If you have been following my writing, you know that I am a marriage and family counselor who specializes in working with men. That reality is surprising to many. When we think of love and marriage, most people think, consciously or subconsciously, that this is the province of women. But here is a secret I’ve learned after more than 50 years working with men, women, and couples. Whether a relationship is successful and leads to real lasting love or crashes in disillusionment is primarily dependent on what the man does. That’s right guys, you can make or break your relationship.
One of my colleagues, Dr. Marianne J. Legato, herself an expert on men’s and women’s relationship, says,
“What men do in relationships is, by a large margin, the crucial factor that separates a great relationship from a failed one. This does not mean that a woman doesn’t need to do her part, but the data proves that a man’s actions are the key variable that determines whether a relationship succeeds or fails, which is ironic, since most relationship books are for women. That’s kind of like doing open-heart surgery on the wrong patient.”
I went through two marriages and divorces before I understood that having a successful relationship depended on me. Up until then, I assumed that if I found the right woman then worked hard to be a good breadwinner, that everything would take care of itself. Or at least that my wife would know what to do. I imagined that women, because of being women, knew the secrets of love. My job was to find the right one and then to live happily ever after.
Relationships don’t just fall apart. There are always warning signs. But when we’re busy working and we assume that relationship success is women’s work, we miss the warning signs until it is too late. I talk about my own failures when people visit my website and see my introductory welcome “Confessions of a Twice-Divorced Marriage Counselor.”
Although marriages can end at any time, they are becoming increasingly common at mid-life. My colleagues Jeff Hamaoui and Kari Henley at the Modern Elder Academy have written a wonderful article, “Anatomy of a Transition,” that captures the craziness and confusion of what we go through when a relationship has ended.
They describe 3 Stages: (1) The End, (2) Messy Middle, and (3) New Beginnings. In each stage there are three steps we must navigate. Together they constitute a map that can help us navigate the journey from an ending to a new beginning:
Stage 1: The End
- External Kick or Internal Shift
Some relationships end when we are kicked in the teeth (or somewhat lower in our anatomy. “I’m no longer in love with you. It’s over. I want a divorce.” Or it can happen with a more gradual internal shift when the negative aspects of our love lives build up until we can no longer ignore them and we know we have to change or die inside.
We have invested a lot of our hearts, souls, hopes, and dreams in our relationship and we all go through a phase of denial as we try and convince ourselves that it isn’t as bad as we think or surely things will turn around soon.
- Emotional Bath
Our feelings go up and down. One minute we’re sure its over, but something good happens and we’re sure things are turning around and everything is going to be all right. There is a line from a song that captured this time for me. “We’re walking the wire of pain and desire, looking for love in between.”
Stage 2: Messy Middle
This is the period of being in between. It’s called liminal space. We know an important part of our old life has ended but don’t know what lies ahead.
- Being drawn back to what is familiar
Even when we know a relationship has ended, we are drawn back to what we know. “Be it ever so shitty, there’s no place like home.” Even after I knew my relationship was over I kept being drawn back in. This is particularly true if we have children. They want us together, no matter what.
- In The Soup
When we’re in the soup, we feel like we are coming apart. What we know has disappeared and who we are is frightening and unfathomable. It takes real courage, and more than a little help from our friends, to keep us afloat and moving ahead.
- Find the Thread
This is the key to our survival. The thread is our connection to our True Selves which is connected to Source or Soul. When we are deeply connected to the Life Force, we can never get lost. We never lose the thread, but it can be hard to find when we are in the soup.
Stage 3: New Beginnings
Beginnings are exciting and fragile things. We are learning to get to know ourselves anew and are ready for a new relationship with ourselves and someone else.
After the end of a relationship, we realize we are becoming a new person to ourselves and we need to take time to get to know ourselves. This often means reflecting on our lives, including our past relationships and understanding why we got in them and why we had to leave (even when we weren’t the ones who initiated the ending).
- Taking Flight
You are in a new world. You’ve found your wings and you are flying. You feel more complete, whole, and healthy. You are in love with life and you’re ready to share your love with others. You’re in no hurry. You’re not starving for love. You have love in your life, but you know you want to share it.
- Finding Flow
We’ve all had that feeling when you know everything is as it is supposed to be. There are no mistakes in our lives. Everything is part of the journey. What we thought was a disaster turns out to be the gift of rebirth.
Looking back I realize I went through these stages with my first two divorces. But I also have come to realize that in a long-term marriage, we can go through them with the same person. My wife, Carlin, and I have been together now for 43 years. We both realized that we change and become different people and so our relationship has to change.
We decided we needed to review and renew our relationship every 15 years. This allows us to let the old relation go and create a new one that fits who we are now. We’re coming up on our fourth marriage to each other. It is wonderful to know we can go through the stages together.
Starting Over: Create an Inspiring New Story After Your Relationship Ends
In March, I will be offering a 4-day retreat just for men. I’m excited to be joined by two colleagues and friends, Shana James and Mark Pirtle. This retreat is for men who have been through an ending and are ready to start anew. Your ending may have been the end of a marriage or it may have been the end of an old relationship, but one where you two are still together, but ready for renewal.
This four-day retreat is for any man who may be…
• In shock about what happened and why his relationship ended.
• Stuck in a loop and can’t stop thinking about his former partner.
• Grieving, feeling the intense pain of the ending of a cherished relationship.
• Trying to ground himself before he starts to think about dating again.
• Exploring a new relationship but being careful.
• Wanting to learn more about sex, love, and intimacy.
• In a relationship that needs to end or transform.
• Wanting to ensure that he has real lasting love in the future.
Are you a man who is ready to have the relationship of your dreams? Do you know a man who is ready to learn about real lasting love? If you are interested in knowing more about this retreat, I will answer all your questions. We are limiting the retreat to just 15 men and it is filling up fast. Drop me a note to Jed@MenAlive.com and put “men’s retreat” in the subject line. If you’d like to read more about it, you can click here.
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