Tony said he never saw it coming, but his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jenna, was starting to chase him again.
I told him it would happen – it almost always does in cases like this.
Over the last year Tony was watching with shock and gut wrenching pain as Jenna pulled away from him, their marriage and even their kids.
When he contacted me he had a long, sordid story to tell.
Funny thing about these stories – they are nearly identical to dozens of other men’s stories I’ve heard over the years – including my own. Just change the names.
For most guys, the stomach knots and grinding pain of not knowing what to do is a requirement before seeking any help. Tony is at that point and reached out for support.
Steve, you won’t believe what this last year has been like.
Man, she’s just gone nuts and I don’t know why. It started with her suddenly getting really cold and distant. She wouldn’t even talk with me except about the kids. About once a week she would just blow up at me and blame me for how she was feeling. Everything I did wrong was, in her eyes, just more evidence that I was being hateful, inconsiderate and abusive.
About 4 months into this she started going out with her divorced girlfriends about twice a week, coming home late and not even seeing the kids before bedtime. We argued a lot and it was always my fault for making it hard for her to be home. I was really trying as hard as I could to keep things together and take care of the house and stuff. But it didn’t help.
What we’re you hoping for?
I just wanted her to talk to me. I wanted to find out what I could do that would fix things and make her happier? She wouldn’t go to counseling, so I went by myself.
What did you learn?
I learned there wasn’t much I could do to change anything except what I was doing. I’m supposed to give her “time” to settle down and address her anxiety issues and allow her to trust me again.
How’s that working for you?
Not well. First, I’m not sure exactly how I’m supposed to change what I’m doing. Second, her friend just told me that she knows Jenna has been seeing the principal at our son’s school. He’s married too!
Did you confront her about that?
Yeah, I did. She says they’re “just friends” and he’s been helping her through this tough time because his marriage isn’t great either. She thinks we should try separating for a while. I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last month. I can’t eat.
Wow. I’m really sorry. What do you think is going on?
I’m certain he is screwing her. That bastard. I should go to his house and tell his wife and then hit him right in the mouth.
Let’s talk about other options.
The Power of Clarity and Knowing Your Own Value
Tony and I had been working together for about two months and dug deep into his masculine psyche. We talked about the non-negotiable values and boundaries driving him as a man and how he never really had any!
We talked about why he felt so powerless and out of control with his emotions. We pinpointed a pattern of wishy-washy behavior and indecisiveness that permeated his life, job and marriage.
Tony started to gather momentum in his mojo and said something I love to hear from a man emerging from pain and powerlessness. He was becoming more aware of his own value.
He said, “You know what, I’m done with reacting to everything that happens to me. I can see how my lack of clarity and willingness to take action has gotten me where I am. I can’t make her happy or make her want to fix our marriage. I respect myself too much to stand by and just watch this happen and not do something about it.”
As we kept working together, Tony gained confidence in how he was handling Jenna’s secret life. He stopped arguing with her and he focused on being the best dad he could possibly be. He was motivated by a desire to feel positive, decisive and proactive. And he wanted to be a role model to his kids for how a man handles adversity.
But as patient and strong as he was, nothing much was changing with Jenna. She continued her cold shoulder attitude and emotional distance from him. The kids kept asking Tony, “what’s wrong with mommy?” Tony knew better than to involve them in any discussions and just reassured them that they were loved.
Tony actually felt better than he had in a long time and gained some weight back. He wasn’t sure how things would turn out, but he was certain he would be okay no matter what. No matter what Jenna decided to do he knew he would come out a better man on the other side of this.
That’s when Jenna told him they needed to talk to the kids about a separation. She wanted to leave for a while and wasn’t sure how long.
Tony’s “Divorce Preparation” Nearly Saves his Marriage
It was nearly 6 months since it all started and Tony made a decision.
It was the first of many decisions he would make that would change his life forever. He learned about the power of making decisions from his heart and then simply responding calmly to the consequences of those decisions.
He was ready to let Jenna go.
He asked her to lunch to talk about something important, so they met at a place they used to enjoy together. Tony had a folder under his arm with the handwritten words on the front, “Next Chapter”. Inside was a stack of pre-signed and notarized divorce forms.
Tony had educated himself on the process of an uncontested divorce. He was crystal clear that he was now ready to lead Jenna toward the end of their marriage – something she clearly wanted too.
It took Tony fifteen minutes to explain to her what he decided and he explained the process and what she would need to do with her forms. He wasn’t angry or nervous. He didn’t blame her for a thing and he didn’t need an apology. He was kind, but businesslike.
And he held her hand when she started to cry uncontrollably. She said, “Gosh, you don’t have to seem so excited about it!”
Tony wasn’t excited…just very, very clear. This wasn’t an act and he wasn’t trying to manipulate her.
He was simply done.
Three weeks later after Tony and Jenna had gotten the papers filed, Jenna called Tony. She wanted to stop by the house and pick up a few things. When she arrived, he could see that she had been crying hard.
It was clear she had nothing really to pick up as she plopped on the couch and looked at him with puffy eyes.
“Are you sure this is what you want? Don’t you think this is something worth saving?”
He didn’t give her an answer just then. Tony and I talked a few days later.
He asked, “What do you think I should do?”
I said, “Simple. All you have to do is get your head clear and make another bold decision.”
First he considered what he expected of himself in this situation. Then he clarified his values and his non-negotiable boundaries. He felt strong in what he wanted most for himself and his kids if he was to reconcile with Jenna.
Then he made a decision. Bold, clear and confident.
No more wishy-washy Tony.
At that moment, it was the right decision for him. There would be more decisions to make down the road.
And he knew he would be ready for them.
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Photo Richard Gaston/Flickr