Marital Pain is the Road to Individual Healing
Written By: Mark Smith
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The evidence was right in front of her in black and white—Michael’s cell phone records with hundreds of calls to his co-worker, Susan. “How could he do this to me?” Nikki thought. “I thought that he loved me.” Nikki hadn’t seen this coming at all. She thought she and Michael were happily married, as marriages go. Sure, life had become stressful and busy and they hadn’t been intimate in a while, but they never fought and she still adored Michael. He had been her knight in shining armor. Because she was abandoned by her father, Nikki had a difficult time trusting Michael initially. But he had passionately sworn that he would never hurt or abandon her. She finally opened up her heart and let him in; there was just something very special about him. Now it felt as if someone cut her heart and soul out, leaving her completely empty. If she could just go to sleep and never wake up it would be a relief and her horrible nightmare would be over.
As a little girl Nikki absolutely adored her father. She truly was a daddy’s girl. She would sit on his lap, wrestle and laugh with him and sometimes even go to work with her very special daddy. He’d even tuck her in every night. One day when she was seven, December 22 to be exact, she saw her daddy packing a suitcase and crying. When she asked him what was wrong he sat her down and said he was leaving and could never come back! As he walked out of the house carrying his overstuffed suitcase he didn’t even turn to say goodbye. That was the last time that Nikki saw him.
Every year Nikki loathed any mention of Christmas. She was almost physically ill every year on December 22. Her mother said that she was done with men and that none of them could be trusted. With no help from Nikki’s father, she had to work hard to just keep a roof over their heads. Many years later just when she and Michael were discussing having a family of their own, when it seemed that life was good and safe, when she felt like she was over her childhood wounds, Michael took off his mask and exposed himself as what he really was – another version of her father, her worst nightmare.
Nikki became extremely bitter and then she slipped into an all-encompassing depression. She stayed at home and comforted herself with food, alcohol and rented movies. She could only think about Michael and what they used to have together. He walked out with his overstuffed suitcase without saying goodbye – exactly like her father had done so many years before.
I first heard from Nikki just before Thanksgiving. December 22 was looming and Nikki knew she wouldn’t survive another Christmas without help. She cried as hard as I had ever seen anyone cry during our first session. She’d been holding so much pain in all her life that it just exploded out of her. She left the first session with a very slight smile and a glimmer of hope. Finally, someone who virtually guaranteed that he could not only make sense of her messed up life but could also help her to overcome it!
Nikki went through half a box of tissues during her second session. Although it had been two years since the divorce she still focused on Michael with a great deal of intensity—as if the divorce had taken place the week before. She came to her feedback session with a very open mind. Nikki was surprised when I told her that Michael had not victimized her. She was stunned when she learned Michael was not her problem at all – that in fact he had done her a tremendous service. I told her that if it weren’t Michael, she would have married someone just like him. Her problem was her father and what he had done to her. She needed to relive her childhood drama in order to heal it. We all do. Then I put some words up on my whiteboard that described both her father and Michael – Emotionally Cut Off, Self-Absorbed, Betrayer, Cruel, Addictive, Needy, and Untrustworthy. Even the timing of the betrayals was similar. It was uncanny. They were the same guy! Nikki was very quiet throughout the feedback session, but I could tell that she was getting it. That day was the beginning of her process of forgiving both Michael and her father. Nikki joined a therapy group and for the next three years and she cried, shared learned and cried some more. She became considerably healthier. She met a guy at work and he joined her on the therapy couch. She wanted to build a solid foundation before marriage this time and her new partner was workable. Nikki and her husband have been happily married for six years now and they have two beautiful kids. She still gets a little blue around Christmas and is protective when another woman comes within 50 yards of her husband, but she is much, much healthier and well adjusted.
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