Monday, April 15, 2013

Imaginary man in the imaginary chair

My former husband John is not only my ex-husband but he died so there is no more communication with him. When we were married he had affairs—more than once. The repetition of that horrible betrayal is what led to the demise of our marriage.

Recently I learned that it seems nearly everyone who knew him at the time knew that he was cheating on me. Perhaps I was the only one who didn’t know. I was the fool. The first incident was well over 30 years ago, but sometimes it still hurts, causes a wrenching pain deep in my gut that can still bring bitter tears.

The word “closure” really means nothing to me but I’ve been struggling with some hurt that recently resurrected and I wanted to deal with it constructively. So I dug back to my counseling training and worked through a Gestalt type of conversation with him, talked with the invisible John, the man in the empty chair. I told him how disappointed I was in him, how much he hurt me, that I had loved him, been faithful to him for over 30 years of marriage, and never deserved his unkind treatment of me. I had attempted such conversations with him in real life and recalled the exact words he had said, so I knew what his response would be.

"It's not about you, Donna. I hate my f***ing life. I hate all this f***ing responsibility. I just needed a break. I’ve got needs. No one ever thinks about my needs. I don’t know why you have to think everything is about you.”

And now I’m able to talk to him calmly, with strength and conviction. I’m able to get through his anger so that for once he hears me. I say, “No, John, you’re wrong. A lot of it is about me. You were not operating in a vacuum. What you have done hurt me deeply. It humiliated me. The bond of marriage—our marriage—that was so important to me became meaningless to you. I loved you and never, ever would have considered doing to you what you have done to me. I feel betrayed by the person I loved most, the person I trusted most. I no longer know you, no longer recognize the person without morals who have become. And you obviously don’t know me. Because if you really knew me, you would know how devastating this has been for me. My life changed forever because you dismissed me as unimportant, because you deceived me, because you thought so much more of yourself than you did of me. So, no matter what you think or what you say, what seemingly logical explanation you conjure up, it is about me.”

I have much more to say, but that’s the crux of it. I’m sure he would have much more to say too, and in real life I wouldn’t have had much of a chance to say anything coherent because he would have just shot me down with his characteristic intense anger. But in a funny way I got to tie him down in the imaginary chair, slap duct tape on his mouth, and make him listen to me. For once maybe he heard me. And I can tie him down in the imaginary chair and do it again whenever I want to. I've got all the power now.

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