Abstract: The story of Mathew and Julia is a common one, where one partner wants meaningful communication and to feel that their requests are valued and respected, and the other partner is closed. When Mathew expected to be accepted “as is”, it was a set up for breakdown and then a breakup. It was only when Julia saw that she was part of the problem suffering in silence, that’s when things changed.
Nasrudin was a mythical figure, a teacher from the Sufi tradition, who supposedly lived in what we now call the Middle East. One day one of his students walks into a room where Nasruddin was reaching into a bag of hot chili peppers and eating them one at a time. There were tears streaming down his face, his nose was running and his lips swollen and irritated. He was obviously in great pain. “Why don’t you stop eating those hot peppers?” the student asked. “I’m hoping to find a sweet one,” Nasrudin replied.
Hanging In or Letting Go
Mathew wasn’t a bad guy. He possessed some fine qualities. He was hardworking, honest, a good provider, didn’t smoke or drink and he was dedicated to his family. But as the years went by, his wife Julia found herself becoming dissatisfied. There was something missing from her marriage, the absence of which was becoming difficult to accept. Whenever Julia brought up something that she wanted to address, if Mathew didn’t want to talk about it, he would simply say just: “I don’t want to talk about it”. If pressed, he would tell Julia, “That’s just the way I am”, which meant, “My personality doesn’t incline me to engage in those kinds of conversations”. But it wasn’t just Mathew’s unwillingness to engage that was distressing Julia, it was his lack of motivation to overcome his resistance to speaking on a meaningful level. Mathew used his conversation-stoppers to justify his choices and to get Julia off his back.
Some of the subjects that Julia wanted to discuss with Mathew were related to his hygiene. He often neglected to brush his teeth and his bad breath was offensive. He also had body odor because he didn’t shower regularly. Mathew often dropped his dirty clothes on the floor and didn’t bother to pick them up. Julia’s attempts to bring these issues to his attention were usually met with “You knew this about me when you married me,” as if to say she should just shut up and live with it.
When Julia informed Mathew that she had found a couples’ counselor to help them discuss their communication difficulties, he said, “I don’t believe in marriage counseling.” It became increasingly obvious to Julia that he had no interest in changing. At first, she blamed herself for her marital dissatisfaction. Her willingness to take an excessive amount of responsibility for the marriage played into Mathew’s unwillingness to hold up his end. She attempted to rationalize her unhappiness by repeatedly reminding herself of all of his positive qualities. She thought her expectations of Mathew were unrealistically high and that she should lower them. Yet, she found herself unable to adjust to what felt like a painfully distant relationship. Finally she reached the point where she could no longer tolerate the situation.
Julia Faces Reality
When Julia recognized that she had been in denial about how much pain she was in and how fixed in his ways Mathew was, she could finally extricate herself from this life-sapping situation. It was painful for Julia to grieve the dream of what might have been. She was sadder about losing the “happily ever after dream” than she was losing Mathew. Julia admitted to herself that Mathew’s problem wasn’t an inability to change, but an unwillingness to do so. In coming to this realization, she recognized that the difference in their basic life values was too discrepant for them to make a life together. Julia finally stopped hoping for a sweet one.
When I spoke to her following the divorce, Julia said to me, ”You know Mathew was right. He was pretty closed-mouthed and closed-minded when we dated and when we got married. I just didn’t want to see it. For years, I hoped that he would change. I thought that my love would be enough to motivate him to open his heart. I realize now how blind I was to his dark side. It’s not as if he prevented me from seeing him clearly. I just didn’t want to see his shortcomings. I was such a romantic back then. I believed that love conquers all. I’m wiser now, and have learned the hard way what I must have in my life. I feel hopeful because I know what really matters the most to me now. I’m not willing to live without it, regardless of whatever else I’m getting from my partner.” Julia went on to create a better life and found a partner who was willing to communicate with her and work with the issues that came up. The truth is sometimes painful to hear, but ultimately much less painful than it is to keep eating those hot peppers in the hopes of finding a sweet one.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio. If you like what you read, click here to sign up Bloomwork’s monthly inspirational newsletter and receive our free e-book: Going For the Gold: Tools, practice, and wisdom for creating exemplary relationships. Follow Bloomwork on Facebook!