"You Believe What?!"
How to Resolve Conflicts of Faith (Part 1)
Dear Dr. Harley,
My wife has moved out and filed for divorce after 22 years. I read your Basic Concepts and I think that they would have been of great help in resolving our conflicts and restoring the love and care that we had, but I think it is now too late. If only we had found you sooner.
This is a second marriage for both of us, she has two children from a previous marriage and I have three, all of whom no longer live with us. The past four years have been particularly difficult for my wife. It all began with her mother passing away. She experienced a deep and pervasive grief over the loss of her mother, questioning what she had done with her life. Severe migraine headaches followed and she also started menopause. To top it off, her father remarried three months after her mother's death. It was a shock to us all, but it devastated my wife.
After two years of migraines we started Thai chi together to help her learn to relax. I dropped out after a few months due to a leg injury, but she continued on her own. From there, with the instructor's encouragement, she joined him and his nephew in attending services at the Tibetan buddhist teaching house.
The three became inseparable, and our business suffered as my wife spent more and more time with them instead of working at our family-owned business. Dream group/drum group, Indian temple dancing, vegetarianism, Indian food all followed. Our close intimate relationship eroded and finally ended. The marriage counselor we saw seemed to be at a loss to know what to do.
I could see that we were growing apart, but everything I said or did was ignored. She said she was going to keep her own friends, and nothing would change her mind. I started getting more upset and loud arguments ensued. She left our bedroom to move in to the room across the hall, and also left our business and got a job on her own. I continued to try to talk to her but it always led to arguments. When I asked if she was having an affair, it would lead to a fight. Then, she stopped talking to me altogether, except for superficial topics.
Three months ago I shoved her on to a bed in fear and anger for her refusing to talk to me, and she moved out 3 days later while I was at work. I was served restraint and divorce papers, and she took half of our belongings and left the place a disaster. Tossed!
By legal agreement I can only talk to her by e-mail, mail or by her calling me by phone, but only if we discuss financial or business concerns. She also comes to the house to pick things off the enclosed back porch. Each effort I have made to talk with her about other subjects has been rebuffed.
Last night she called me and we discussed our marriage for a while. I thought we had been soulmates and were very close, but she told me that we had never agreed on anything, I always had it my way. Our family business had always been mine not hers and that in spite of her efforts to please me, I had not met her needs. I asked her if she would be willing to see a marriage counselor with me. She responded "she owed me at that least that much" but said that legally she had to attend only once and would not commit to any more than that. She also said she did not want the restraining order to be lifted.
Since our last counseling experience ended in failure, I am looking for the right counselor for the one court ordered session and don't know where to turn. I have almost given up hope, but is there something you could suggest for that one session?
From your description of the problem, the death of your wife's mother, her headaches and menopause, the remarriage of her father, and probably other crises plunged her into some serious soul-searching.
It probably all started when your wife's father remarried right after her mother's death. She may have expected him to grieve a little longer than three months, to say nothing about the possibility that he may have been in a romantic relationship with her long before his wife died. Your wife may have started to think about the sacrifices her mother made for her father, and how her father didn't even show her enough respect to grieve for her.
Then she took a hard look at you. She began thinking of all the work she did in your family business. Why was she sacrificing for you the same way her mother sacrificed for her father? All of her mother's loyalty and sacrifice didn't mean a thing, your wife may have thought. She decided not to waste her life on you the way her mother had.
Then someone came along who she could talk to about her feelings, and he comforted her in this period of upheaval. He not only listened to her questionning, but also may have given her answers that made sense to her. Your wife may have eventually fallen in love with this person. But even if she didn't have an affair, she seems to have come to the conclusion that when the chips are down, she can't depend on you. She may believe that if she were to die, you would forget about her, just as her father forgot about her mother. There must be more in life than sacrifice and denial. She had to begin thinking of herself, because you didn't seem to be thinking of her.
She had been emotionally withdrawn from you for some time when you threw her on the bed in your effort to force her to talk to you. Your behavior confirmed her worst suspicion. You had not only failed to care for her, but you were now also a threat to her safety. You might even kill her, she thought. So she left you with divorce papers and a restraining order.
At this moment in time, you are your wife's enemy, not her soulmate. You cannot be a part of her future, because if she lets you, she will turn out just like her mother. If you and she are to reconcile, you must somehow convince her that you care about her deeply, and you will make every effort to help her find life safe, enjoyable, and fulfilling.
The one counseling session that she is required to attend should be used to convey to her your deepest apologies for not being there for her when she needed you the most. You should not blame her for a thing, and don't expect her to respond to your apologies. Tell her that you have made many mistakes, and you did not take her feelings into account when you made decisions. Ask her to give you a chance to redeem yourself by proving to her that you will put her feelings first from now on.
Read my book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love, before you get to the counseling session so that you will have insight into what it was that drove her away from you. It was probably the way you talked to her, how you tried to convince her that she was wrong, the arguments you had with her.
Fall in Love, Stay in Love begins by laying out my Basic Concepts. It explains how you and she got into this mess, and why your wife is responding to you the way she does. The second part of the book gets into three of the most destructive Love Busters (angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments and selfish demands). They drove her away from you, and you need to learn how to overcome those habits. The third part of the book explains how important it is to meet emotional needs, and how you can learn to identify and meet your wife's needs. I would give special attention to the chapter regarding the need for thoughtful and supportive conversation.
If you go to the counseling session with a plan for reconciliation, with a goal for you to make your wife's life with you safe and fulfilling, she may listen. Even if she doesn't listen at first, your appeal may sink in over time.
Of course, in the end your wife will also have to meet your emotional needs, which have gone unmet for some time. She will also have to avoid Love Busters , and follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. But if you can demonstrate a willingness to form a safe and considerate partnership with her, where her feelings and future are just as important as yours, her sense of fairness will eventually prevail and you will become the "soulmates" that you described in your letter.