When a Marriage Has to Die

November 24, 2018

Many couples know from their own experience how easy it is to become trapped in their roles in maintaining the family system. The pitfalls of such entrapment include feelings of disconnection, emptiness, loneliness, resentment, and ultimately apathy and despair. Without a change in the system, the only possible outcomes are divorce or a dead marriage. Barry and Maya had neglected their relationship for years, and drifted into patterns of complacency. By the time they had awakened to the consequence of their negligence, it was too late. Theirs is a story of how even in the face of what can appear to be a hopelessly broken relationship the embers of love can continue to burn. Paradoxically, it may require the burial of the old marriage in order for a new relationship to emerge.

There are times when it may be necessary to let go of one’s identity as a partner in a couple in order to recognize the nature of the work each individual must do for themselves in order to become more whole. Barry and Maya did not separate with the intention of reuniting. They didn’t do their own work in order to repair their relationship. Each of them took on the intention to heal as a means of bringing wholeness and self-reliance into their own lives and freeing themselves from crippling co-dependence.

In the process of doing their own work, they each became more capable of sustaining the kind of marriage that had not previously been possible for them. Their story reveals the nature of the work necessary in order to grow into wholeness. Both Barry and Maya embraced their commitments as though their lives depended upon it. Ironically it wasn’t until something became more compelling to each of them than the continuation of the marriage that they could finally have the kind of relationship they both wanted.

Maya reported that overall, they were happy together during the early years of their relationship because they had a lot of shared interests. After their children were born, they both found themselves continuing to throw themselves into the responsibilities of family and business. Over time, the loss of their connection became increasingly disturbing. Neither of them had a strong sense of who they were, so their relationship was feeling empty. Maya didn’t conceal her feelings from Barry neither of them knew what to do about it.

They had no understanding of just how much care and attention relationships require. For Maya, it was always the kids that preoccupied her attention and time. For Barry, he was concentrating on the business and making a living. The more neglected their relationship was, the more prone they were to getting into arguments without resolve. They had become companions, not lovers, no big passions, no big enthusiasms. Maya described it this way. “I came to see that I was experiencing a mid-life crisis and it felt like a slow slide to death.”

While Maya had committed herself to the family, she forgot to commit to herself. After almost twenty years of taking care of everyone else’s needs, she finally awoke to the toll that her self-neglect was taking. She was tired, burnt out and empty. She was also extremely vulnerable to having an affair since she was so hungry for a deep emotional connection. When she began the affair with Rick, she felt fully alive for the first time in years, like coming back from the dead. When she moved out, Barry was devastated, and totally opposed to the breakup. He knew that Maya needed to find her life again, but didn’t see why they couldn’t stay married while she did that.

Taking care of yourself may be the best thing that you can do for your relationship.

Shortly after the separation, the affair ended, and Maya made a promise to herself that she would not go into another relationship until she was confident that she would never lose herself again. For the next four years, Maya had support and close friendships with women. She learned to enjoy her own company, how to set boundaries, saying “no” and telling the truth.

Barry and Maya were not only physically separated, but severed their emotional ties too. The only time that they spoke was when they had to make arrangements for their sons.Barry reacted to these unwanted changes in his life with a combination of grief, anxiety and rage. His moods were spinning all over the place. He loved and needed Maya, but at the same time, hated her for leaving. Barry got to work on himself. He found a therapist, turned to men friends for support, worked with a body worker, and joined a weekly men’s group. Through all that work he discovered that they both played a part in the breakdown of their marriage

Love is the bridge between anger and respect.

After four years of separation, Barry took Maya out to dinner saying: “I want to thank you for divorcing me. I was shut down and out of touch with my feelings. I was missing so much but had no idea what I was missing. I have come to understand that it’s never one person that is completely responsible for causing a divorce, and I acknowledge the part that I played in the breakdown of our marriage. I realize now, that if you hadn’t done what you did, I never would have gone through what I went through to develop and heal myself. Nothing short of losing you in the divorce would have rocked my world enough to propel me into the life that I now have. And I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. Thank you.”

Maya was stunned to hear the transformation in Barry. A few weeks after that dinner Maya got a call from Barry informing her that their son Max had totaled his car and was injured but not critically. When Maya went to see the smashed car, she realized how close they had come to losing their son. She burst into tears and fell sobbing into Barry’s arms.

Their son Max’s accident provided a pivotal experience to bring them back together, and to more fully open their hearts to each other. In time, Barry proposed once again and Maya accepted.

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