In Part 1 we met a woman who had reached her breaking point in her troubled relationship with her ill spouse. She, like many others, had to ask herself the tough questions that live at the intersection of love and obligation. She wrestled with deciding what her obligations were to her partner, and what her obligations were to herself.
This wrestling led her to examine her deepest beliefs, feelings, experiences, values, family legacies about illness, and her vision for her future. Those of you who find yourselves at your breaking point will need to do your own inner excavation.
You will need to carefully and patiently examine all these elements. You will need to ask yourself core questions like:
- What does this feeling want me to understand about it?
- Is this belief still valid?
- Do I still need this value?
- Are other values and beliefs more important now?
- Is there another way to think about old family stories about illness and caregiving?
- What are my bedrock truths?
Hopefully, your findings will begin to take shape, possibly in surprising patterns. You may see new possibilities emerge, ones that may be pointers to better pathways.
But that's not all. If possible, the partners should share their awareness, their self-discoveries with each other. They may find unexpected overlaps or unanticipated differences. By sharing their discoveries they may find ways to create a better balance, together. Or they may find that their differences are grievous and irreconcilable. Either way, the path will become clearer and clearer.
Not all couples can reveal their true-est feeling to each other. For some, that has never been their habit, and it may be too foreign, or too risky to do so. In this case, each partner needs to decide for herself what path she wants to walk, how she wants to take the next steps, and whom she wants to invite in as her allies and supports.
The woman I recently spoke with talked with her husband about her unhappiness. Surprisingly, he not only listened, but shared his feelings about his own misery. They realized that they each wanted to separate and began considering divorce.
It took courage for this woman to explore her deepest feelings, values, and needs. And it took courage to share them with her partner. Her reward was that instead of feeling guilt and shame over inflicting a separation on her ill husband, she felt incredible relief that separation was actually a shared choice.
Reaching your breaking point needn't be a time of shattering. The intensity of energy at that point can serve as a crucible where the different elements of your essence (and potentially also your partner's essence) can interact to produce something new. That something new can be separation (as it was with the woman I spoke with) or greater closeness, or a calmer acceptance of what is.