I had lunch with my girlfriend Kayla last week. She had just received word that her divorce had finalized. A year ago, her husband of 15 years told her “out of nowhere” that he wanted a divorce.
A year ago Kayla’s husband had sprung this divorce request upon her and told her he already had a condominium picked out for himself, that he had a visitation schedule planned for the kids, and that he was leaving that day.
Kayla said she hadn’t even known her husband was unhappy. She was understandably devastated. Interestingly, she only realized after the divorce was final that she had been desperately unhappy during most of her marriage. “I didn’t even know it,” she said.
So it goes.
Smart, successful, competent, great women are in complete denial about major things going on in their lives. Why do we women do this?
Denial is a powerful coping tool. It’s an unconscious psychological mechanism we use to shield ourselves from painful realities.
Sometimes denial is useful. Sometimes it is not. For Kayla, denial was working against her.
Staying busy can aid denial.
Kayla had a business to run, two kids, several employees, and a household. In fact, her husband did nothing to help with the kids lives. He didn’t participate in their activities, planning or care. Kayla felt overwhelmed, overworked and over burdened. She was too consumed with the daily demands and routines of her life to realize there was unhappiness in the relationship with her husband.
Helpful questions for relationships
• Do you have anything in your relationships that is bothering you?
• Have you spoken to someone directly about these issues (your significant other and/or a therapist)?
• Have you asked very specifically for what you need?
• If you had to pick something you might be in denial about in this relationship, it would probably be _________________. Fill in the blank.
Power point: The last point usually helps the person engage in something that they haven’t yet tied to their feelings.
I have found that we women use different methods to avoid connecting with their unhappiness. We shop, over function, diet (or overeat), or have one too many glasses of wine. Eventually numbness sets in. We lose connectedness with how we are really feeling. Like a doctor that can put a clamp on an artery to stop the blood flow, we can cut ourselves off from our challenging feelings. This isn’t good.
Challenging feelings are red light indicators that something bad is happening or that boundaries are being crossed. To take care of ourselves, we have to connect lovingly and compassionately with our struggling selves.
I am so happy for Kayla. She now has an adoring boyfriend who comes over to her house, fixes things and helps out with all of the things her husband didn’t. She is sad to let go of the the idea of who her family was, but she is forming a new life, one where her children can see her thriving and getting her needs met.
Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago.
She also blogs about home, work, life and love