A Near-Divorce Experience | Handel Group

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A Near-Divorce Experience

A few years ago I had a near-divorce experience. Ten years and two kids into our marriage, my husband, Will, and I had fallen into a disconnected rut. Everything was fine, not great; we accepted each other’s good and bad qualities and existed pretty peacefully together. And then we tried to buy and renovate our dream home: a five-floor townhouse. Oh boy, did we not know what we were getting ourselves into. It was a nightmare on many levels.

I was pretty much a useless, anxious, damsel-in-distress, figuring my nagging and worry would keep Will on his toes. He does have super-heroic powers, but even he could not figure out how to get our apartment sold and the money-pit to turn into our dream home, all while moving the offices of our two businesses, caring for our two children plus three other children and mitigating the impact of our general contractor disappearing to Hong Kong with our money and the directions for the workers! We were both the most stressed we had ever been and we turned against each other.

I decided, in a financial panic, that it all going badly was HIS fault, and he decided he didn’t have to put up with someone who was so critical, selfish, and would kick him so hard when he was down. Then he developed a crush on my assistant, who thought he was a great guy. Finally, I noticed. After a few more knockdown, drag-out screaming matches that did not get us any closer to solving our money or housing issues, we decided to get help. It took quite a bit of coaching to get us through to the other side because this was a multi-layered issue:

  1. Each of us was dealing with a very stressful time of change: two young children, moving and huge financial upheaval all while we were both transitioning to new jobs, too.
  2. All of our worst individual issues and traits were driven up by the challenge of buying something so expensive and unfinished, and by hiring and trusting contractors. Will was desperately trying to please both the contractor and me (which clouded his judgment) and I was detrimentally fearful and negative.
  3. It wasn’t the first time we encountered the fundamental individual issues in #2. This blow up reopened all past wounds related to those unresolved themes, too.
  4. Now, instead of listening to and comforting or bolstering each other, we were poking at the other’s weakest spots, driving up more feelings of inadequacy.

After we got our coach involved, the first thing we did was download all past and present gripes to the same coach (this is called the “laundry list”). Then, with guidance, we composed letters of apology and explanation to each other. It didn’t take long under introspection to see that each of us had chosen the perfect mate. We were well matched indeed to push each other’s buttons and to help us learn the lessons we needed to be more successful, happy and independent in our lives. Specifically:

  • Will needed to stop pleasing others and start worrying about what HE wanted.
  • He needed to stand up to me. And surprisingly, this was a relief to me.
  • I needed to learn to be supportive and loving.
  • I also needed to learn when to keep my mouth shut and listen to my man. This had miraculous unexpected benefits.
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Today, I am so grateful for the unbelievable trial buying the house was for us, because otherwise we would not have been forced to grow up in the ways we had to, for ourselves and for each other.

Slowly but surely we each owned up and apologized for our parts in what had gone wrong and for the patterns we had perpetuated from the beginning of our relationship. We vowed to each other to keep new habits and good traits alive by doing a nightly ritual during which we answer a list of questions together.

Here are some we both answer:

  1. What am I proud of today in our marriage?
  2. What was I successful at doing today?
  3. Am I holding anything against you?
  4. What do I want to appreciate you for?

Here are the ones HE was to answer based on his issues:

  1. When did I pretend to be selfless, but really just did what I wanted to do?
  2. What do I NOT want to say?
  3. What am I avoiding?
  4. Did I sell out on anything?
  5. Did I experience NOT being listened to?

Here are the ones I have to answer based on my issues:

  1. Did I blame you for something?
  2. Did I take over the conversation?
  3. Did I pretend to be a victim?
  4. Did I criticize or kill hope?
  5. What can I do to help YOU?

We do a few other little rituals as well, but I will save that for another time. I want you to consider for yourself now:

  • For whom do you have a “laundry list” that you are hoping just goes away (rather than escalates)? Are you willing to do the work to heal the relationship?
  • What questions should you be asking yourself (or confessing to another) each night to keep you living as the person you want to be?

Our greatest trials lead to our greatest triumphs. May you see your trials this way and see them to triumph, as soon as possible. Let us know if we can help.