The call came in like so many others.
“I’m so tired of holding our marriage together,” Karla said. She made her intentions clear. Her voice was tired and thin.
“I don’t hold out much hope,” Karla continued. “I’m mostly calling because Brad wanted me to. He found your program and wants to come out to save our marriage. But, I don’t think I’m really interested.”
“Tell me more about what’s going on,” I pressed.
“Twenty years of feeling like I’m just an appendage to him,” she complained. “He’s controlling, angry, even conniving,” Karla said. “I can’t honestly tell you that I like him anymore.”
“How many years have you been married?” I asked.
“Twenty!” she said. “He says they’ve been mostly good, but he doesn’t get it that I’ve been coasting for the last ten, and I can’t coast anymore.”
I couldn’t help but reflect on the hundreds of calls I receive like Karla’s. Women who hang in there, hold the family and marriage together, only to run out of steam. They fight and struggle, read the books, drag their men to the marriage conferences, only to eventually drop from carrying so much in their packs.
“Will he talk to me?” I asked.
“Oh, he’ll talk to you,” she said. “Now that I’ve told him I’m leaving. He’ll even come for one of your Personal Intensives. He is ready to look at what makes him tick. But, I’ve got to be really honest with you. It might be too late.”
“Understood,” I said. “Let’s get him to The Marriage Recovery Center and take an emotional X-ray. We’ll find out why and where he’s been burying his pain. We’ll examine why he cannot make a healthy connection to you.”
“Sounds like a start,” Karla said, still sounding fatigued.
“Would you be willing to join him?” I asked, anticipating her answer.
“Not now,” she said. “If he comes, and that has yet to be seen, and he shows me that I’m more important than his work, sports and alcohol, then we’ll see. I want him to be healthy.”
“Can’t ask for more than that, Karla,” I said.
“We’ll see if he calls,” she said. “If he does, and if he comes and works with you, then we’ll see.”
We talked for another half an hour. Her story was painfully familiar. Over their twenty years of marriage there had been good times and bad.. Incidents of infidelity had marred their marriage, episodes of alcohol by both had added turmoil, and yet they had held their marriage together by sheer tenacity. The prospect of their youngest daughter leaving home, and Brad getting a DUI, had pushed Karla over the edge.
Brad did call. He was edgy, irritated at his life circumstances, and not entirely happy about coming for a Personal Intensive. In a phone call with me he complained about the travel, the price and of course, that the problem wasn’t all him. I reassured him that indeed the problem was not all him, but that he had to “clean up his side of the street” to get a better sense about what was happening in their marriage.
Several weeks later, together with my colleague Chuck, we met Brad and began our work. Here, in short, is how we spent the next two and a half days.
First, we set the stage for our work. Brad was used to being ‘large and in charge.’ This would no longer work for him, and he had to give up some of the control of his life to Chuck and myself. He had to assume that what he was doing would no longer work for him. He had to develop an attitude of being honest, open and willing.
Second, he had to trust that there was a better way. For as much as he had become a self-made man, this attitude had worked in business but not in marriage. He had to believe that there were answers outside of him. Attitudes of grandiosity don’t work in relationships, which require give and take, reciprocity and mutuality.
Third, he had to understand how his personality had developed. Many men have had profound rejection and ‘father hunger,’ leaving them painfully alone and fending for themselves. They don’t ask for help and rarely reach out to truly accept it. Isolated and lonely, they develop a critical and controlling attitude. They are unable to share their pain, and speak from a voice of power and control.
Fourth, he had to develop his softer, more vulnerable side. Karla knew there was “a good man in there somewhere,” and we had to find him and give him a voice. What was the pain that Brad buried beneath his perfectionistic quest for power and prestige? We needed to create a Healing Container where he felt safe to share his fears of failure. We needed to help him voice his desire for connection and appreciation he wanted from Karla.
Finally, he needed to grieve his losses and set out for a new quest. This new quest needed to be to win back the heart of his wife. Having proved himself in business and work, it was time to renew an old quest: the heart of his wife. Though she was leaving him, there was a glimmer of hope that if he could find his soft voice, speak from a place of vulnerability, she would want contact with him again. Hidden beneath years of sadness was a woman who truly believed in her man.
Brad came for his Personal Intensive. For three days we drilled into him, searching for his pain. We called him out when he shifted into his macho, “I don’t need you” attitude. We cried together, laughed together and set out on a new mission together—to win the heart of his wife, even in the face of her leaving him. Tired, frightened but connected to Chuck and myself, we shared the Scripture:
“Those that wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40: 31).
Karla left Brad. He is focused, clear and hopeful about winning her heart back. He understands that he is doing all he can do—staying away from his provocative, angry self and working a program that includes abstinence from alcohol, attending Celebrate Recovery, and chaining together one positive interaction with Karla after another.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
If you are experiencing marriage headaches in your relationship, please consider contacting us to learn effective tools for overcoming this problem. We offer a free twenty- minute consultation to help you determine your problem and what is needed to solve it. Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com. You can read about our guaranteed Marriage Intensive: 3 Days To A New Marriage, Guaranteed!
Publication date: August 6, 2012
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