Part 3 of a series on the Dark Night of the Relationship, what it looks like, why it often shows up during midlife, and some resources to support you in moving through this critical stage of your intimate relationship. Read Part 2 HERE and Part 1 HERE. Today I will share my own experience of the Dark Night.
Causes of the Dark Night
To begin, I want to warn the reader that the Dark Night of the Relationship does not always end in a happier, healthier, reconciled relationship. For many who identify this stage in their relationship, seek help and do the difficult work, the end result (and the hoped for result) may be a healthier, happier, loving, and mutually supportive relationship – renegotiated to meet the newly identified and claimed needs of both parties. For those who do not identify this stage and do not seek support, the end result will either be divorce or silent misery. For others who identify this stage and seek help and support, the most life-giving thing for all involved may be a termination of the relationship, this proved to be the case for me.
How we got there
I want to preface this sharing by saying there are things about my marriage that I will not share here. I will also not throw my ex under the bus by presuming to know his side of the story. As such, I can only speak from my own perspective and out of my own particular viewpoint. That being said, hindsight is 20/20. I can look back now, through the eyes of wisdom and experience and identify two primary issues that, from the beginning, doomed the outcome of our marriage.
1) I believe that both myself and my (now ex) husband were looking for someone to complete us. As I mention in Part 1 of this series – relationships are doomed when established on this foundation. For us, a clear pattern of co-dependency was established and when I began to seek help for these behaviors and began to retrieve the strands of my co-dependent behaviors, the shaky foundation upon which our marriage was built began to collapse.
2) We had nothing in common. Yes, we shared a few similar core values and have similar philosophies of parenting (which we still do together quite well), but our day to day interests and passions could not have been more different. Over time, and with some work and parenting decisions that were made, we ended up living two completely separate lives. There was nothing shared, other than our children, to tie us to each other. Further complicating this was the fact that we were so incompatible in certain areas that this tended to overshadow any connections that might have been able to be established.
Naming my part
With the co-dependency issues and lack of common interests, the foundation of our marriage was already on shaky ground. Compounding this were the following issues that I brought into the marriage that exerted their influence, thereby undermining the potential success of our marriage (Of course, I was not alone in contributing to the end of our marriage, but I can only take responsibility for my part.):
- Unhealed wounds from childhood
- Unresolved issues of co-dependency
- Not knowing how to name and claim my needs, set healthy boundaries
- Inadequate tools for managing grief, anger, disappointment, loss, needs not being met
- Inadequate tools for managing anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness
- Issues of low self-esteem
When the bottom began to fall out on a relationship that didn’t have much of a bottom to begin with, I sought help. Through 10 years of therapy, spiritual direction and intense personal development, the final outcome was arrived at. The horse that was our marriage was dead (and I accept my part in this death) and there was truly no way of renegotiating a relationship that could be healthy, let alone mutually loving and supportive, so we decided that divorce would be the most life-giving decision for both of us, and our children.
Yes, divorce sucks, and the journey has not been an easy one. In fact, I do not wish divorce on anyone. But, what I can say is that after three years of moving through this process – from decision to now, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Through on-going support and personal work, I feel more content, more whole, more confident in naming and claiming my needs, setting healthy boundaries, etc. I have terrific tools for dealing with loss, disappointment, anxiety, sadness, fear and feelings of loneliness. I know who I am and I know what I want. And, I honestly believe our children are happier and healthier. Yes they (we) grieved, and things aren’t always easy, but our children will never doubt that they are loved and cared for and that they will be supported in getting their needs met.
Dark Night Work
The moral of the story is that Dark Night work requires us to identify and transform the behaviors, attitudes, unhealed wounds that we brought into the relationship so that we are made whole and complete. Only then can we meet at the negotiating table with our significant other (who has presumably also done their work) and determine the future course of the relationship. For those who are able to negotiate their differences, find common ground and a shared desire to be together, the end result is a relationship better than what you ever could have imagined for yourself. For those who choose to renegotiate through divorce, the promise is a healthier and happier self and tools through which they might be able to find mutual love, support and interdependence with another. For those who don’t do the work, the outcome is continued unhappiness and pain.
Lauri Lumby is working with Ted Balser to bring Dark Night of the Relationship support to couples. To learn more call Lauri at (920) 230-1313 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.