This is so common. Oh, I feel sorry for everyone involved. I think I have seen this situation 6 times this month. A person calls in, “their whole life has changed”, “their dreams are shattered”, and “they don’t know what to do.” Their partner of 5 years, 14 years, 33 years, has announced they are leaving, or they have packed up and gone, or they have found someone new and now want to cut the ties with their “older” partner. The person calling feels surprised, betrayed and hurt.
How do I start?
Well, the first thing I do is listen, perhaps mirror, always pull and validate.
I may introduce them to what I call the Diversity Tool (All People Make Sense All The Time) while I am seeing their point of view. My client makes sense feeling hurt and surprised and betrayed.
At some point, when they seem to shift into curiousity about “WHY???,” I bring in the Diversity Tool, again. Their partner also makes sense. Their partner makes sense in leaving. My client frequently doesn’t like this. I validate their dislike of these thoughts, while I keep on reinforcing the idea that somehow their partner makes sense in leaving and in leaving in the way they did. This is all just PreValidation of the missing partner. No matter how my client wants to go, I don’t let them escape “their partner’s validity.” I will not let them "invalidate" their partner in my presence. I believe I do them a disservice if I let them.
Eventually my client typically gets serious about the “why” and I support this.
I invite them to start guessing about what has been going on that might make their partner want to leave.
Usually my client begins by drawing a blank. They start saying “I don’t know.” I have a sign in my office to stop this. The sign rejects “I don’t know” and suggests people replace that phrase with “I think..” or “I guess that…” or “I imagine that…” (This is the best sign I have ever had!) The sign only helps them share more thinking which I listen to, mirror, pull, and validate, etc.
When they begin to run out of guesses about why their partner left, I introduce them to the idea of “Where is the real answer?
It is in your partner, right. What do you think kept you from hearing what was going on in them?” This begins a whole new line of thinking about communication. It almost always brings to the surface awareness that their partner has been/is quiet a lot, and that my client has been blind to what is going on in their partner. I validate, “Well, no wonder you don’t know what was going on in them. They didn’t tell you.” (Remember, I am not trying for me to understand what happened with them. I am trying to develop awareness of the disconnection between them. If I were to ask a partner about this, the partner would often say, “I told it over and over and over. But was never listened to.” The bottom line is that communication didn’t happen. It only happens when a) someone speaks and b) someone listens.
Once we have arrived at the idea that the departing partner didn’t speak much,
I then invite my client to think about it. (This is the typical problem of Reliable Membership.) I hand them the rule about quietness: “People don’t talk for one reason and one reason alone – they don’t feel safe to talk.” Then I ask, “What kind of things did you do that might make it unsafe for your partner to talk to you?” And I mirror, pull and validate.
Usually this is enough for my client and they begin to shift into wanting to know what to do better. I tell them that I have an answer that they might consider. Then I share the paper on “What to do When He/She Leaves.” This gives them a lot to chew on, and yet feel validated all the time.
This is how I start.