Abandonment Issues Require Extremely Hard Work
Written By: Mark Smith
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“Love is no respecter of age or practicality
Neither morality: She enters where she will
Unheeding that her immortal fires
Burn up human hearts...”
Phillip Pulfrey, from Beyond Me,
Trust me when I tell you that women can be world class experts in abandonment acting out as well! Let's talk about Joe (37), an Entrepreneur, and Marlene (35), a Manager in State Government. They too understood the importance of working hard in therapy before the wedding. The chemistry between Joe and Marlene was unusually strong, which turned out to be both good and bad. When the initial intensity or enmeshment is off the charts then both partners are little on the inside and they both have abandonment issues. Marlene's abandonment issues were particularly nasty. If Joe was 10 minutes late to an event Marlene had been known to get highly reactive and ruin the event for all concerned. She humiliated Joe in front of his kids and his family many times. Abandonment issues don't have to necessarily deal with massive actual abandonments like affairs. Most often they are tiny little almost imperceptible distancing that seem huge to the partner who suffers from abandonment. Marlene was wickedly jealous of Joe's relationship with his two kids from his previous marriage. She competed for Joe's attention like a third child. Joe and Marlene had horrible, ugly reactive fights. They brought the evil out in each other.
Marlene was teachable though. She was a real trooper. She came to couple's sessions every other week and group weekly for three years. When her abandonment issues were activated Marlene acted like a spoiled two year old that had just had her favorite toy snatched out of her hands. Her anger, rage and meanness caused a lot of damage in her relationship with Joe and his kids. Joe had grown up with self-centered abandoning parents so he was used to not truly being seen, heard or valued. Joe and Marlene were able to hammer out a workable relationship. While it was workable, it was punctuated by windows of heaven and more windows of hell. It was hard, grueling work. There was little bliss. There were many dark moments. Marlene had two children of her own and the marriage hung in due to the constraints of Marlene's 'no divorce' Catholic family, the couple's strenuous work in therapy, Mike's determination to not be twice divorced and the deep, primitive bond between the little people inside the big reactive people.
Joe and Marlene called me their 'good angel'. I don't get called that much. I sometimes get called another word that starts with 'A' when I strongly confront folks who aren't used to being confronted. I got called something in group last week that I can't repeat here. My ability to name the abandonment and break it down like a football play on the white board each session gave them both the insight to step back and more objectively related with each other. The therapy room was a safe place. It could contain and tame the fire breathing dragon. It helped cooler heads prevail. A week before the wedding ceremony Mike asked me with fear and trembling in his voice if he was doing the right thing. There was a beaten and sad look in his eyes. He knew what he was getting into. It was not going to be easy. I said yes, I thought it was the right thing for him and it was. Joe's psychological heritage made it so that this was about as good as it gets for him. For him, marriage meant a great deal of suffering. It was also that way in his first marriage and it will be that way for him if he divorces Marlene and then re-marries. It is his way of being in relationships. "There are no victims in marriage" I hammered away at him each and every week. Sorry if you are looking for a victory dancing story that ends in bliss and eternal happiness. That is not in the cards for you. You are too little on the inside. I know this because of who you have married. We always pick someone equally as unhealthy and undifferentiated as we are. Having insight, some stability, frequent apologies and forgiveness and staying married while still having fierce and ugly battles with fire breathing dragon is about as good as it gets.
After seeing a portion of this book discussed in my weekly blog Joe dropped me an email and suggested that we meet for lunch. When we got together I discovered that Joe and Marlene are still married, they are still in therapy and they are still experiencing windows of heaven and windows of hell. They had been separated but through Recovery, hard work and a great deal of determination they are back together and the marriage looks like it might have the stuff to make it to the finish line. Life is hard. If your childhood was healthier than your marital and love destiny would be more attractive and pleasant. The bad news is that you will only be attracted to someone who basically has the very worst (disguised) qualities of your abandoning parents. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. At your core you are utterly and completely terrified that your spouse will abandon you, then they eventually do, in some way shape or form because it is their nature to do so; then you spend the rest of the relationship unintentionally but quite obnoxiously chasing them away due to your out of control insecurities. It is a vicious cycle that can easily continue to replay itself until it completely destroys the relationship. It is what it is. A tamer dragon is still a dragon.
Over all life is good for Joe. He would marry Marlene all over again. That decision isn't a slam dunk but more of a coin flips, but I believe that he would do it. When it is good it is great but when it is bad it's a freaking nightmare. Not everyone is created equal. When you have extremely reactive and/or extremely abandoning parents then life and particularly relationships are a lot more difficult! If you were severely abandoned as a child then a great deal of volatility and pain will be your cross to bear in this life. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you a bill of goods. Nature will always attempt to heal and in relationships that means that you are going to be strongly attracted only people who are more out of the very same psychological DNA as your parents. Plan for that. There IS NOT that perfect special someone out there who will love you in the way that you deserved to be loved. That is a myth, a fairy tale. If you subscribe to it and build your love life on it you are most certainly in for a major ass kicking emotionally. There are only people out there who know your particular crazy dance very well. They are your people. You will date, fall in love with and marry one of those. I wish that wasn't so, but it is. With insight and hard work on your own Recovery process you can have a workable marriage and it light years safer than when the abandonment issues ran wild without consequences or understanding. That growth is worth the hard work.
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