A few years ago I thought I might want to leave my marriage. During a struggle that lasted over a year, only one person ever said to me, “You mustn’t do that.”
…..It wasn’t any of my family members,
The only person who said, “You mustn’t do that,” was my therapist, Bud.
I don’t fault any of the other people in my life for failing to be this direct. Many didn’t understand the extent of my conflict – I had hidden it well. I think those who did know what was up felt it much more important to meet me with support rather than confrontation. Its a difficult call for anyone, especially when dealing with someone as boneheaded as me.
For the record, Bud did not represent himself as a pastoral counselor, or a Christian counselor. He never tried to make his case from a religious point of view at all. I believe that he was simply convinced that for me to leave my marriage would not only be self-destructive, but would sabotage one of the most important functions of marriage: to grow people up. (Bud’s approach was/is shaped by Bowen systems theory – pay particular attention to the concept of self-differentiation.) (also, See Note 1 below)
Bud knew my situation well enough to know that I was not married to an inherently destructive woman. He was not recommending that I hang in there with someone who might endanger my life (although he might have agreed that I deserved to be endangered….). It only took a few sessions for him to see that, even though I was certainly a brilliant therapist (cough-cough), that I was as locked into a selfish view of the world, and that all my training and experience as a mental health professional wasn’t going to break that hold.
There were no life-changing insights that followed – there rarely are, in any approach to therapy. But this particular season of self-reflection gave me a heightened appreciation for how incredibly difficult it is for any of us to recognize when our respect for a spouse is eroding, much less how to respond in constructive ways.
However, one thing has become clear. Many, many couples wait until it is “too late” to deal with these dilemmas….
And so, out of this I’ve begun to believe the right decision for some persons may be to…
Leave your spouse while you’re still in love..
I am a therapist and I am a minister. I believe that sacred vows matter, and that we pay a price for breaking them (even though this an article of faith — see Note 2 below). I assume it seems strange for a pastoral counselor to be suggesting that someone leave his or her marriage, especially while still “in love.” After all, the great majority of marriages still occur within a sacred setting, and don’t virtually all religious groups assert the importance of keeping sacred promises?.
Yet, consider this….
Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Some studies report that as many as half of all married persons will have at least one extra-marital affair. Even though monogamy continues to be promoted as the cultural norm, it is clear that this is an ideal we’re not all that keen on. And remember, hardly any couples head to the altar with the intention of straying – more typically first affairs begin with an, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this” moment..
Having hiked this ground with hundreds of couple, its clear to me where the breakdowns occur, and on why I think that the best approach for many persons is to leave while still in love. If you want to get a headstart on part 2, take a look at Alienation Cycle.
Note 2: The view that we benefit from keeping sacred promises, and diminish ourselves when we break them, is a statement of faith. As I’ve said in other places, no one can “prove,” as the opening quote declares, that only grief and suffering will bring us to consciousness. Nor can anyone prove that keeping promises is the best approach to life. At best, one can only make observations, reflect on experience, and then decide whether or not to have faith in what the great religious traditions teach about all the possibilities inherent in actually living out the tradition. I’m very aware that this faith approach to life could all be a farce. It may well be that suffering is inherently meaningless, and that all of our wondrous theologizing on the matter is just one great obsfucation aimed at helping us cope with our anxiety over the stupidity of the existence in which we find ourselves mired. So when I say that I “believe” that suffering can be transforming, or that keeping promises can be transforming, I merely mean that I choose to live as if this is true even though I can’t prove that it is true.