I was the last of my friends to get married, and the first of my friends to get divorced. I do tend to do things ass-backwards. So I don’t know how much stock anyone wants to put into my advice on relationships. I can offer empathy, however. I’ve had practice, because unfortunately, since my divorce, several of my friends have as well, or have voiced serious problems with their relationships whereupon the dissolution of the marriage is a very real, and a very sad, possibility.
One such friend is really struggling today. She’s working hard to make things work. She and her spouse have been together for a very long time. They’ve each grown a lot individually and as a family. As in any relationship, the reasons why they’ve reached this crossroads are numerous. As they work through their issues, she oftentimes feels overwhelmed and confused. What should the focus be–working on her stuff, his stuff, couple stuff? How much weight does she put on each part of this puzzle that makes up her life? She is fully committed to this, but who is she doing this for?
“Some days it is for him. Some days it is for the kids. Some days it is for protecting all we have and all we have built together for all these years. And some days, it is really for me,” she says.
And I say this to her: Yes.
This. This, what just you said, my friend, this is what we all do for any relationship. It is never just one thing. Or two things. It is all of this mess, all these moving parts in all of our lives. For you, for him, for the kids, for the abstract and concrete life you’ve built. For the days ahead. For the days past. For today. For all of that. For all of you. None of it can live in isolation.
I tell her she is over-thinking. Making this harder than it is. For now, she is doing it all for the right reasons, at the right mixed ratio that changes by the minute. These are the next right things. Just as she’s doing it. In her confused, angst-ridden way. This. This is the joy of life. The sorrow of life. The complexities of life. The crux of life.
There is so much there. Yet, it is all there is.
We can’t compartmentalize life and our relationships and our selves into neat little silos, and ration out proportions. No, when we live, really live, we bleed outside the lines. Our bright neon, intensely hued parts of ourselves bleed all over ourselves and others. So it’s all of what she’s concerned about, tossed like a salad. And all of those pieces make up who she is. You cannot pick one and ignore the rest. You can not focus on only one priority.
Some people might urge her to think about the children. Some people might urge her to think about her spouse. Some people might urge her to think about herself. Some people might urge her to consider the quality of the life they’ve built, and it can’t all be that bad to throw it all away, right? Whose needs come first? Whose needs are the most important?
Everyone has a point. The children’s well-being is paramount. How do we minimize negative impacts on them, yet role model healthy, respectful relationships? The spouse has coped with a lot through the years, he’s a good man. We must consider his sacrifices and his love and his grace, all of which are immense. Don’t forget that we are also taught to put our oxygen mask on first before helping others. If she loses herself and doesn’t tend to her needs again, then others suffer, and does the relationship really work out in the end?
I can tell her about the angst and confusion and visceral pain I felt for the longest time as my own marriage disintegrated. I can tell her how for the longest time I stayed for the children. I can tell her how for the longest time I stayed to preserve the sanctity of marriage. I can tell her how for the longest time I lost myself and tended to everyone else’s needs first. I can tell her how I wavered every moment of every day for the longest time about what the next right thing was. I can tell her how one day, in one moment I will never forget, I knew how this story would end. But this is her story to write, not mine.
I don’t know the ending to their story. They sure as hell don’t either. But placing the added pressure of making choices based on the “right reasons” is not going to help them write the end of their story. So long as she is considering all of these issues, there’s no right or wrong answer. Each day, the proportions of each consideration will wax and wane. And it’s in this changing landscape that offers no certainty and no clarity that she must live. It is in the patience she must muster up that she will be able to feel what decision resonates. It is in the ability to sit still and just be in this mixed, tossed salad of life that she will be able to discern what the next right thing is for her, for her spouse, for their children.
Hard choices, but I bet it helps to have your caring and wise support. Best wishes to your friend.
Thank you so much, Brad! Sigh, I hope something can be useful and helpful to Friend. Life..so hard!
Or maybe she just needs you to listen and be with her?
Yes! Again, more wisdom from you–I don’t see any confusion! 🙂
That’s only because we’re talking about you & your friend. My life is messy!
Beautiful words… I cannot tell you how much that strikes a chord with me, my own journey, coming to grips with losing my own marriage, being an active and helpless witness in its decay, having to transform into the only willing and active participant in the dissolution of it… It goes beyond grief, bargaining, anger, confusion…. I cannot imagine a worse thing to go through, and that says a lot; I lost my own mother to breast cancer in high school.
I could ramble on and on, but this is your blog and not mine. I love the eloquence and the thought and care in your words. They are lovely…
Thank you so very much–for reading, for caring enough to comment, for sharing your losses with me. My blog is your blog–I write for whoever cares to read. So please, feel free to share–you are not rambling.
I’m so sorry for your losses. Losing a parent is a grief like no other at any age. At such a formative age in high school compounds the loss so much more. I hope she was not in too much pain.
I’m sorry also for the loss of your marriage, for the love, for the partner, for the life you were supposed to lead, for the promises, for the hope, for all the days that built it. Yes, all that you said–the grief, the bargaining, the anger, the confusion. All mixed up and unbearable.
I hope you are in a different place now with it all. It changes through time, but is a part of us always.
Thank you again for such meaningful and kind words.
Stay well, Tom
A difficult journey for your friend to walk through and that you understand so well.
Heres what I have learned. I only have enough love to share when I have given it to myself first. I only have enough energy to give when I have given to myself first and I only have enough nurturing to provide my children with I have given it to myself first.
So in these times of stress and decision making she should take the oxygen mask first and then she will find the rest will follow.
Karen, wise words, and I completely agree. I think it is difficult for people who have lived their lives, until now, caring for others first. Practicing self-loving kindness in this scenario is a tough one when one is not accustomed to it. But I suppose this is why there is a crisis now, huh? Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your experience. I have to say, I agree completely, even if the rest that follows isn’t a comfortable consequence.
Well said. My husband and i went through a near divorce, and it was such a raw and long-winded thing that it nearly wiped us out. But we survived, our marriage intact, and with a much deeper respect for each others’ needs, as well as an acute awareness of the importance of communication. That was ten years ago. There are moments, hours, days when I regret that we wasted so much time before and during that period, being functional silos in the union, rather than true partners. Hindsight…
Trisha, thank you so much for sharing. I admire your ability to sit through the long-winded uncertainty and confusion and pain. You are a very strong individual. I am so glad to hear you are in a stronger place for it, and that your relationship is on more solid footing. Congratulations on doing your hard things. I am also in awe of your gratitude and self-reminders of from whence you’ve come. Thank you again for sharing. I know your story will provide hope and strength for my friend!
You are a good friend! Empathy and understanding is comforting and supporting during times of confusion and stress.
When we reach a crisis, we tend to look outside ourselves, but the real insight comes from within. It sounds like she has spent most of her life focused on others and their needs, rather than her own.
Outward struggle is a reflection of inner struggle.
Her struggle is internal, and that is where she will find healing and insight.
Help her to take care of herself and find her middle ground.
Val, thank you so much for sharing your wise thoughts. I absolutely agree, and she is aware now also that she tends to care for others over self-care–and thus the manifestation of the outward struggle. I hope each of them in this family are able to discover their individual middle ground, in the least painful way as possible. Thank you again for sharing–I know your thoughts are of great help to my friend!
‘I tell her she is over-thinking. Making this harder than it is.’
I think this is the very best advice under the circumstances. Unfortunately though, and like most advice that’s offered, it’s very likely to be ignored once the situation is engaged with once again.
Still, it doesn’t matter, because mainly, when people engage us with their burdens, all they’re really wanting is empathy, rather than advice to be acted upon. The discussion is more often than not an invitation to express this empathy.
Fortunately for your friend, you are a person with empathic abilities – you say ‘I can offer empathy’. This will help her to access what Val describes as her ‘healing and insight’ and to find her ‘middle ground’.
I think you have served your friend very well.
Thank you so much, Hariod, for such kind and wise words. Yes, it’s funny how we all hear words spoken to us, and sometimes we don’t even process the words, until it’s time for each of us to hear that message. Fortunately life is a patient teacher and provides many opportunities to learn the lesson…Yes, I try to walk the fine line between empathy and advice, and it ultimately is up to the individual to make his/her own decisions. Life..hard. Thank goodness for friends 🙂 Thank you for being a good blogging friend!
Entirely my pleasure – Hariod. ❤
Lovely post and thoughts. I don’t think there is an “end” to the story. So maybe that’s not the place to focus – I, too, am a big believer of just doing the “next right thing,” and I love your metaphor for marriage salad. It is all the things at once, with no wrong answers, just making peace with the consequence of each step.
Very wise comments, thank you for this! Yes, you are right. There is no “end”–there’s just the process, and the story will continue to be written. Thank you for that reminder! Thank you so much for taking the time to not only read, but to provide such thoughtful nuggets of wisdom!
LikeLiked by 1 person
“No, when we live, really live, we bleed outside the lines. ” This beautiful, painful post came from your bleeding.
Gave me chills: “I can tell her how one day, in one moment I will never forget, I knew how this story would end. But this is her story to write, not mine.”
Brad is right. Often just active (sympathetic) listening goes such a long way. You are a beacon of strength to your friends.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Diana, thank you so much for such kind and thoughtful feedback!! ❤