not conducive to making the kind of marriage she wanted. But I was doing the best I knew to do, given how I was brought up and the values I adhered to. You know, work hard, build a family, be secure. But still I don't feel comfortable with not liking Marie, it's like I'm not supposed to not like her. After all, I'm here crying that I love her, so how can I not like her!
F: Why, if there were and are things about your wife that you definitely did not like, does that mean that you did not or do not love her?
A: You know it’s funny. I was always afraid to admit, even to myself that I did not like anyone. And in this case, it seemed even more frightening not to like, because I felt it threatened my love for her. But all during those years, I felt I repressed my dislikes and secretly blamed Marie for my not liking her. Isn't that screwy?
F: You mean she was being a way she "ought not to be" and therefore despite her doing from her perspective exactly what she thought was good for her to do and to be, that you were pissed off at her because by being a way she shouldn't be for you, she made it impossible for you to like/love her?
A: Yeah, yeah (smile breaks out). I guess, no I know, I could have shared what I didn't like, or I could have been okay with it. Lord knows there was enough about me she didn't like (more sober now). Yeah, I loved her anyway.
F: Isn't love that which is freely given . And can't you be happy with what you like or don't like and be as loving as you would like in any event? Would you want any other kind of love than that?
A: Not really.
F: So if your wife no longer extends that freely given gift to you, would you want her in any way without that?
A: No, no, I would only want her if she wanted me freely.
F: And is it okay not to like what you don't like, I mean really feel good about that, just as about what you do like?
A: (smiling now). Yes, yes. You bet. It's a terrific feeling!!
F: And how do you feel right now.
A:(broad grin). Damn good. I mean, thanks, thanks so much.
F: You’re more than welcome, my friend.
Allen came to accept his wife's decision with equanimity and without judgment; this aided in directing his efforts at supporting and maintaining a good relationship with his children. He ultimately changed his work experience around and made much more space for himself and eventually for another person with whom he set up a more satisfying existence.
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