For the past four years, I have engaged in daily conversations with a friend who has been tormented about deciding to end her 36-year long marriage or keep coasting along; completely avoiding intimacy or meaningful conversations with him while silently seething with disgust every time her husband dares to breathe.
My own path to self-awareness and inner strength is a long and windy one full of deep sinkholes, speed bumps, gravel, and emotional hitchhikers. When I give advice to someone, it is because I can confirm, without a shadow of a doubt, that the formula worked and should be tried again. If I can do it, you can do it and all that jazz.
There’s an old saying that goes “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”, which is much like a person can be given generous instruction, wisdom, support, and hugs, but they can’t be forced to change.
Four years of daily support, advice, links to documents, videos, websites, programs, etc., and not one thing has changed for her. She simply refuses to do the work to achieve any sort of significant change. Her words say she wants a better life and a partner that treats her with respect and kindness. Her actions say she is perfectly content exactly where she is with someone who offers her nothing by the way of emotional support and love.
I love my friend dearly and truly sympathize with how hard it must be for her, or anyone, to make such an important and significant decision when the timing is not in her favor. She is in her mid-50’s and had chosen to raise her children and stay at home for much of her adult life, which leaves her at a disadvantage in the current workforce.
Should she and her husband become divorced, the home she has lived and raised her children in will be sold and she will be forced out of her comfort zone. Terrifying for sure.
What is more terrifying, for me, is to live in a house with someone, forever, and not be able to hold a decent conversation or experience passionate lovemaking or experience the joy of sleeping next to one another while being grateful for the comfort the other person gives by just being there beside me.
The one man my friend can’t stand is the only man she has ever been with. Many couples do not know that they have nothing in common or realize they are no longer in love until the kids move out of the house.
Having to interact with your spouse, once the children are no longer there as a distraction, is worse than ’empty nest syndrome’ and is usually accompanied by a ‘mid-life crisis’. Everything changes in an instant.
The man who would father all four of her children has been cast to the family role of a joke to be told in whispers behind raised palms. He does not have the respect of his wife or his children because he communicates with sarcasm, cruelty, and snideness. That is how he was raised and, apparently, his father is exactly the same way. One of the children has the same mannerisms, yet ridicules the father for his way of speaking to others. They don’t think they have a problem, yet can’t figure out why no one wants to engage in conversation with them during family festivities.
My friend’s husband won’t change his ways because he cannot handle criticism of any kind. He will verbally shut down anyone with the gall enough to even think about telling him he is acting unacceptably. Forget trying to talk to him. He will make you feel bad about yourself and storm out of the room effectively becoming mute for days afterward.
Once any discussion is focused towards his behavior and her feelings, he deflects the issues back onto his wife causing her to promptly shut her mouth and start baking like a madwoman. Her kitchen is her therapy couch and she has become an accomplished master baker.
Does this sound familiar?
Wife: (after taking days/weeks/months/years/ to get up the nerve to say something) – Honey, something you said the other day/week/year that hurt my feelings and I would like to talk about it.
Husband: Oh for God’s sake, what now? Can’t a guy open his mouth around here without having to discuss how you feel about it? What stupid thing is bothering you today?
Conversations similar to that happen all the time. These verbal exchanges are neither constructive or productive and tend to chip away at the love and trust in a relationship until there is nothing left but bitterness and disgust.
Yet, people won’t walk away from the relationship, because, you know – he/she might change. I/he/she might get the guts to say how I truly feel…someday, but not today. What I find interesting is that people can change their behavior, but continually choose not to. It happens every day, all around the world. The cycle of inaction continues.
Riddle me this…if the person you share your life with is the one person who would not be invited over for that special occasion; would be the last person on earth you would share your true feelings with; and makes your skin crawl at the mere thought of being touched, then what is holding you in the relationship?
Many people see the reasons to leave but choose to stay and there are many reasons why this happens. The main reason people stay in situations that make them unhappy is FEAR. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of happiness. Self-doubt and low self-esteem. There are many, many reasons to stay, but not many of those reasons are healthy.
My friend stays with her husband, who does not make her joyful or happy in any way, shape, or form, because of three key reasons:
- She has focussed her entire adult life on fulfilling the needs of others – she simply does not know how to figure out what she wants because she does not know how to focus on her own needs for longer than five minutes, without guilt.
- Her partner has convinced her, over the years, that her opinion holds no value in the household and that she should never bring up the past to resolve issues. Men do not know the true weight of emotional baggage and therefore dismiss it far too easily. She feels emotionally excluded and mentally abandoned by him. She does not know how to properly express her needs to anyone and always backs down from confrontation. Peace at every cost.
- Because she has not had her needs met, as a woman or as a wife, she dreams of escape and what life could be life ‘if only…’, but she does not know how to gather the courage to end the relationship and move towards a life full of joy and hope. Instead, fear of the unknown and a poor sense of self-worth will keep her wallowing in compromise and marital habit until the end of her days.
If this resonates with you, then I am here to tell you that things CAN change! We are responsible to do the work to figure out what we need to live a life that gives us joy. Once the work begins, life magically starts going in a direction that automatically brings joy and fulfillment. Trust me – I’m living proof and will bare it all for anyone who cares to read in future posts.
My friend’s biggest problem is she does not know how to communicate her feelings and this is an issue for many, many people. There are multitudes of resources available whether online or in book format to help you figure out how you truly feel. Resources abound to guide people through the steps to effective communication. It is part of treating ourselves better and working towards having strong self-esteem. Once I figured out how firstly identify my needs and then was able to effectively communicate my feelings, the whole world changed on a dime! It’s not what you want, it’s how you ask for it that matters.
Take a minute – right now – to look at your reflection and say “I’m awesome. I’m blessed. I’m loved.” and see how you feel. If the emotions that come up are negative or the exact opposite of those uttered words, it’s time to do some real work and figure out why you feel anything less than awesome, blessed and loved. Say it over and over again until you smile and truly feel it inside your soul.
As we get used to treating ourselves better and having positive thoughts more often than negative ones, the abundance of ‘miracles’ start to happen. The better we start to feel, the better our lives get! It is a universal truth and I know it works because I experience it every single day. In fact, I have turned the power of positive thinking and creating my own reality into a game and will keep my faithful readers posted on the results.
The decision to change is easy. Deciding what to change is challenging. Not changing at all is the easiest thing to do, but you get what you believe you deserve. The easiest way is almost always the most painful way. Change takes courage and work, but once it is started it gets easier and easier to master.
For those of you who know you want to change but just don’t know how to – start with figuring out how you truly feel. That is usually the best window into the world of what we need to do to feel better about our lives. An easy start is to write down all the things that you don’t like about your life. Figure out which ones you can do something about and get planning. Delete the things that you have no control over and let them go.
It’s a start.
Share your perspective on significant relationship change and how to accomplish it. Send us a comment or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and help others get past the fear and onto a life full of joy and hope!