As a couples counselor, I spend my life meeting with couples that are in terrible pain with regards to their relationships. I have been a counselor for over 35 years and have developed a knack of not bringing my work home with me so that it doesn’t interfere with my personal life. It can be a difficult situation if you don’t, because of the negative impact on yourself and your loved ones. The commitment that I have made to my own family is that I will not bring work home. This means I will be present in the moments that I am home, and share in the lives of my family. Sometimes, this balance is not so easy and this past weekend, unfortunately, I could not live up to that commitment.
While relaxing with family on Saturday, I had a client who called me that began to talk about some really incredible loneliness in her life. For the purpose of this article, let’s call her Sophie. What made this so difficult was that she is a senior citizen approximately 70-years-old and has been married to her husband, let’s call him Paul, for over 50 years. Their relationship, even though long-standing, has been filled with mistrust, betrayal, and emotional infidelities. These issues over time had Sophie feeling very alone in her marriage.
Sophie and Paul had come to see me a number of years ago, and we worked hard to establish an emotionally connected relationship. We were quite successful in changing the nature of the relationship, and bringing several years of apparent change. However, when Sophie called me on Saturday she had just discovered that Paul was actually deceptive during the counseling process, and had been having multiple affairs the entire time, during and afterward.
Sophie’s question to me is should she continue in her marriage or should she walk away? She feels that Paul is not committed to being faithful or to truly having an authentic relationship. I have spent the majority of my career teaching people that love can last forever, that an emotional connection is possible for anyone! But here I am listening to her pain, and asking myself – can I really promise this elderly woman that if she and her partner stayed together they could achieve that lasting love? Or if she left, would she find that love of her lifetime?
Being in my 60s myself, I am very aware that we all have a limited amount of time to really pursue relationships. We are obviously in the last or third chapter of our lives, and we are keenly aware that we have more years behind us – than in front of us.
The question that she has to wrestle with now is, would it be better to just accept a mediocre marriage OR should she take the risk of ending the marriage. Perhaps it is better not to be alone but live as roommates. I could not guarantee that she will find someone at her age. This really has put my beliefs to the test. Can I really guide her to put her life at risk this way which could possibly have her living the rest of her life alone?
I spent the weekend struggling with this issue, and I decided that with all my knowledge, skills, expertise and experience put to the test, I would come through with flying colors! What I could not let go of over the weekend was the memory of my own prior marriage. How that time in my life, created for me a painful, real life-altering negative self-perception. It had me feeling mostly “not good enough” for my wife, my family, friends, my clients, my life’s passion. Every day just feeling like I am getting by. My conclusion? Sophie should never accept a mediocre marriage, where pain and loneliness are the realities of her day to day. No matter her age, she should absolutely pursue a life of happiness!
What should never be acceptable for anyone is to live a life in which you don’t feel good about you. All the research and information that I have learned through my work as an emotionally focused therapist says that we need so much more than that. It doesn’t matter how old we are. If you had to choose between a lifelong relationship filled with loneliness and despair and not feeling good enough OR having 3 to 4 years of living a life in which you feel loved, I am willing to bet that most people would say it’s more quality over quantity.
What also comes to mind is a personal experience when I was working as a volunteer usher at a box office. A fellow usher and I became quite friendly and we worked together on similar shifts. One day he shared with me that he was getting married again soon. Now, this is a man who was in his 80s, and he said it was his fourth marriage! Yet he finally felt that his life had meaning. When I asked him does he feel sad that most of his life was spent being in unhappy marriages? He said no! He doesn’t even think about that because what he now has in his presence, just eliminates all the pain and anguish that he felt years ago because having love is all that matters.
When you have true love in which you know that you have someone in your life who has your back that’s the best thing that happened to you why would you look backward, and not enjoy your present and future? If he died tomorrow he would define his life as a success because he had someone who truly loves him for who he is.
Whenever I think of that it brings tears to my eyes and I recognize that what I’m doing is helping couples to discover what’s important and what to focus on to ensure that you’re living a life that brings you joy, love, and fulfillment. A life in which you are living with someone who makes you feel as if your life has meaning. Sharing it with someone who truly makes you feel fortunate and so very lucky that in this whole wide world of people, the two of you have been able to find each other. I am grateful for the moment I took this weekend, to reflect on this question. I am relieved to find, that underneath it all, I believe in the power and beauty of love and the lasting impact of emotional connection.