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Monday, December 30, 2013

Miraculous Mondays: How To Move On When Relationships End

Thought for the Day: As the year draws to a close, it is a time for reflection. On Mondays, I have been sharing Miraculous Moments from therapy with couples. Up to now I have shared techniques that I used with them to help resolve their differences and make their marriages work (Psychotherapy: Miracle or Science? &  Can Writing a Letter Save a Marriage?). Today, I will share a technique that I used to help someone move on after a divorce. In light of the New Year, ways to move on when we are stuck seem relevant.

Judy, came to me for an initial session many years ago. She reported that she was depressed, had no energy, cried for no reason and had no motivation to go out or have fun. When I took her history, I found out that 10 years prior to coming to see me, Judy's ex-husband, John, had an affair with and then married her best friend, Colleen. John and Colleen lived just blocks from Judy. She spoke about the affair as if it had happened yesterday. She said it. "still felt like a bad dream and that, eventually, I will wake up and find out it was just a nightmare." She told me that she had kept everything just the same as the day John left.

She cried when she spoke about the pain her friend's betrayal caused her. Judy was angry towards Colleen for the break up of her marriage. She felt John would never have left the marriage if he had not been seduced by Colleen. Judy reported that before the affair, she and John had a happy marriage. Therefore, Judy kept pictures of her wedding and all their family affairs on the mantle in the living room. She kept all their furniture and still slept in the same bed. Even though their marriage had been over for 10 years, Judy was still what I call, "married in her mind." She seemed to think her ex-husband would come to his senses and return.

I decided to give Judy a paradoxical assignment. She was to put everything in her home (except for the furniture) that reminded her of John (pictures, souvenirs, clothing) into a black garbage bag. She was to carry the bag around with her everywhere she went for a week. Even though I knew she might not be able to complete the assignment, I told her it was very important that she do as much as she could, if she wanted her life to improve.

The next week, when Judy returned she proudly told me that she had taken down all the pictures of her husband and put them in the basement. She also had ordered a new bedroom set for herself which would arrive in a few days. She was clearly on the road to recovery.

The absurdity of the assignment helped get Judy unstuck. She had been carrying John and Colleen around with her for ten years. Paradoxically, when I made her unconscious burden concrete, she was able to see that she was only hurting herself. John and Colleen were living happily down the road, while Judy was miserable.

If you are carrying excess baggage, like Judy I hope you will learn from this example and find a way to put down your load and let go of the past. Have a wonderful new year with an openness to new opportunities!

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