Hardly a month goes by that I don’t hear someone tell me that they are having significant problems with their ex-spouse. They will say things like, “My ex-husband is making my life miserable” or “My children’s mother is using the kids against me”.
A few years back, I began to take a different approach when handling such cases. After allowing them to explain a little further, I started with this question:
“Does your ex know you love them?”
The response is almost always one of confusion. Something like:
Sometimes my question is simply met with a facial expression that seems to imply that I am from another planet.
So, I rephrase the question.
“Does your Ex know you love your Ex?”
As you might imagine, most people don’t know what to do with this question. Many will try to help me understand that the absence of love for their ex is precisely why they are their ex. Most people who ask for a divorce do so because they define love more in terms of how they feel rather than what they do. However, there is no single emotion associated with love.
Love can feel exhilarating, warm, happy, close, peaceful, exciting, pleasurable. Love can also feel frustrating, lonely, sad, angry, depressing and even overwhelmingly anxious.
Those who have children know the feeling, acting out of love when we are totally void of a positive emotion in the moment.
Okay, I will grant that it is more difficult to show someone love when they are characterized by unloving deeds. But who is doing the characterizing in that situation? Let’s say you and I just walked into a room that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I walk into that room from outside where I have just spent the last 30 minutes in sub-freezing weather. You walk into that room from a 112 degree sauna where you have just spent the last 30 minutes. We walk into the room at the same time and immediately place our hands on the same granite counter top, within 2 inches of each other. A third person asks us to describe what we think and feel about this counter top. You would describe it as cold. I would describe it as warm. It is not the counter top that dictates how each of us thinks and feels about it. It is what you and I have been doing.
I once worked with a man who was grieving the death of his wife. Two years after her death, he still missed her deeply. But three years earlier, he did not like his wife and secretly wished she did not exist. When they found out she had cancer, he began to feel guilt-ridden because he sort of liked the idea that the cancer could take her out of his world. So, he sought counsel from a respected friend. The friend instructed him to get a journal and write at least one reason, each day, why he was thankful for her. As I thumbed through the journal, something struck me.
The first day’s entry simply read, in cold, terse handwriting: “Good cook.” As I worked my way toward the back of the journal, I noticed that the entries grew longer and longer, while the writing and the words became softer and warmer. Toward the end, many of the entries were several pages long, describing his wife in terms more and more wonderful, as if written by a love-struck poet. It was not her behavior that changed the way he felt and thought about her, it was his.
Have your attitudes and feelings, toward your spouse, soured over the years? Are you having trouble dealing with your ex-spouse? Chances are, they haven't changed that much. More likely, you don’t do all those things you used to do for him or her when your relationship was new and thriving years ago.
It’s simple neurological science! How you think and feel about your spouse has much more to do with what you do than what they do!