Are you considering divorce? Be sure you pull out your personal assets. It’s time for some tough questions.
I’m not talking about your savings, your house, and the dog. Of course, whether you are divorced, divorcing, considering divorce, or just in a rough patch…chances are, you’re weighing and measuring those things and their worth in the relationship.
But you have more assets than just those that are tangible. You have personal assets—emotional assets—that you’ve invested in this relationship (even if divorce is inevitable). These are worth far more than anything else, so it’s time to take emotional inventory.
How Did YOU Contribute to the Failure of the Relationship?
Can you even ask yourself this question? If you walk away without dealing with the choices you made to get to where you are, dealing with yourself, and dealing with each other, you’re leaving empty-handed. You’re walking away from the learning, growing, and personal improvement that can be the result of a significant inventory of the relationship. Think about it:
How did you get together?
Why did you get together?
How did you manage to let the relationship fall apart?
How did it manage to end (whether it was an affair or you think you just grew apart)?
Here’s the news: It wasn’t JUST because he was a philandering jerk or she was an ice queen. There were skill deficits on each of your parts.
Failing to recognize this and take stock of the situation honestly means you’re walking away from valuable assets—assets that will help you rebuild your life, grow, and find happiness.
When considering these tough questions and maximizing the assets that you have, follow the Rules of Engagement. The first rule is: no one can give or take more than 50% of the blame. Each of you gets only half of the blame and each of you is 100% responsible for your experience in the situation and what you take away.
When you first got together, there was something that drew you in (more than just sexual attraction). It might not have been enough to keep you together, but it was enough to pique your interest. The problem is stagnation—where did you take it from there? Did you keep growing and working on yourself? For relationships to be durable, research demonstrates you must learn within the relationship.
You must be constantly adapting, changing, and discovering. You must grow and your relationships must transform. If it stays static, it can’t be sustained.
So, how did each of you avoid transformation?
(No, you don’t get to blame it all on HIM, and no, it’s not HER fault because she didn’t kiss your butt forever!)
It usually starts out that He is “Mr. Solid” and She is “Miss Aliveness” (or she may be “Miss Solid” and he may be “Mr. Aliveness”)…we tend to pair up to and be attracted with people that are what we call our complements.
This other person seems to fill in what WE are missing: “She’s so adventurous and fun!” or “He’s so stable and reassuring—I just feel like he’ll take care of me.”
For the relationship to grow, that “sparkplug person” needs to learn to be more solid, not just for the relationship, but for the benefit of his or her own personal growth. Similarly, the “solid person” needs to not just be an anchor (or the stick in the mud holding things back) but needs to channel that solidity into stability and aliveness.
That is the first part of your inventory.
The first part of your inventory is: What was I looking for? What attracted me in the other person?
“He was handsome” and “she was pretty” doesn’t quite do it. The only time this is the sole motivating factor is cases where one party has particularly low self-esteem, so they’re just looking for an armpiece to validate their existence. If this is the case, it’s a red flag that you’ve stumbled into: a pit of unconscious snakes representing your failure to develop your self esteem and independence in your singlehood.
And no, women (usually), it’s typically not that you were so “strong and independent” without him. That is such a common script (and frankly a piece of horse manure).
Our Unconscious Landmines
When we declare our love–and notice I’m not saying “fall in love”…because it doesn’t happen. Love is a choice. When we begin to love someone, there are a host of landmines in our unconscious programming that we begin stepping on. Why?
Because, we all have a prerecorded script for marriage from our childhood.
This script comes from our parents. It’s based on the relationships we saw, ideas of what a relationship SHOULD look like from the media, from fairytales and whatever baggage we picked up at that time. It came from the way our parents treated us and the role we took within our family.
Around here, it’s always amusing to hear somebody say, “Well, I’m exactly the opposite of my parents.”
I have a friend from my younger years whose parents were rabid conservatives—John Birch Society conservatives. We went to college together in the 1960s, where he met his wife. They chose to live a rather marginal, hippy lifestyle. He thought (and repeatedly professed) that he was the opposite of his parents.
BUT, not surprisingly, he brought all of the unfinished baggage with him. He didn’t understand the psychological elements of his family. In his own marriage, he became distant and unavailable and his wife became very domineering in the relationship, which mirrored his parent’s relationship almost to a T. Now, maybe he didn’t espouse their political beliefs, and on the surface he seemed to embrace the laid back lifestyle, but when it came down to it, he was repeating exactly what he’d seen at home on a fundamental level. We can put on different clothing, but our core remains the same, unless it’s addressed.
Breaking Through Limiting Beliefs
A few years later, I had the opportunity to coach a woman who was facing her third divorce. This woman was quite gorgeous and knew it (and how to leverage it) at an early age. She grew up with significant pain: her parents had a troubled marriage where they were fighting all of the time. There was never enough money and they survived in a scarce and impoverished existence. She swore, no matter what it took, she would never be poor again.
Discovering she was particularly attractive and desirable to men, she married a man who was very wealthy. He appeared to have plenty of money, but shortly into the marriage, she learned it was his mother who had the money and he hadn’t a dime. She had a child with him, but the marriage crumbled and they ended up divorcing.
She quickly met a second guy, a wealthy widower whose mother was dead (so no mother-in-law concerns there). Thinking she’d overcome the problems from the first marriage, she married him. Low and behold, the source of his wealth turned out to be his dead wife’s mother. Once again, with a marriage built on no affinity beyond wealth, they divorced.
She then met and married a very financially stable self-made man who was the CFO for a series of increasingly important companies. Thinking he was upwardly mobile and driven, she was thrilled he had the financial stability she craved. Every two years, he’d move up to a new company. He owned real estate all around the US. Little did she know, the real estate was all leveraged and the reason he was moving “up” every two years so rapidly was because he was always running just ahead of getting fired.
This led to her third divorce, when she sought me out to address what was going on. I helped coach her through these issues. During our discussions, she realized that deep in her unconscious mind was a false belief that marriage was about existence or survival, not about caring for each other. She entered each relationship expecting men to be dishonest, and she was drawn in and attracted to men who weren’t forthright—setting up for failure from the start.
She began dating differently. Now with a daughter in high school, they were taken care of through the divorces and her lucrative employment and didn’t need to worry about money any longer. Having worked through the core issue behind her divorces, we parted ways, and I hadn’t seen her for several years.
About a decade later, Judith and I were delivering a talk on couples, when I saw her. She came up to me with a smile and a man on her arm. She said she wanted to thank me and introduced me to the man she had been with for the last ten years. She was very proud to tell me how well they were doing together including the fact that they were learning and growing, and actively pursuing opportunities to explore together.
These are just two examples and there are many more: The top asset you have in your relationship is an assessment of your investment.
So if you’re the “solid one”…how did you avoid becoming more alive? How did you move from stability to anchor (to dead weight) in your spouse’s vision?
If you happen to be the “alive one”…how did you avoid becoming more solid in a way that freed up the other person from always having to be the rock? How did you become a helium balloon to his anchor, pulling in opposite directions?
Similarly, what unconscious programming did you bring into the relationship? What beliefs did you have that held you back, and what fears kept you from moving forward? What do you need to address to learn the lessons that are there to learn in the situation?
School Your Relationship
If you’re in couples counseling, one of the ways you can go about doing this is to look at your relationship as a four-year course of college. Identify all the classes you had, what you learned, and what you didn’t learn in those classes. One of the classes might be Understanding My Unconscious Programming 101. Another class could be An Intro to Challenging My Limiting Beliefs. Another could be An Advanced Study on Taking Full Responsibility for my Own Happiness…and so on.
I want to conclude this conversation with a story of one of our students who learned to take responsibility for her happiness.
She had been married for over 35 years and her adult children had successfully launched. When I first met her, she referred to her husband as, “What’s His Name” and he spoke about her as “My First Wife.” She blamed him for her unhappiness at home and general misery in the relationship. He was uninvolved, unaffectionate, and distant.
As she learned to take responsibility of her own happiness, even though he never took a single course with us, she began coming home happier every day. She didn’t come home with her guns ablaze, ready to blame him for her unhappiness. Consequently, he didn’t seem as zoned out and addicted to the television. He started to pay attention to her and they started talking more and communicating more. In fact, they became closer and closer. They are deeply in love and have weathered incredibly difficult health situation where he was near death. Her emerging confidence and assertiveness skills enabled her to be direct and challenge the doctors and nurses, as well as his treatment protocols in the hospital. This, they both credit for him being alive and healthy today.
No matter where you are in your relationship, divorced, divorcing, considering divorce, or just in a rough patch, do an inventory of all of the courses. What are you learning? Understand what transformation really is. A partnership, when fully engaged, will be a womb to facilitate your development as well as a crucible to burn off your unfinished business. It will serve you on the way of you becoming the most magnificent human being you can become.
For more on how you can continue to explore yourself and your relationships to become your best self, please visit the Wright Foundation website.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.