This is the part 2 of my journey of meeting and marrying my soul mate. In this series of articles, I share how I found authentic and conscious love and how you can, too. In part 1, I wrote about how my childhood set me up for disaster.
I flunked out of Syracuse University. Psychologically and emotionally, I couldn’t handle my family falling apart. Prior to SU, I had thrived at a private women’s junior college, started that positive trend at SU, but I struggled to focus on my studies. I failed all of my classes but one. Looking back on this, I unconsciously wanted my parents to stop what they were doing and help me. That’d create a great distraction from their break-up.
From a marriage and family therapy perspective, when children come in as the “identified patient” (as in, they are the ones who are identified as the “problem,” who are acting out in the family and they are the reason they’re seeking counseling), I will look at the child’s parents’ relationship. Is there something going on there? This isn’t just for couples who are together- the parents could also be divorced. This, by the way, doesn’t mean parents are “bad,” it just means that there’s something there in the family system that needs to change. In my situation, we could have all used some counseling to help us with this major transition.
Additionally, I was the first child to go to college and move out. This kind of life transition will also create stress in a family. It’s change. If your family is dysfunctional, expect some dysfunction. Life transitions create stress in families. Change creates stress in families. A family’s health reveals itself when transitions and change occur. It’s not “bad” to have issues, however it can be damaging if the family doesn’t recognize they have an issue and get help for it.
Embarrassed because I flunked, I returned to what was once my home, gathered my things from our old house which my stepmother now had, and went to live with my dad in a condo. He was not happy with what happened at SU. I got a job in retail and became more depressed. I began dating a young man that was abusive- the first time for me. I was reenacting what occurred in my adolescence. Additionally, my self-esteem was low so I chose a partner (not consciously) who mirrored how I felt about myself (pretty crappy). Thankfully, this relationship didn’t last long. Since my mother had passed away, I believed that her soul watched over me and my sisters. I believe she was watching over me then. Six months later, I met a young man attending Tulane University as a graduate student. He asked me to come to New Orleans and with that, I left New England for good.
With only an Associate’s degree, I decided to work for Tulane University so I could get a break on college tuition. It took me over a year to get a job there, and another year to wait for the tuition waiver to kick in. My boyfriend and I had become distant with one another. By then, I was working at the Tulane School of Medicine. He was dealing with feelings of becoming the most educated person in his family. When you surpass family members, particularly parents, in wealth, status, or education, some people can have a really hard time with that. When he distanced himself, I got scared. My wall came up. At the Medical School, all kinds of guys were interested in me, the new secretary. The attention was surreal. I hadn’t received male attention from my father and this was something I wasn’t used to. I accepted a date from one of the guys and with that decision, the boy who brought me to New Orleans was history. Yeah, not cool, I know. If I had known better, I would’ve done better.
The new man was a 2nd year medical student who would eventually become my husband for 17 years. He was charming. He was going to be a doctor. He was emotionally cut off. Perfect. I could stay at home and have children, I could finish my college degree later, and since he was very conservative and Catholic, he’d never cheat or leave me. Plus, his family seemed so close-knit- I wanted that. I later found that they were as dysfunctional as my family- just in different ways.
We got married in August before his senior year of medical school. In his residency, we had 2 children and 1 more when he was newly settled in his practice. I loved being a stay-at-home mother. He was working all the time and I was living a very independent life with our girls. He wasn’t interested in my family or my life so I’d go on vacations without him. I’d make the arrangements for moving (we moved 6 times in the first 10 years we were together). I was the adult child I was so familiar with as a young girl when my mother passed. I had unconsciously recreated some of the same feelings I went through as a child. I was comfortable because I was familiar with the feelings- yet it was so uncomfortable to keep feeling this way.
The year before my 17-year marriage fell apart, my 25 year old brother died in an automobile accident on the early morning of his unborn son’s baby shower. My brother; my sweet, sensitive brother, had issues with addiction that helped mask his pain of divorce and other issues he couldn’t deal with head on. Later that year, my beloved grandfather passed from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Both deaths hit me hard. I struggled with my grief and, for the first time in my marriage, I needed emotional intimacy and connection. I changed the rules. As often happens, as one partner needs more closeness, the other can become more distant. I’m simplifying our experience, but I needed my husband’s support and love. I had pushed him away as he had me, but now I needed that closeness I had never had. I had a glimpse of what a healthy relationship should be like, but our relationship couldn’t offer that. It never had. My needs had changed and were changing as the deaths opened me up to my authentic and raw self. As I began to search for ways of healing myself, I began to change.
At 39 years old, and 3 kids now in school, I had a lot of time to reflect on where I wanted to be in life. I enrolled in school and hired a therapist. I began running and was training for 5ks. My ex-husband, approaching 40 and typical of mid-life crisis time, bought a sports car and started paying attention to how he was dressing. He began wearing make-up. He acquired a new “best friend.” His change was external; mine was internal.
Concerned about his behaviors and the lack of connection in our marriage, I told him we needed marriage counseling. Our first counselor didn’t help- she made it worse. At one point, I got up the courage to ask my ex if he was having an affair. This was a huge leap for me because of the enormous risk of him saying yes, he was having an affair. I’d be rejected, a feeling that came up often in my childhood. “No!” he answered angrily. I didn’t believe him. The therapist, instead of inquiring why I didn’t trust him, told me to back off. She never asked us if we were both committed to the relationship working. She didn’t ask us to tell our truth and to be honest with ourselves and with each other. There were ways, looking back on this experience, that as a counselor, I would have done something completely different. Instead of following my intuition that he was having an affair, I shut those thoughts down. I had my first panic attack 2 months before I found out the truth. When you shut down and don’t acknowledge what’s going on for you, it will come out in other ways. The body/mind/spirit are clever like that.
17 Years of Marriage Ending in Divorce
By the time we got to our second marriage counselor, I had found out that my ex-husband was having an affair, not his first, and with a man. He had hidden his sexuality. I don’t care about people’s sexuality. That’s not the issue. The issue was hiding it and being deceitful. For 17 years. Thankfully, the best, most wonderful thing to come of our relationship was our children. However, my whole world came crashing down and now I felt responsible for helping these kids through a very difficult experience.
I was completely devastated. Everything I thought I knew about the guy seemed like a sham, a lie, and a joke. I went into shock. For 2 weeks I barely ate or slept. We kept it a secret from our kids for over a month more so that our youngest could have a nice birthday and the kids could have a nice Christmas. It sucked. I’d go through periods of extreme sadness, then anger at what happened. All the lying, the secrets…And now what? I had to keep a frickin’ secret now too while we faked it in front of our kids? And…What on earth was going to happen to my dreams of growing old with this guy?
For two weeks, as I said, I was in complete shock. I saw my therapist often. She diagnosed me with PTSD because of the nature of the break-up. But, amazingly, after those 2 weeks, I got stronger and stronger. I knew I had to “pull it together” for my kids. I didn’t have a lot of support after my mother passed away- my children would. I kept up my studies and was training for a half-marathon. I joined a divorce support group and ended up helping to run it. I decided that when I was done with school and my healing, I would help other women who experienced break-ups or who were struggling in their relationships. I knew that I would emerge from this not just surviving but thriving.
And I did. I went to therapy for years. I received not one, but two master’s degrees. I learned so much along the way, but I wasn’t done. No one ever is. I swore off men, but as I continued in therapy, I began to think about how much different a relationship would be with a man who was actually able to emotionally connect. I was growing. I was healing. I want to add that as an adult, I take full responsibility for my thoughts, words, and actions. As a child, I couldn’t. This is my perspective on the events and experiences that have shaped my life, particularly my relationships. I do not wish to denigrate anyone who was or is a part of my life. They have been instrumental in helping me to grow. I myself know that I too have been perfectly imperfect. If I had known better, I would have done better. I entered adulthood with a limited, rather crappy, set of life tools. I’ve expanded this set in part, because of the challenges I’ve encountered. I know that others have had it worse and others better, if there even needs to be any kind of comparison. What matters is what you do with the life you’ve been given. You can’t control others; the only thing you can control is yourself. So, while some of my life experiences were out of my control, what is in my control is how I make meaning from them and use them to better enhance my life. So, while a 17 year marriage ended, it opened me up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I could have an amazingly extraordinary life and that would start with me. And while in the process of really owning who I authentically was, it would open me up to the opportunity awaiting me- meeting and marrying my soul mate.