Reader Question: My soulmate and I met when we were first out of college. We had a brief relationship (about a year), but he moved away and we ended things, not really even keeping in touch because it was too painful. We recently reconnected on Facebook. He's getting divorced and my marriage has been less than happy for the last 5 years. Could this mean that we are meant to be together, and could it be a sign I should give this soulmate relationship another chance?
Slow down, Nellie! It’s nice to reconnect with old friends, but it doesn't necessarily mean the two of you are “meant” to be together.
Let’s back up and start with you.
The real question here is lurking just beneath the surface waiting to be discovered and addressed. Why are you unhappy? Please don’t say it’s because your husband does this or doesn't do that. That approach throws away your power to choose, criticizes someone else for not being who or what you think they should be, and blames them for the outcome. You hand over control of your own life, then try to take over control of someone else’s. It never works and usually makes you even more unhappy.
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It’s a common misconception when a marriage is less than blissful that changing partners is the solution. While that may work for a moment, you’ve only glossed over your unhappiness and are carrying it unresolved into any new relationship. When the excitement of newness wears off, the old unhappiness will pop up again, and you will find yourself saying things like “I just keep creating the same relationship over and over.” or “Why do I keep attracting the same kind of men who end up making me unhappy?”
It’s not them - It’s you.
Your husband can’t “make” you unhappy. No one can. Your personal happiness has very little to do with who you are with or even what circumstances you are in. Until you understand from the inside out why you feel unhappy, you are doomed to keep creating the same relationships and same situations and same circumstances over and over and over and...you get the picture. We all know someone who appears to be in circumstances where they should be over-the-moon happy and they’re not. It’s not about circumstances.
You are ready to be happy when you are ready accept responsibility for your own happiness and stop looking for it in someone else. You and someone else can be happy together, but they can’t make you happy or unhappy. Your hope for a happier relationship, whether with your current spouse or someone new, can only come from within you. Changing partners will not fix it.
So back to you - What would need to be different in your life for you to be happier? Change yourself first – your own activities, habits, perceptions – and reframe where you can.
What do I mean by “reframe”? Let’s say your husband has an annoying habit that drives you bonkers and you think it’s “making” you unhappy. (Trust me: You have habits that send him round the bend, too, and now would be a good time to ask yourself how you want your annoying habits addressed by him.) Maybe he leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. Instead of griping, loudly or silently, reframe and say to yourself, “These dirty clothes are on the floor because I have this otherwise wonderful man in my life. If the clothes weren't there, he might not be here either.” Would you really want him gone if there wasn't the prospect of someone else to quickly step into the void? After all, you’ve stayed for at least 5 years that you characterize as less than happy so he must be doing something well. Maybe he’s a good provider or a good dad or loves the same movies. Or maybe you are just using him so you don’t have to be alone. Ouch!
Reframing does not mean you suddenly love that he leaves his clothes on the floor. It’s like forgiveness. It’s not that you are condoning it. You are just releasing its hold over you. It means you are self-soothing by changing the way you look at it, injecting some gratitude and maybe some humor.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~ Wayne Dyer
How do I know all this? My own darling hubby had a habit of leaving every cupboard and drawer open in the kitchen. Made me crazy. But here’s the funny thing. Even though I didn’t say anything to him, as I reminded myself that I was only faced with open doors because I got to share a kitchen and a life with this man I adore, he gradually began closing them on his own at least some of the time. At the same time, it stopped bothering me as much. The “problem” that had caused me so much unhappiness dissolved.
Our unhappiness with another person isn't about what they are doing or not doing. It’s the story we tell ourselves about it, our own perception, our own judgment. When we release that, many problems evaporate. It is a misconception that changing partners will solve the unhappiness problem. Your happiness or lack of happiness, comes from within you regardless of your circumstances. And remember: Marriage isn't meant to make you happy. It’s meant to make you married. You bring your own happiness.
So let’s look back at your question. There are a lot of holes in it and filling these gaps can help you now. Here are a few things for you to consider:
- Why was this previous relationship brief? Moving away isn't necessarily a reason to end things. Had the relationship already run its course?
- Why didn't you keep in touch? Again, distance by itself isn't a reason.
- Why was it so painful? Was it painful to both of you or just you? Was it painful to you because you didn't want to end things and he did? Was it painful because you wanted him to stay and he wanted to go? Was it painful because one or both of you doubted whether you could sustain a long-distance relationship? Was it painful because he wasn't ready to commit to you and wanted to keep dating others? Why was it so painful?
- Why do you think he was your soulmate? Or more to the point, why do you call him your soulmate and not your husband? Of course, he was one of your soulmates AND so is your husband AND we are all human soulmates. We can have more than one wonderful romantic partner in a lifetime as well as many other types of soulmate relationships. Sometimes the “one who got away” takes on almost mythical fairytale characteristics. Especially if things aren't happy in the present, we are susceptible to dreaming of what “might have been.”
When people divorce, it’s normal and natural to reach out to friends from before the marriage. Your whole life is being recalibrated. You didn't say whether he simply reconnected with you and stated his own facts, or he specifically asked if you are available and interested.
He’s in a divorce and you are unhappy. Sadly, that’s often a formula for failure. Give yourselves the gift of time and space so each of you can sort through your own stuff before entangling with each other. You are both in transition and may just be passing through each other’s lives again or you may be embarking on a different kind of friendship. Think ahead: Would you like to be friends from now on whether or not you become a couple? If so, conduct yourself in ways consistent with that preferred outcome. If it blossoms into romance later, you will both be in better shape to nurture a new relationship.
The two of you have undoubtedly changed a lot since you were last in touch. Maybe you are more in sync now. Maybe you are less in sync, but still like each other. You might even discover you were wise to part company. You may even be romanticizing what you briefly had together as an escape to your present unhappiness. The possibilities are endless and not all of them end with the two of you as a couple. Refrain from jumping to conclusions or jumping into a relationship.
“Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ paraphrased from George Santayana
You are both vulnerable and both in transition. Your feelings are shifting, sometimes moment by moment. They may not be reliable. When we are hurting or on wobbly ground, we naturally want to be soothed and can read too much into things.
Find your own happiness first, then bring it into your relationship, whether that’s to rejuvenate and revive your current marriage or to end it and start fresh. Figure out why you are unhappy and your marriage is unhappy, then decide what you want to do about it. Leave your former beau out of the question. He’s not the key to your happiness. You are.
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Anne Wade is Teacher, Writer, Mentor, and Coach for courageous women in midlife and beyond who want to disrupt their own status quo and design life on their own terms, even in turbulent times. She has developed the Becoming Found process of going within to find and address the inner barriers we have all inadvertently built up against love, happiness, health, wealth and any other desires of our hearts. Teaching women to unapologetically shine like a superstar and live their legacy is Anne’s mission. You can follow her on her Facebook page “Anne Wade – Becoming found” or join her “Becoming Found” Facebook group.