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Burning Down the House of Love and Hope

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In the final moments of my marriage, in couple’s therapy, as we were parting with our therapist, he asked for us to give closing summaries of where we were with things.

> this post became a book: Fall of the House of Dad <

At that moment, with our marriage in piles of flaming issues all around us, I spoke of hope, rebuilding, and commitment. This is where I come from. Even in the face of failing odds and all indications to the contrary, I can formulate hopefulness.

What she said in her summary statement was also revealing. Something along the lines of, you’re never going to change, you’re never going, to be honest in the way I need you, to be honest, and I don’t see a future together. “It’s time for us to move on.”

Today, in reflection, these words became more clear.

ME: I am always looking for a positive angle. I believe there is a way, even when the person across from me is saying no. I keep working my angle. I keep trying new things. I try to be better. I try to listen and respond with more compassion and caring. I carry this bull-headed optimism with me, sometimes to my detriment, as I smash around the china shop in search of my fix.

HER: For a split second, today, I could see that she wasn’t talking about me. She was talking about herself.


Something snapped together like an epiphany. She didn’t see the changes in herself, necessary to accept me for who I was. She didn’t have hope. She didn’t believe, as I did, that we were at a perfect moment to understand what we wanted. And in that blink of an eye, the entire marriage and “frame” of our relationship passed into history rather than the future.

I didn’t recognize what had happened at the moment. I was devastated. Some part of me still hoped she would have an epiphany. Or perhaps, that our therapist would say something, anything, to reflect back to her, what she’d said. Nothing happened. He wasn’t that kind of therapist. And in that moment, I’m sure I began to release and accept the fact that I was now in the process of getting a divorce. Sure, I thrashed and struggled to recapture her love. I didn’t truly hear her. Even in that defining moment in my life, a pivot point out of life as I had known it, I wasn’t fully hearing. I missed it.

It was a message I didn’t want to hear. I would have to accept the failure of my optimism and aggressive positivism. I could not will or convince my marriage back into existence.

Today, 4.5 years later, I am just understanding what she said. I am, only now, able to feel deeply into her truth, rather than my projected ideas about her truth. For this whole time, up until today, I believed she had exited the relationship at this point. What I believe, what I hear today, when I listen for the truth of the 13+ year relationship with my wife (2 years courtship, 11 years of marriage) is that she wanted something different. She was unhappy. And the failure, while prolonged and protracted due to the fact that we had children to think about, was really the long process of hearing and accepting our differences.

We can hold on, we can fight/struggle/counsel to make things work. We can sacrifice so many aspects of our lives to try and keep the marriage together. And in this sublimation, we can become separated from our own inner truth, our own listening and responding heart, as we try and compromise and grow and hope for the eventual LOVE we believe will heal us. We all need healing. As a couple (in the WE) we begin to seek that healing with/through another person. As individuals, the struggle and healing are 100% up to us. I could not heal my wife. I could not negotiate and navigate her disappointments. I could only hold and handle my own struggles and healing.

In this moment of searing hot white light, as if we were on the examining table in a hospital, I saw my own hopefulness still in play, still fully committed, and fully willing to do whatever it takes, to be IN this marriage. Start from scratch. Rebuild. Reconnect. Heal the WE.

What I didn’t understand at the moment, is we were doing an autopsy. She had already given a cause of death. Unfortunately, even in this moment, I feel she made a slight error.

I was not the cause of death.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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image: house fire, joseph krawiec, creative commons usage

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