Debbie’s wake up call about her marriage came while cleaning up from Thanksgiving dinner with her then-husband, Shawn. Debbie remembers having spent hours preparing for that night in 2017. Everyone said she outdid herself (as she did every year). She served a magnificent feast for 25 friends and family.
Over the course of her 22-year marriage, Debbie’s focus remained primarily on the needs of her family. She didn’t entirely neglect her own needs, but her choices took their toll over time. Debbie stopped going to the gym when her kids were little and discontinued covering her grey to save the three hours a month and the extra money. Her wardrobe hadn’t been refreshed for some time, but in her opinion, it was more important that Shawn and the kids looked good. For Debbie, showering her family with love and care was deeply fulfilling. It was why she was put on this earth and she wanted for nothing more.
In our first session at Tournesol Debbie recalled the conversation that Thanksgiving night with Shawn as if it was yesterday. The guests had left. They were straightening up. She said to Shawn, “Sweetie, we really should solidify our winter break plans. You know those dates get booked up at the Sonesta and this year we need three rooms.” He always planned their vacations months in advance. This was out of character for him.
Shawn’s back was to Debbie as he washed the dishes. He mumbled an unintelligible response.
“Hmm?” Debbie asked.
“Um.” Shawn cleared his throat and didn’t turn around. “I may have to work through the kids’ vacation this year. Why don’t you go ahead and book just you guys. Maybe invite your mother?”
It wasn’t like him to work through a family vacation. Debbie noticed a tightness in his voice. It was subtle, but it was there. In that moment her heart stopped and a whole series of strange behaviors over the past month all of a sudden made perfect sense. Could this really be happening? After all she’d sacrificed for him and the family?
“Carey, I constantly feel afraid. How can I possibly go on having lost the stability of the one true purpose I’ve always known?” Debbie was despondent the first time we met.
She shared more. “To avoid the inevitable, I tried to be the perfect wife to win him back. I was even more attentive and caring. I still don’t understand what I did wrong.”
I explained to Debbie that it was normal for someone so devoted to move toward perfection in the face of self-doubt. Unfortunately, going overboard into an unnatural state of rigid righteousness didn’t work. Shawn’s disconnect grew. A few months later he initiated a legal separation.
READ MORE: When Healing After Divorce, There’s No One-Size-Fits-All
“That moment was like a stake in my heart,” Debbie cried at the recollection. It had been almost a year out of her marriage when we met and she still vacillated between, “Everything is my fault,” and, “What will I do now?”
Debbie and I have been working together now for six weeks to help her move through these tough, stuck emotions. When we first began meeting, Debbie shared that she believed all conflict was bad. She blamed herself for not being able to avoid challenges in her marriage. She obsessed wondering what she possibly could’ve done differently to keep her marriage together. Debbie dreaded the possibility of being alone forever.
If you’re like Debbie, your biggest fears revolve around the idea of abandonment, of not being needed. It’s likely that your world revolves around meeting the needs of your family and possibly your friends, extended family, and community. To find balance, it’s important to build self-reliance and learn what you love about yourself as well as to build a new loving community in which to grow.
During our time together, I encouraged Debbie to explore her own needs. I addressed her internal balance and put her on a regimen of Ayurvedic nutrition. We built resilience to stress triggers with neuroplasticity exercises and extra-curricular activities.
This week she reported back that the following had been most helpful regaining strength and putting a stop to the constant ruminating over what she had lost.
Going forward, Debbie and I will continue to catch up once a month. She has started sending me sweet photos of her adventures in dance, in nature and of time spent with her kids. She found her path back to enjoying life again through taking care of her own needs – probably for the first time in her adult life.
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