After the last two fiascoes, I let M off of the hook for marriage counseling. I don’t see the point in spending the money and wasting everyone’s time when he isn’t willing to really approach it as a positive activity. At my next appointment with my therapist, she suggested that since I was having so much trouble reconciling my feelings about the marriage, I should put it aside for a while and start working on me – specifically addressing self-esteem issues. She recommended that I look at several books, including one by Phil McGraw called Self Matters, about assessing the authentic self and leading an authentic life. Like a good student, I left her office and bought the appropriate books and took them home and read them. There is a real sameness in self-help books, and I found myself getting more and more annoyed as I continued to read. Dr. Phil was the final straw. I put effort into reading through it, but it just made me mad. I actually spent the time between counseling appointments considering my reaction to these readings. I could understand feeling overwhelmed, or finding the material boring, but anger verging on rage seemed like a peculiar reaction to the “folksy” advice of Dr. Phil. I thought at first that I was angry because J cheated on me, essentially blew up my life, and waltzed off to work while I was struggling with pain and confusion and doubt – forced to rethink every aspect of my life and reexamine my entire marriage. And then to have to work through self esteem issues – it was just so unfair. After two weeks of brooding, I finally realized that the topic made me mad because I do not have self-esteem issues, I have being lied to issues. I am leading an authentic life, I have been “living by design” since I was a teenager – trying to make decisions based on evaluating what I want and need, what is best for me, and then attempting mesh it with the needs of those I love.
While thinking through all the “advice” and “self esteem” articles and books, I realized that one thread in the advice actually did ring true – all the self-esteem gurus, including Dr. Phil, advised me to trust my instincts. My brain actually came to a screeching halt when I actually considered that advice. I have always trusted my instincts, and if I have one gift it is for noticing what people are feeling, understanding it, and helping them sort it out. If that is true, then how had I missed – not ignored, not buried, but completely missed – M’s unhappiness with me and the disintegration of the most important relationship in my life? And, more importantly, why could I not sort out my own feelings and address them. I finally realized that I had been doggedly ignoring my instincts, which were telling me that I did not have the whole story. When I really sat down and listened to what I was feeling – what my instincts were telling me – I realized that I was positive to the core of my being that he was still holding back information – and not just accidentally.
In really examining my belief that M still had more secrets, and realizing how true this belief felt, I also came to the stunning realization that I was the one who had actually changed the rules in our relationship. I had stopped listening to him about the one subject that was the focus of his attention – his work. And not only had I stopped listening, I had stopped caring how he felt about it or that his inability to navigate the process or solve the problem was tearing him apart. If my instincts usually allow me to know what others are feeling, and to help them figure out how to feel better – to sort through the confusion and find a solution, then I had not only stopped listening, but I had actually blocked M and his emotions. I did try to provide love and support for other areas of stress – his dad, my health, C’s health – but for him it was all tied up together, and so he felt completely shut out. I explained to M what I had realized, and how sorry I was. I also insisted that I didn’t think I would be able to recover completely until I quit feeling as if there was information that I did not have. I needed “the rest of the story.”