It often seems like choices in life lie fall in two extreme camps. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or Conservative. Chocolate or vanilla. Fast or slow. Smart or dumb. Pass or fail. Yes or no. And when it comes to intimate relationships, especially ones involving kids, finances, and outside family, the choice can seem even more stark: stay unhappily married or go through an acrimonious divorce where your kids end up hating you and you feel like a complete failure and asshole.
But is that necessarily true? Could there be a middle ground that feels authentic and true? Could there be a safe place where an intimate relationship can go to get a tune up without self-destructing? Is there a way for the partners in the intimate relationship to find themselves again without rejecting each other outright and permanently? And once they find themselves, is it possible that they would be able to see their partnership through a new, and perhaps, clearer lens? And with that clarity, could a new, healthier relationship be born?
But do we have the permission to explore that? The warning against “threatening” each other with divorce discourages most people from ever thoughtfully contemplating questions like “What would need to be true for me to feel passionately about my partner again?” or “What in life makes my heart sing?” or “What do I want my life to look like when I’m 85 years old and can my partner live that life with me?” Instead of couples thoughtfully considering these questions together (and others like them) in order to bring clarity and a sense of purpose to the choices made in the relationship, couples silence themselves, opening up only in marriage counseling or during arguments, neither of which are focused on finding a long-term solution to the relationship crisis; rather, the focus in those instances is merely to ensure that each partner feels heard and understood. While ensuring each partner is heard and understood is a worthy goal, what needs to come after is often missing but is what will ultimately lead to a healthy long-term decision.
I have worked with countless women all struggling with this issue. Nice women married to nice men, who feel trapped and out of options. Their relationships are not technically so bad that divorce is obvious (although even in extreme cases of abuse and neglect, divorce is rarely obvious to people in the relationship, even if it is to outsiders) and these women feel awful for even contemplating leaving when there is technically nothing to complain about. These women feel stuck between two soul-crushing choices: stay in a relationship where they feel under-valued, misunderstood, and unloved by a partner who either can’t or won’t live life to its fullest at their side or leave the relationship and create a maelstrom of hate and discontent that will damage their kids, their friends, and their extended family. In short, the choice is between settling for less than life can offer and all-out nuclear war.
Does it have to be that way? Is this extreme choice really just programming from our sensationalistic culture which only reports the very worst that life has to offer coupled with the Facebook-effect, where everyone else’s life seems so much more awesome than our own?
And really, the same can be said for the work-place too, right? Have you or someone you know ever felt trapped in a job that sucked the very life out of you and drained you completely yet you stayed because it felt like the choice was either to stay remain unhappy or leave and become financially destitute? Again, are those really your only two choices? I believe there are always more and I want to help you find them!
We begin to discover options when we learn how to ask ourselves better questions. I’m willing to bet that the questions running through your mind on a daily basis are closer to “Is this how I’m going to have to live for the rest of my life?” as opposed to “What would need to be true for me to be happy in this relationship?” or “What needs to change in order for me to be happy in this relationship?” By focusing on activities or behaviors individually, instead of dwelling on the general idea that we are with a partner whose interests or behaviors are so divergent from our own that we feel completely disconnected and often adversarial towards them, we reorient our minds to identify the action plan for finding happiness and in the process, we may find a compromise between an acrimonious divorce and settling for shit.
Think about it this way: your relationship is like a house. There are many aspects of a house that contribute to whether you like living there or not. For starters, there’s the size, the layout, and the upgrades, right? Then there’s the location to consider, specifically the neighbors, the property size, the street traffic, the proximity to amenities, etc. If you were living in a house with your family for a long time and had decided that you weren’t happy living there, would you up and move everyone out because you were unhappy or would you first consider what exactly you were unhappy with and create an action plan to identify what would need to be true for you to enjoy living there without any reservations? Maybe all of the items you identify can be resolved without moving out and you can live there happily now that you’ve made a few adjustments. Or maybe only a few of the items can be resolved and so you need to come up with a compromise (an addition maybe?). Or maybe, none of the items (or not enough of them) can be resolved and yes, you do truly have to move out of the house.
You don’t have to live unhappily married and you don’t have to get divorced. There is a middle ground. Often, the best solutions to complicated and multi-variate problems like intimate relationships lie in the middle and require courage to be discovered. The solutions in the middle are not the easy ones; they demand introspection, detachment, rising above FEAR (which is only False Evidence Appearing Real, right?) and a “tuning in” to your own inner-knowing that is based on much more than just logic, reason, and rationality. The “tuning in” is where decisions are ultimately made; the problem is we usually operate from a place of limited or misinformation so we don’t trust our inner knowing, continuing to remain stuck instead.
But what if you could discover new questions that would inform you better? What if you could access new ideas and new information that would give you new decision-making abilities? What if you could discover a simple system that would give you the clarity you need to make heartfelt decisions that you know to be authentic and true?
Would you… want to learn?
How do you know you’re stuck?