Sometime in mid-2009, I sit inside a small room with my wife, the pastor of our church, and a crumbling marriage. This is our Hail Mary, with a little less adrenaline, risk, fortune and glory. Our pastor asks my wife, Catherine, if she wants to save this marriage. She responds with a reluctant, yet undoubtedly committed, “yes.” He then turns to me.
“Tripp, do you want to save your marriage?”
I hesitate. “I don’t know,” I say.
“Why don’t you know?” he says.
“Because we ALWAYS come back to this place. I don’t want to commit to something that I can’t deliver on. I don’t want to commit to this marriage, just to see it fail.”
He pauses. “Well, I think that Catherine needs a commitment on your part if this is to work. I believe healing can take place, but not without a mutual promise. If you really want to see this marriage work, you need to give Catherine some indication that you are committed to her.”
I think for an eternity. “I can’t. I just can’t do it.”
We were divorced a short time later. Though we had several conversations involving respective apologies, the three years of my life that followed were characterized by resentment, plain and simple. If I ever told anyone about the history of my marriage, you could bet that I wouldn’t outwardly place the blame on Catherine, because I wanted you to know I was a stand-up kind of guy. You could also bet that I would tell the history in such a way as to insinuate that most of the blame resided with Catherine, because I wanted to convince myself that I was a stand-up kind of guy. She remarried. More resentment. She conceived. More resentment. Though I never spoke about our marriage in front of our two children, in retrospect, it’s quite obvious that they felt the tension.
And at the end of the day, I sincerely believed that this dynamic was good enough. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It also could have been much worse.
Fast forward. In October of 2012, I sit among 150 total strangers inside The Landmark Forum. My mom, having never seen me so dark and confused (see my previous post, entitled “A Prelude”), and with a level of concern so deep I cannot possibly imagine, has asked me to consider attending, stating that it changed her sister’s life. I say I’ll think about (with no plans to think about it). She says she’ll pay for it. I say “fine,” and reluctantly agree.
During a session on the first day of The Forum, a woman, Deborah, has volunteered to share with the group. She approaches the microphone, and hesitantly, but courageously, begins to speak about her marriage. It is her fourth marriage. The first three were about as amazing as three-day flat beer, and this one’s looking like a foot in the grave and a foot on a roller skate. She begins to list all the ways her husband has caused this marriage to fail. I’m no philanthropist, but I’m pretty sure that most of the group agrees with me in that there is more to this scenario than Deborah is sharing; the Forum leader concurs. Deborah is oddly the last one to see it. I think it’s bizarre. Isn’t it obvious what’s happening in her marriages? I sit, satisfied in my accurate assessment of the clueless Deborah. And then a most curious thing happens.
Of a sudden, my spirit begins to conjure different random images of my failed marriage. First, a flood of wonderful memories, memories of romance, of forgiveness, of first kisses, of admiration, of dating, of friendship . . . of love. My brain politely tells my spirit that this is freaking me out a little, and to please, respectively, shut the hell up. I feel temporarily schizophrenic. My spirit continues. I rapidly bear witness to the vivid storyboard of our entire relationship, ending with the aforementioned Hail Mary in our pastor’s office. I am in that small room, listening to myself explain my unwillingness to commit to our marriage, only this time, I am Catherine. It is as if I am completely immersed within the world as it occurs to her, and I am listening to my spouse, my friend and confidant of ten years, the person to whom I gave my life, refuse to commit to our marriage. I am utterly devastated. The flashback fades. I realize that I have spent the last three years making Catherine wrong. I also realize that I am sobbing. Dammit. This is alarming. I’m a grown man. These people are strangers. Wait, I hear others crying. OK, the Forum leader is passing a box of tissue to the guy who is going for a second snot pass on his shirt sleeve. I feel a little better about the sobbing thing. I take a moment to breathe. I feel oddly at peace, which is pretty unfamiliar territory for me.
A few days later, I called Catherine. In a conversation that lasted less than thirty minutes, I erased three years of resentment. I explained to her that I had no idea how much bitterness I had harbored and directed toward her. I told her I understood the tremendous burden she’d carried as a result of my own actions, and she didn’t have to carry that burden anymore. Almost instantly, the entire dynamic of our relationship changed. Our kids changed. And the impact didn’t stop there. My personal access to power began with the creation of a clearing with my ex-wife, but it also led to the discovery that I wasn’t a victim of circumstance as I had portrayed myself to be all these years. In fact, I created my circumstances. I’ve come to believe it a common misconception that accepting total responsibility for all that’s missing within our lives is a begrudging admittance of all the ways we’ve failed; at best it might serve to relieve us of a little guilt.
On the contrary, when you have discovered just how responsible you are for whatever way your life has turned out, you have discovered how to shape your circumstances into anything you can imagine. This, dear friends, is a vital part of inner peace. Cheers.
Intro pic located at:
Taken on July 16, 2004
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