Once you have figured out what to do when he or she leaves, and once you are into doing those four steps, what next? The answer to this seems to me, once again, pretty simple. I see it to be all about changing your habits of “keeping secrets” and “being blind.”
"Out of the Blue"
Hey, give me a break! Whatever your partner did, it certainly did not come from nowhere. Our partners always make sense. Their behavior made sense. We were surprised. We didn’t see it coming, because we were not informed. We were blind to what was going on in them. We call it “odd” or “out of the blue” just cuz it surprises us. The phrase “out of the blue” seems to signal the “blindness” of the person using the phrase.
I remember being told that an Affair is in many ways a teaching experience, from which the affaired against can learn a) all about trust (which they won’t have for years to come) and b) about what was going on in their partner that they were blind to. I think this is just as true for affairs as for “unexpected” departures.
Story excerpted from Part 5 of my Map of Relationships:
A man called our office on Sunday, saying he wanted to get his wife in to see me. “She is going crazy,” he said. “She wants a divorce after 23 happy years. She says she doesn’t love me any more.”
He made the appointment and sent her in. And, surprising me, she came.
I asked her what the problem was. She said, “I don’t love him any more.” I asked, “How long since you last loved him?” She predictably responded, “22 years.” So much for the “happy 23 years” idea.
Seeking to find out the factor that had kept her from sharing this secret unhappiness with her partner for 22 years, I said, “Perhaps we should tell him.” She almost jumped, “No, no! We couldn’t do that. It would hurt him too much.” And so I gathered his fragility and dramatized pain had kept her quiet all these years.
I asked, “Well, what makes you think of doing something about it now.” And the predictable answer was, “Well, I met this guy who makes me feel like a real woman.”
By the way, she did tell her husband about being unhappy for 22 years. They did get a divorce. After a short happy 5 months, the woman and her new friend broke up. She found the new guy worse than her ex-husband. She decided to come back and try again. Her ex-husband would have none of it. “You lied to me for 22 years. How can I ever trust you now?”
The experience of surprise, I think, is a cue to get to work becoming reliably aware of what is going on in your partner. It is a cue to become aware of your own tendency to blindness and fix it once and for all.
Reading the Tea Leaves
Gosh this seems so simple. Look down into that cup of tea at those leaves! They are telling you something. Look into whatever your partner does or says, he/she is telling you something. Don’t ignore it.
Malidoma Some told me about how stupid are westerners. In his country, if your house burns down, you sit in the ashes for a couple of weeks in a deep effort to understand the message(s) in the fire. In our country we use insurance to pay for fixing the problem and ignore the message. In his country, if you break an arm, you get help reading the message in that fracture. In our country we drop into the hospital, get the arm set, and ignore the message that was sent us.
When someone leaves you, they are telling you something. One thing they are telling you is that it is not easy to get your attention and to get you to listen. They have had to use very extreme methods – leaving you.
I recall being in Glacier Park, Montana during the New York and Washington bombings on 9/11. My friend brought me the news from the Ranger Station to our campsite. During the time it took him to walk that 200 yards, he had time to think. As he told me the news he said, “I wonder what message they were delivering and why they had to use such an extreme method.”
As I listen to people writing me about being left by their partner, their focus seems to rest more on the steps to do, than in “listening” to what their partner is “clumsily” telling them.
So here are some steps:
- Go ahead and be surprised.
- Start reading the Tea Leaves. Something “out of the blue” is a big “tea leaf.” What is the message?
- First, read the message that he/she somehow didn’t let you know that this surprise was coming – you think it is out of the blue. But they knew!
- Read the message they may have had difficulty getting your attention, getting you to listen. They probably still have this problem.
- Read the message that they care enough about you to put up with your blindness and poor listening skills for a long time before they used the extreme way of sending their message.
- Read the message that you have probably learned to communicate in a way that is obnoxious to them.
- Read the message that they really want you to change, and they have some good ideas about what that change might look like. They are not interested in destroying you, just “tuning” you.
- Read the message that they may not be very strong at getting your attention when they think you won’t listen.
- Start learning, and keep at it. (I am still working on this 15 years after I did my first noticing.) I might suggest learning the Art of Pulling.
- Learn that if you aren’t hearing everything regularly from your partner, you are probably at risk! You see, until then, until you are hearing regularly from them, your partner is living “in the Blue.” Read those Tea Leaves!
A Trap for Clingers/Pursuers/Maximizers/the Needy – like me.
Now, reading Tea Leaves is not simple. It takes lots of skill, and lots of practice. And I’ve found a particular problem that hits most clingy, information-seeking people. I am assuming that you have come to this page partially cuz you have recovered a bit from “their walking away” situation. You might call this article, “more reading for those who needed to read What to do when he/she leaves." And so I am assuming that “you want to get a great relationship back” with someone who has demonstrated an ability to walk off. I am also speaking to us, since I have faced the same problems.
I have often found it true that our partner’s, having lived with us for some time and having experienced people like us most of their lives, often a) give out with very small Tea Leaves and b) are often are pretty obscure with what they share – at first. I believe that if you begin to play your cards well, this situation will improve, and will reach its completion with you needing to sometimes shut your partner up cuz they are talking too much, giving out too much data too fast. Takes time.
Back to the Trap. What to do with their tiny Tea Leaves? Well, I believe that your mind will eagerly seek to “make sense” of their Leaves. You will build a theory. You may build many theories. This, I think, is natural. The reason you want information is because you seek “predictive information” in an attempt to feel relaxed with this person. Predictive Information is often carried in the head as theories or models of how people behave, what they are up to, etc. And so I think it normal to build theories. And we would like our theories to be accurate, i.e. to be valuable in predicting what our partner will do next and thus valuable at keeping us from being surprised.
I think it is natural to want to check out your theory with your partner in an effort to make sure it is accurate. DON’T DO IT! While this checking out is natural in a relationship of equals (there it is called Validation), in a relationship recovering from Clinger/Avoider dynamics, I find it very dangerous. I believe the checking out becomes part of the overwhelming behavior, the pushing behavior that you are learning to avoid. When I would check out my theory, it seemed to crush my partner. Not a desirable result.
So here I am, reading my partner’s Tea Leaves, wanting to read accurately, wanting to be helpful, wanting say “did I get it right”, and this very behavior overwhelms my partner. Ugly situation! I was amazed by it. No matter how carefully I shared my “theory,” it didn’t work for a long time.
I think it is critical to let your partner share, and learn to share, themselves at their rate, and not feel pushed or “interpreted” or “analyzed.” Your role is “to invite” only. I think this is the difference between Pushing and Pulling.
And so this means that for some time you are going to build theories about your partner, not share them, learn to improve those theories based on more Tea Leaves. Eventually your theories will become more and more accurate. But then your partner’s understanding of their own behaviors will also be more accurate.