When I was a kid I saw my dad cry once, when his grandmother died. He was a strong father that could throw a pop fly up into the clouds, handle his liquor, close a deal, and entertain the “unlikable.” I never witnessed anyone not liking him, never heard a bad word spoken about him. He was someone I feared if I broke a rule and went against, but I was never scared of him. He gave hugs and kisses. At times, I can remember discussions of money and finance in the family household taking place, but I was never fearful for our family’s well-being. I trusted his leadership of our house. I can’t think of anything he did wrong, any reason to blame him—anything to tell a therapist. He was and is a good father.
Now, as a father, I sit here and think about how many of the positive traits I saw in my dad don’t exactly align with mine. My son has seen me cry countless times—with “Toy Story 3” playing the agitator in the most outlandish epic family moment. My son has seen me act “weird” with alcohol. He has seen me lose jobs through firings and layoffs. He has seen people not liking me (even hating me on social media) and the emotional weight it played on me. He has seen me risk it financially and he’s probably questioned whether to even ask for 5 dollars to buy a video game if it put us in the slightest financial risk. But, perhaps the worse was when he saw me lose his mom.
In my mind, when I “lost” Kiersten, I wanted to present a strength to him, but to also let him know I was hurting. That it was okay to hurt. That eventually, I was going to be fine. But, the reality was he too was dealing with it on his terms. He didn’t seem to necessarily need me to explain where I was in my thoughts, he didn’t need to see my cry, or get angry—he just wanted a dad to be around when he wanted a dad to be around. So, except for a few slip-ups when I became emotional in front of him, we stayed off the topic of “mom” for a majority of our three-year separation.
In my mind, I also had a role I envisioned him playing. He would look at me with great awe. He saw my emotional strength and clarity of vision, he excused my momentary lapses of misplaced emotional outbursts, he prayed for me at night that “dad would win back mom.” In other words, I envisioned a “Disney kid.” And, every time I mistakenly used that Disney frame of reference he fell short, but not because he did anything wrong. He was doing everything right for himself. He was finding his own balance to all of this AND his side as well included a woman he loved dearly.
Is/was avoidance the best policy? Again, I’m no expert in what works for others but here is what I know. My son knew what I thought of his mother, he knew I still loved her. He knew I was sad. So, if he knew those things to be true for me why bother reminding him? So, I choose to focus on the “fun.” I separated my fatherhood from husbandry. I opted to play more than preach and laugh more than teach. My one stipulation I told him was,
“I’ve already been to school and I graduated. I’m not interested in doing school again. I ask that you take care of that for yourself. I’ve got the rest covered.”
In other words, I asked him to be responsible for the areas in his life that he could affect. I just wanted him to know that I had “the house stuff” under control. I don’t believe that I ever truly convinced him to not worry, but I made it a point to identify where I didn’t need his help.
We found common ground in sharing movies together and (without saying) staying away from movies that hit too close to our home life. Years later we would learn what those movies were and laugh that we had the same idea and sensibility to avoid them.
I also opted to not “kiss and tell” about any dating I was doing. I never spoke about any prospects for any long-term relationships either. I never had women stay the night in my house when he (or my daughter) were present. While he knew I would go out, I never meshed the two worlds.
I learned quickly that by him saying, “Want to watch a movie tonight?” meant that he wanted some father time. It was an arm around the shoulder moment that was good for both of us.
Just like I did, I’m sure there will come a day when he (as a dad or husband) look at what I did and purposefully chose a different response, reaction, or even movie for the moment, and that’s okay. I won’t take it personal, it will be his story.
-- Scott Hathcock
This is my own observation. When a husband has an affair on his wife or chooses to “leave” his family, it is treated very differently than when a wife and mother does.
When we started going through our separation, I found that most people felt that my scenario was too foreign for them to wrap their brains around. I’m not sure if we’ve been programmed so much so by movies or previous generations to believe how the stories should unfold, but the standard formula looks something like this:
Insensitive husband leaves wife, surprised wife carries a torch for the husband while taking care of the children (for a majority of the time), eventually she rediscovers her womanhood (added to the accepted timeline of healing during the 1960’s), dates a younger barista/ yoga instructor/musician/or other sensitive ponytail man boilerplate (added to the accepted timeline of healing during the 1980’s), eventually finding true love from a new man her own age or older who “gets it.” Roll credits.
What you do not get schooled in is this…
Highly-sensitive wife leaves highly-sensitive husband, surprised husband carries a grounded torch while taking care of the children, momentarily he fulfills the dreams of other married men by “being a kid in a candy store” and dating all types of women ranging in ages and life experiences. Eventually, the reality sets in that this path is not his. He goes inward and waits for the love of his life to return. Roll credits? Nope, no one would allow that.
Most “audiences” can’t handle and process the unfamiliar, yet we all live in the middle of unfamiliar. I wrote earlier about becoming less judgmental of other couples during my own learning process. It’s a difficult practice because in some ways aren’t we always comparing our lives with others? Unintentionally, we say things like,
“Didn’t your child walk as a one year old?” or “Read at this age?”
In marriage its,
“We have sex two to three times a week.” Or, “My wife goes out once a week to be with her friends, doesn’t yours?”
For the most part, these types of questions and comments aren’t intended to be an inquisition on the other parties, that person or persons are just stating what is “normal” in their household. It’s possible too they are also trying to figure it out for themselves.
For the 18 years of our marriage, I cannot count the amount of times we were told we were “the happiest couple” or “so good together” or “so lucky to have found one another.” These are wonderful compliments and, for the record, I don’t disagree. But, when news comes out publicly that “we” are now separating, it is unfathomable for most on the outside. On top of that, we’ve also reversed the standard male/female roles and I am nor is she playing our “roles” correctly.
So, what is our audience to do?
Again, these reactions are all very common and history has somehow burned these into our psyches and supported these responses through our pop-culture. But, what if the reasoning for a separation is to grow consciously? To retrieve that which has been taken from your soul, find balance again, learn to live in moments of joy rather than time their frequencies, and just be.
Back in 2015, I actually wrote about it in response to the news of two Hollywood celebrities calling an end to their marriage. Here’s what I wrote.
Much to do was recently written about the way Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced the end of their marriage, it ended due to a “conscious uncoupling.” Let’s just say the reaction to that rational wasn’t all nice. “Conscious uncoupling” has become the latest punch line to many a late show night set-up. I admit I was there too at first with my reaction to “conscious uncoupling,” it seemed like just another Hollywood spin about an out-of- touch culture. I’ve come to rethink that.
Here is what was released to the press.
It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.
Gwyneth & Chris
Regardless if it is truly Hollywood spin or not, I believe phrasing their separation as an “conscious uncoupling” is a very adult, courageous, loving and enlightened thing to say. The very art of striving to be “conscious” is an accomplishment in itself, right? Shouldn’t our goal in our lifetime be to raise our consciousness and live a more enlightened life for ourselves so that we may serve each other better?
Words like “divorce” and “separation” have been marred in our culture. These words are engrained in our brains as children to be fearful of, to avoid. Perhaps it is in our psyche of avoidance and ego that we choose to only face this fear when things get so bad in our marriage we can’t even stand it. Plagued with a history of song lyrics, movie lines and literature come the additional emotional word association tagalongs of uncertainty, doubt, and stress. This is the word culture we’ve created.
So, let’s change it! Rather than make fun of Gwyneth and Chris’ turn of a phrase, let us applaud a new vernacular that doesn’t carry with it a stigma of fear or negativity. If I’m not mistaken a “conscious uncoupling” is a good thing because it implies that two consenting adults are awakening (positive, right?). They feel that they can serve their time here on Earth better as human beings if they “uncouple.” The definition of “uncouple” means to simply disconnect, to become disconnected. To me, it’s no mistake that the term disconnect also implies an energy shift. When something is broken or not working in the field of electricity, the first rule of thumb is to always disconnect the object from its source of electricity before you even start working on it. Why? So, you won’t be shocked and worse yet killed. It is the smartest, non-reactionary thing you can do. Why should it be any different with what we teach our kids about why mommy and daddy are no longer sleeping in the same bed? To consciously uncouple you are simply raising your awareness of the relationship you are in and accessing what is consciously happening with you (not him, not her) so you can better serve your life’s purpose.
Do all people who are awakening have to become uncoupled to become conscious? I hope not, but I’m a hopeless romantic. The more I read and study Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” or Michael Singer’s “The Untethered Soul, the Journey Beyond Yourself” the more assuredness in knowing that we are all in the midst of a great shift and awakening, so there should be plenty of like-minded souls on the very same path to love-- we should be in good company.
If you are reading this and you have children (specifically, highly sensitive kids) I can’t say for certain, but they may already know this lesson coming into our world. They are naturally more attuned. The sooner we can change our fear based cultural vernaculars to words without emotional baggage that inspire great change, the better they will feel and our new world will be. After all, the journey of self-discovery, becoming conscious and enlightened should be wished for with everyone you meet, that’s just how good it is.
As I reread this now, it strikes me that I wrote this at the start of my separation. I’m struck by how optimistic I even sound knowing what I was going through. But, notice I never mention what I was currently going through, perhaps that was for my own good and self-preservation. I didn’t want to write the word “divorce” or “separation” as it directly related to me, to us. It was fearful to think about those words, they hold a lot of emotional weight.
Now that I’ve actually gone through it, do I still agree with what I wrote almost 4 years ago? I would have to say I do. Would I if the ending of my personal story were different? Probably not, but I also probably would not have ever written it if I knew it wouldn’t be.
Continued from "Here's Why"....
The phrase “Is it worth it?” comes to mind not because it was so much said to me by observers but implied. And my enlightened response of “Is that so?” didn’t really answer the question. So, I went with, “I think so.”
When one goes through this process of an overseen separation (if they are fortunate enough) they will immediately find themselves surrounded by a team of supporters made of family, friends and even strangers. They range experienced with their own first-hand knowledge, their own first-hand/second-hand/third-hand knowledge of the spouse or partner in question, their own observations of the relationship in question, and some even with their own agendas. But, they all share a common love for the “victim.”
I learned very quickly during these times that social media is NOT your friend. In fact, in my case it only served as a fuel for a majority of these friends to try to convince me I needed to move on.
From my friends, I found that “move on” included a range of possibilities.
During the first few months, Kiersten and I learned very quickly that not only would friends and family choose sides, but Facebook added a whole new thread to the tapestry. Social media general account settings become strategic moves. What is public? What is for friends only? When to tag her? When to block her? Who are my Facebook friends? Who are our shared friends?
What made matters worse was that she and her new-found love were aggressive in their domination of the social media space. And, why not? For them it was for them a shout-it-from-the-mountain-top acclamation. Yay for young love! Unless you are sitting as the former love, then I would be asked the question, “Are you sure about this? Is it worth it?” (I did find out later on that it wasn't comfortable for her, either, to shout from the rooftops because she didn't want to hurt me further but felt pressure in her new relationship.)
What makes it worse….no matter the social media self-preservation algorithm one has concocted, there will be always be a breach in the emotional security wall and friends and family will (with only good intentions) exacerbate this issue. Their intentions are justified out of love as they don’t want to see a loved one hurt, but what is wrong with occasionally believing in the what-you-don’t-know-can’t-hurt-you approach during times of being emotionally raw?
I would hear things like,
“Did you see that thing she posted on Facebook? Instagram? Wrote on her blog? On her website?”
“Did you see that comment he made on her Facebook? Instagram? On her blog? On her website?”
My typical response was, “No, I did not.” I would always hope my response would end the conversation, but undoubtedly it was followed by,
“Well, she said, he said, they said, this photo showed,” and so on.
Their recollections and retellings would immediately affect me physically manifesting in a warm internal wave of nausea-lite symptoms. At this point, I could have responded with,
“Oh, do tell me more.”
But, once again I found my strongest response to be, “Is that so?”
Over time, I found that a majority of these updates would become less frequent, but they never went away completely. I personally did not find it hard to avoid and simply not look on-line for any updates in Kiersten’s life. It was a conscious decision that I have never regretted.
Perhaps the reason why most of my support group found it nearly impossible not sharing their on-line findings with me was that they were truly concerned I was not “moving on.” To them, and again I am speculating here, they wanted me to be done and not pine for what was. I was by no means a saint. I believe it was close to six months in my new life when I did in fact announce to Kiersten in a text that I was “moving on.”
How was I “moving on?” I will defer to the previous list, numbers 2 and 3. By this time, with the advice of my council I was now getting set-up and registered on just about every dating website/app. They included Match, Zoosk, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, and Tinder. Though each platform offered a different user experience, I did come to find quickly that they commonly shared the same 30 women in a town of 70,000 population. In other words, I was not finding it easy to find a suitable date with long term potential for me. And, when I say “suitable,” please understand that I am not suggesting that the women of Flagstaff are not great women. I just knew what I had lost. And, for me, no one came close to filling her shoes. I would suggest it’s an almost impossible task when you look at what we had gone through during our marriage add to that two teenage kids. The best way I can describe it is for eighteen years Kiersten and I had been working on a huge jigsaw puzzle to together. Suddenly, she was not at my side and she has taken her puzzle pieces with her. Now, I find myself looking for someone who will potentially like the “puzzle” I have been creating and has pieces that will fit the missing spaces. I guess over a long period of time the spaces one has to fit with new pieces becomes less constricted by the edges of the past, but I liked the puzzle we had built. I was unwilling to throw the old puzzle out and start over or make a lot of concessions to a new puzzle piece holder. It is in this philosophical approach that I would respond to friends and family when they advised me to “move on” that I was “open to the possibilities but just hadn’t found the right pieces.”
“You’re being too picky,” was a common response.
My response, “Is that so?”
Eventually, I did cast my dating mile range beyond the city I resided. And, with greater populations came more possibilities, but in the end, it was simply not in my cards.
Speaking of cards, a brief history. Around September 9th of 2009, at the age of 36, Kiersten started to spiritually open up through a series of events. While we won’t dive into her own personal journey of becoming a medium in my retellings, I will say that it was a pretty eventful year in our marriage of discovery. Although I had always been highly intuitive, I even turned it up a notch. Whether you actually believe in fortune tellers, card readers, palm readers, psychics, mediums, angels, God or any deity, we all have this thing called intuition. Whether you really listen to yours and trust it is irrelevant to this story. I did listen.
Since 2009, she/I/we had always been told that we (as a married couple) would be together into the unforeseeable future, at some point would renew our marriage vows. That’s why on that horrible evening in April 2014 when she told me she was leaving it just didn’t sit right. I remember thinking that this decision would not be a forever one. More so than from past readings and such, I had that gut feeling called intuition. The thing about intuition and even prayers being answered is that the actual timing of this prophecy/miracle is never made very clear. It is human nature to want most things to happen as quickly as possible, especially if they are good things. But, time plays the precarious role in life of being both on your side and not. This is where my lesson of patience comes to play a major role in my actions. After more than a year passed, I really settled settling into the idea of just floating and not setting a watch to my life. I simply determined that eventually I knew how this love story would end, I just didn’t know the timing. I made peace with that.
There were a few windows for restarts as well (in the form break-ups from him), but with each failed possibility, I kept the faith. I didn’t worry about how many, though my circle of friends and family would remind me. These occurrences would especially draw out the question,
“Now Scott, is it worth it?”
Over time, I learned my best reaction was to keep these moments quiet between Kiersten and I because eventually she would inevitably return to the cycle of abuse she was now calling home. I also learned I was not really helping anyone—friends, family and our kids much by sharing these moments. It made it easier to just keep it to myself as I didn’t want to be branded as the “boy who cried wolf.”
Despite the number of possible openings for us to start again, I also didn’t lose faith because I also could not get an image out of my mind. In fact, the image was memory-like in its clarity and was permanently burned into my mind. It was so clear that I had even wondered if I had seen it in a movie. Perhaps I had seen it and replaced the movie actors in my reimagining with my own family of four. For a few months, I even sought out to find which movie had tortured me so that I could simply dismiss it and let that dream die, but I never found it.
For the sake of keeping somethings sacred and private, I won’t go into the details and location of what this future scene entails. I will only say it is the beautiful day that Kiersten and I, along with our children, will ceremoniously renew our wedding vows. I do not pretend to know the timing of this specific event, as I’ve stated, I’ve learned to be patient.
Ironically, here is some timing that did come as a surprise. Upon Kiersten and I officially deciding we were FOR SURE going to get back together—meaning moving back in as a family and going public with our relationship—we ran off with one another for a quick getaway trip. This was not us “eloping” as we had never filed anything during our separation, we were/are still legally married. It was time to just get out and have some fun.
We had a great few days together. I could also see in her a “joy” that had been lost over the past years. She was silly again. She sang. She danced. Being together again was both familiar but new at the same time. It was exciting and comfortable. I could still see some of the pain and sorrow in her eyes at times, but I could also see that her true light was returning. We sometimes even refer to these three years of our separation and her being away as “her captivity in North Korea” (a 30 Rock reference to Jack Donaghy’s wife Avery Jessup, 26th episode of the sixth season). Needless to say, it was a fantastic trip. As we are driving home, we stopped at a P.F. Chang’s restaurant just north of town. Still making googly eyes at one another and not really still believing we were where we were (figuratively speaking) in our lives, she says,
“Hey, what would you think about getting rings, again?”
“Seriously? Ok,” I responded, but at the same time knowing that P.F. Cheng’s was NOT the location of our renewing vows nor did any of this feel familiar in my predictions.
“Yes,” she said excitedly, “Where can we go around here to get rings?”
Kiersten and I were kids when we met. We were both living in Charlotte, North Carolina at the time. She was fresh out of Ohio University and had landed in Charlotte essentially because it was a straight shot down I-77 South. I had been out of college now for a few years, living in a house with a bunch of guys, and working for a professional speaker and company that trained professionals in public speaking.
I got a call one night from a friend and she invites me out to join her and some of her friends at Vinnies’ Sardine Bar. I decided to go last minute even though I was going alone and not being surrounded by my wingmen. It was the best decision. Kiersten was one of her friends joining us that evening. Our shared friend had invited two friends that evening, Kiersten and some other dude. By arrangement, it looked as though Kiersten was with him, and I was with our shared friend. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. There was just something so captivating. Right now, I even struggle to put words on paper to surmise what that “thing” is that so beautiful and immediately drew me in. All I can say is that it is simply “Kiersten.”
Over cheese sticks and beer, we talked that evening. Very quickly we learned that neither was with the other of our friends. When we parted that night from Vinnie’s I remember standing in the parking lot with her and struggling to let her go and say goodnight.
Upon arrival back at my house, my roommates inquired where I had been. Without hesitation or even preconceived thought I said,
“I just met the girl I’m going to marry.”
Fast forward four months later, Kiersten and I are sitting in my parent’s den on a Sunday afternoon. We are looking to leave soon and take the seven-hour drive back to Charlotte when I lean over and whisper in her ear,
“Can I please tell them what did?”
She just laughs at me knowing that she had kept it a secret to her friends and family, but now I was about to make it public to my parents. She gave me a “yes” nod and smirk that said, “I knew you couldn’t keep it a secret for long.”
I began, “Mom…. Dad, Kiersten and I have been looking at rings.”
My announcement immediately drew cheers of support and even an “it’s about time” from my dad (keep in mind we had only been dating for four months). The excitement in the air was palpable. Before we knew it both sets of grandparents and even an aunt and uncle were on their way over to the house to celebrate. Kiersten and I were sent to the grocery store to go buy Champaign, but for what? Because we had looked at rings?
On our return to my parent’s house, as we made our way up the front stairs, and with a bag of groceries in my arms, I stopped her.
“Kiersten, will you marry me?”
She said yes. Now, we truly had something to celebrate.
We decided that same day to not drive home that evening. We also determined that we needed rings and so we both asked, “Where can we go around here to get rings?”
As it turned, out the only jewelry store in town had sold two generations of Hathcock men our wedding rings. It was a perfect place. And, for a majority of 18 years the rings served us well. Two or three months into our separation, we hit a financial lull. Although the rings symbolized a history, it was clear their monetary outweighed their emotional value at the time and so we sold them—both wedding rings and Kiersten's engagement ring.
Now, almost 20 years later, we needed new rings. There was an outlet mall just one exit down with a jewelry store. Here we were again looking at rings. But, this time something snapped in both of us. Why would we ever spend or make payments on the kind of money we dropped on rings when we were young? So, after realizing these symbolic rings of our new commitment were going to costs us upwards of thousands of dollars we left that jewelry store and headed to a nearby Kohl’s. Two-hundred and fifty dollars later, we found ourselves wearing new silver bands and she got the “diamond” shape and size that she wanted.
Sufficed to say, this occurrence along with the actual carat weight, cut, color and clarity had not played into my future vision of us renewing our vows. But, this moment had also not interfered with its future potential to unfold either. We simply just let it happen. It was a wonderful moment we shared in time together just off I-17.
Now, with rings on our fingers there wasn’t much anyone could say to our faces; although, some of our acquaintances were shocked to learn we were actually married. Honestly, after year two, most of my circle of support had pretty much given up on me anyway by then. I was truly blessed to have such a network of support and advisors. I can’t thank them enough. In the end, my own intuition had clarified my course and I even learned to muffle the noise of naysayers and online chatter. I have learned that everyone knows both everything and nothing. You simply have to trust your own gut or you’ll get lost in chasing what is right for someone else.
I have also learned in life that nothing is a “done deal” but more of a process. I will do my best to watch that dashboard and keep myself in check. I have learned to be less judgmental of others in relationships too. From the outside, you just never know what is truly going on in a relationship. They are complicated, but what isn’t that is worth it.
Scott put pen to paper to share a little bit about his journey through our three-year separation. I'm so thankful and grateful for his willingness to be this vulnerable. Love you, Scott.
The story goes like this…
There was a Zen master by the name of Hakuin. He lived in a village where he was praised by his community in having achieved a pure life. Enter a young Japanese girl of the same village. One day, her parents discover she’s hiding her pregnancy. They were a prominent family in the village and served as the main food store owners. Ashamed, they demand that their daughter confess and identify the man that made her this way. Knowing it would only hurt the young fisherman to reveal his identity, she remained quiet at first. Ultimately, the pressure is too great. Rather than telling her parents and the village the truth, she reports it was Hakuin. When they confront the Zen master with her accusation, his response is simply, “Is that so?”
Once the child is born, it is delivered to Hakuin to raise. By this time, Hakuin had lost his reputation with the villagers—now vilified, he is no longer celebrated. Neither seemed to bother him. He accepts the baby as his own and cares for the child as if it’s his own.
Eventually, the young Japanese mother can no longer bear the weight of her lies and being away from her child, so she tells her parents the truth—the the name of the real father. The mother, father, and the girl all rush to Hakuin to ask for forgiveness. They apologize at great lengths and ask to have the child back.
Despite raising the child for a year, losing his reputation, and receiving ridicule from the villagers, Hakuin was willing and responds only with, "Is that so?"
I share this only to say that in the past three years of my personal journey and separation from Kiersten, I found great solace in NOT reacting and taking it personally. Of course, it was difficult at times. She said some harsh words to me, to my face. I would listen and with verbal or non-verbal cues respond with, “Is that so?” Intuitively, I somehow knew this was HER journey. I felt as if I even knew how the story ended. Once, I even confidentially stated that to her—but in that particular moment—that declaration only fueled a stubbornness within her, so I learned. She needed a good listener and a friend, not a consultant.
As time passed, I would find her at my door. These visits would be under the premise of dropping or picking the kids up, but they usually allowed for a bit of lingering on her part. And, in these moments she would exhale, give me a sweet smile, and through no-verbal or verbal cues, tell me how she was doing. I knew my place was just to listen- not to fix. I saw her struggling with things that had happened to her in new relationship that I recognized as abusive. It was hard to witness. I remember her asking me if I ever thought she had too much eye contact with men, because she was being told that does. Being made to feel like she was doing something wrong. I told her no, that’s not who she is. She’s a kind, open-hearted woman but not a flirt. In addition to dealing with losing her, it was hard to watch the woman I love becoming a shell of herself due to an abusive relationship she didn’t understand.
Finding this Zen space did not happen for me overnight. In fact, I would suggest I spent the first 4-6 months operating out of a very raw and emotional space. I was reacting. I was working from a headspace of mostly “taking it personally.”
Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” started me on this path.
The Four Agreements are:
These rules have a way of resurfacing in my life; they are similar to when you exercise and are reminded to work on your core. To me, these agreements make up the mental core.
I can by no means say I have mastered any of them. But, for the purposes of addressing the common question I receive from friends and family who have read or heard about our love story (and it truly is a love story)…
“How are you (meaning Scott) able to take Kiersten back?” or “How did you manage?”
…I defer to the second agreement. I never took it personally.
But, I can also honestly say that because I also tried my best in our 18-year marriage to not break the other three agreements around issues of integrity and intentions when it came to her specifically. I do feel like you could take the second agreement too far if you set out to do harmful things to others maliciously, not caring for others in general, and then becoming offended that you are not personally liked by those people. So, one does have to have a working moral compass when abiding to the agreements; otherwise, it’s like playing with chess rules when your opponent is playing checkers.
When Kiersten surprised me with her new direction in life, I also did not immediately go to this centered way of thinking to process what she was saying. I was a raw, emotional mess. Her news shocked me. It felt as if I had entered a completely new universe and was now living in a body I was familiar with but a life that was unfamiliar and strange. I couldn’t grasp the “why” of it. Why this? Why now? Why us? Why him?
Because I was asking her these questions, she was giving me hard-to-hear answers. Some of her answers flowed out like personal attacks on me, some were more introspective, and some came from a place of matter-of-fact reasoning. To her, they all had to be convincing since she was changing her path in life.
There have been many times in my life when I need to justify a decision I’m about to make or have made. The higher the stakes and choice of my decision impacting others, the greater the sales pitch. It’s human nature. We’ve all done this. That inner monologue we all have is a great motivator for action in ourselves; the more self-convincing we can do betters the chances we get started at doing that thing.
Over the course of months, as she tried “selling” me on her new path, I learned to distance myself from the more negative justifications (Is that so?) and provide support to the “child” within her that needed a supportive “man” role. Before I continue, I may need to also inform you that just four months prior, Kiersten I started coming to terms with the fact that she had been sexually abused by a male family relative as a young child. With that realization, I knew there was a chance that I would take a few proverbial “hits” if something I said or did triggered that “little girl.”
I say all of this because intuitively I felt as if I understood. Despite the personal pain it was causing me to potentially lose the woman I loved, I knew it was a process of healing I was witnessing. In the big picture, these were chapters of self-discovery and healing in her life book that she needed to experience and it had very little to do with me.
Were there lessons, healing, and improvements that I needed to make? Of course, there were. I’ll tell you what they were.
I could go on; the list continues to evolve, because I do, too. For the most part, the improvements I needed to make one could consider cliché when it comes to relationship breakers. Only from experience and life come lessons that move the needle forward and continue self-growth. But, for many of these, you don’t ever actually stop working on until you are in the ground. There will always be areas for improvement.
I recently read another book called “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. In the book, they have the reader create a dashboard that measures (0-5) the fullness of one’s life in four main categories—love, play, work, and health. Essentially, in designing a life you will make unknowing sacrifices to one of these four pillars at any moment in your life IF you are unaware that they exist and can be measured. A balanced life is a happy life and one with complete fulfillment and all 5’s in each category.
Let’s look at a car. If cars were built without gauges to tell the driver they had no fuel, were almost out of oil, the tires were running low on air, or there’s little to no coolant left, you would have a lot of bewildered, surprised and possibly angry drivers sitting in cars that don’t work. Throw into the mix a surrounding condition that exists outside of the car (like weather) and you’ll have further levels of complexity generating even more confusion. With a car, you need a dashboard that helps you understand what you are doing to the car. And, with life, at the very least, you need an understanding of a theoretical dashboard that brings awareness.
Do you know what also brings sudden awareness? A divorce, a DUI, being fired, and a stroke. With Kiersten’s latest news, I was about to check the box in my lifetime for 3 out of 4 of those. While a DUI had personally never happened to me, it would have not been without effort, so for arguments sake, let’s say all four boxes had now been checked. If that’s not an awakening slap, then I don’t know what is.
The irony is that in my dashboard “love” reading, I would have felt it had always been steady in the 4-5 scale. The sudden announcement from Kiersten that she now wanted a divorce should have killed me, but instead I went inward.
Again, I didn’t know about this data as I am writing this today. But, as I look back on this time in my life and with the lens of this dashboard—love , play, work, and health—I can guarantee that I had too much weight in the love area. I had lost focus in managing the play, work, and health pieces. I had become too reliant on Kiersten in helping me stay “happy.” She did an awesome job of that for years as she is a pleaser by nature, but maybe her work on me had resulted in a deficit in her scale of fullness.
With her news, I woke up. I started reading. Two books found me—The Four Agreements and The Untethered Soul. Both books allowed me to “escape” from the day-to-day of still living under one roof with her but at the same time stay emotionally grounded while being spiritually elevated. I also started meditating, walking in the woods, and briefly stopped drinking. I started listening to my body. I noticed that when I had more than two glasses of wine I could feel the weight of depression add a layer. I started bringing fun experiences to my children that we could share. These experiences didn’t even have to cost money. I made it a point to just be present for them and keep smiling. Eventually, I was strong enough that I no longer worried about what the future brought but instead created this sense to just float. To float; however, did not mean you couldn’t manifest good things in life, so I also got really good at manifesting opportunities. Those opportunities included all the areas of love, play, work, and health. In other words, I got my mojo back.
But, in the end you’ve asked some variation of the question, “How did I manage to stay with Kiersten through all of this?” You can clearly see it was a mix of borrowed things I had read and perhaps experienced through observation of others. I created very little of this, only absorbed it. There really is no simple answer.
Well, I take that back. There is. I love her.
And, to borrow from someone else’s teachings, I know what love is. Thank you, Forrest Gump.