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Posted By Opening the Heart

   I have been seeing "Maria" in my therapy practice for about 4 years. She has been grieving her 40 year marriage to Luis for a long time. They raised 2 children and went through the ups and downs that most couples in long term relationships go through.  Though Maria has been grieving her marriage, I should make clear that they are still married. The thing that Maria told me that was so poignant about their marriage is that every night, before going to bed, they would kiss and tell each other "I love you". They did this every night, through the ups and downs- until they didn't.

   About 20 years ago, Luis' mood started to change. He became volatile and reactive. When Maria would remark to him that he "forgot" to kiss her and say "I love you" at night, Luis would get angry and defensive and would insist that he had not forgotten. Maria noticed that he tended to brood and would become depressed with no obvious reason. This "change of personality", as she called it, not only remained over time, it got worse. He frequently became suspicious of her normal nights out with friends. He started to become belligerant and one night he pushed her and blocked her from leaving the house.

   Luis did accept her plea to see his doctor and he agreed to antidepressant medication and therapy, but his mental status continued to deteriorate, as did their marriage. Maria's heart was broken. She had somehow lost the love of her life right before her eyes and he kept drifting further away despite her efforts to bring him in from the cold, back to the home they'd known together for so long.

   When she found out about his affair, she was angry and crushed and he vehemently denied it and got angrier and more threatening. When she first came to see me, it was to help her cope with the heartbreaking loss she could not change: Luis had left her for the dark world of mental illness. Maria worked bravely to learn how to breathe and remain calm when Luis became reactive. It is a hard and courageous thing to keep trying to be kind when hard winds blow. I always supported her to be clear about not accepting abusive or threatening behavior and she got into the habit of having an overnight bag packed and a dear friend available when the storms got too strong.

   Maria did learn how to remain calm, even to continue to practice lovingkindness at the times his mental and physical condition worsened. Maria did a lot of grief work to mourn her losses. For many reasons, she decided to stay in the marriage, not the least of which was that she felt she could not abandon him in his deeply compromised condition. Luis' condition did not improve but Maria noted that he did become softer, less belligerant. And then one night something happened that knocked her way off balance: he kissed her before bedtime and told her he loved her. She did not know what to say or do. She said to me "Jon, I have practiced letting go for so many years now. Though my heart is still broken and I still grieve, I have found some serenity. How do I respond when he says "I love you"?

   We talked for a long time. She knew there was no way to revive the marriage and she could never go back. Maria decided to do an amazing thing: she chose to continue to practice lovingkindness and, in response to his "I love you", she began to smile and say "I love you too". She continued to practice watching the parade instead of marching in it. She continued to keep letting go of what she couldn't control. The Buddhists say that we suffer when we hold on to something that has to leave us. This is why, I think, that inner serenity is only for those who are brave enough to keep letting go of all the things we are all bound to lose as human beings.

   With Love and Respect, Jon

1 Comment(s):
Peter said...
Beautiful writing Jon. I'm sure that your wise and loving support has played a major role in helping her throughout her difficult journey.
March 17, 2014 09:09:46
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