One of the concepts I developed and describe in my book, Contemplating Divorce, is what I call "Unconscious Polarization." This is a phenomenon that is potentially quite damaging to relationships wherein two partners in a relationship work against each other in an attempt to find systemic balance.
An example of this is a spender and a saver. The spender thinks he can spend more because the saver saves. When the spender spends, the saver has to save more. When the saver saves more, the spender feels he can spend even more. This dynamic can go on and on until each person is at the polar opposite of the other. They constantly work against each other, instead of working with each other. Each partner tries harder to convert the other by going deeper into the behavior.
If each would just try to come back toward the middle and away from the extreme, their partner would probably stop going to the opposite extreme.
Couples can live like this for long periods of time and I'm sure this unconscious pattern has been the cause of many a divorce. But marriages don't have to end that way.
A couple who is willing to work together to examine the inter-relational dynamics, become conscious of some outdated beliefs or behaviors and put in the effort to change those patterns can ultimately create a successful working relationship.
As is the case with Susan Pohlman and her husband. This couple was on the brink of divorce when they had to go to Italy to entertain clients. In both their minds and hearts, the marriage was over. Once this obligatory trip ended, they were ready to face the demise of their relationship.
But something quite unexpected happened instead.
Rather than go back home, this husband and wife decided to sell their house in the States, quit their jobs and obligations at home and take a year off to live in Italy and travel the countryside.
What happened as a result was that their marriage was rejuvenated. Instead of working at odds against each other to raise their two children and live their lives, they began to be a team again. They fell back in love with each other and they were able to work through some of the hurdles that had threatened to split them up.
Whether your marriage is on the brink of a break up or not, I recommend this hope-filled, heartfelt book.
Here is more on the book in an interview with the author:
Halfway to Each Other by Susan Pohlman
Q. Tell us about your book, Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home.
A. Halfway to Each Other is the true account of the year my husband, Tim, and I decided on a whim, to quit our jobs, sell our Los Angeles home, and move to Italy with our two children rather than go forward with a divorce. It is the story of how a seemingly crazy decision turned into the adventure of a lifetime and saved our marriage.
Q. What compelled you to take this adventure with your family?
A. This is the unusual part of the story. We weren't planning on taking any adventure. As a matter of fact, unbeknownst to Tim, I had already started the divorce process by securing a lawyer. We were at a critical juncture in our relationship, and as much as the thought of breaking up our family was devastating me, I felt that our time together had run its course. I was in the midst of devising an exit plan when Tim asked me if I wanted to accompany him on a business trip to Italy.
So, one day in May of 2003, while hosting about twenty couples from Los Angeles on a jaunt through Florence and Santa Margherita, Tim made a simple statement as we walked along the Ligurian Sea. His four words, "I could live here" began a two day, heart wrenching conversation that ended with our signatures on a year's lease to a furnished apartment in Genoa-Nervi.
While we had no idea how to "fix" our relationship, we did know that the life we were leading was not working. This trip opened an unexpected avenue that we could try. With both of us in our mid forties, we were ready for an adventure. We embraced the risk and did not look back. If it didn't work, at least we would have the peace of knowing we tried everything.
Q. How did your children react?
A. Katie (14) and Matthew (11) were stunned, of course, but were on board with the idea after a few days to process it. We did not give them the option of changing our decision, but they became partners in the adventure and all of the complex preparation needed to make such a move happen so quickly.
The reality of it, however, hit home when we arrived in the sea side village two months later. As we drove up the mountainside past high rise apartments that were interspersed with older villas, I saw two disgusted faces that said things like... "Where are the lawns? There are no basketball hoops. Heck, there aren't even any driveways!" And finally "don't tell me this is it. A seven story high rise? It's not even a house."
But once inside, they changed their minds. It was a magnificent, open living space with floor to ceiling windows that treated us to an expansive view of the sea.
Q. How did your relationship with your husband Tim begin to change while you lived in Italy?
A. It began to change immediately. Suddenly we were back on the same side of the fence. Our children were displaced, and we needed to set up a home. The humor quotient alone was healing as we researched and problem solved. Opening a bank account, signing up for cable, satellite TV, internet, phones ... the list was endless. These things are confusing enough in America, but navigating all of it in a foreign language was crazy!
Once we were settled, and the kids started school, we had days to fill together. We wandered aimlessly though time, explored the colorful coastal towns and villages, and remembered when our goal was simply to be together, not to be together to accomplish goals. There is a big difference. Letting go of shoulds and musts allowed us to embrace life as it unfolded. This newfound trust in surrender and the embracing of adventure together provided natural bridges to intimacy. We discovered that, underneath the layers of those many years, we were still the same two college kids that fell in love. Replacing old, hurtful memories with exciting new ones was instrumental in moving forward.
Q. How did your relationship with your kids begin to change while you lived in Italy? How did family life change?
A. Our life in LA was over scheduled. It was something we saw but we didn't give ourselves permission to stop, as if somehow our children would miss out on some great opportunity if they were not signed up for this or that. Taking care of basic needs and spending time as a family became secondary to the scheduled needs of the day. Long hours at work, driving all over town, sports practices and games, volunteering at school, grocery shopping, taking care of the house, decorating, gardening, going to the gym, etc. Family life became goal oriented rather than people oriented. The stress that surrounded such a lifestyle was destructive for us. The exhaustion, the lack of time needed to nurture each other, the disjointedness of family life: all of it took its toll.
Though we didn't comprehend the full extent of what we were doing at the time, our decision allowed us to step away from all of these social pressures and into a life that revolved around each other rather than material needs. I did not expect the intense feeling of liberation, and I was startled by the unexpected joys of unscheduled days.
Our family dynamics evolved in a positive direction. Tim and I didn't know any more about the customs or language than the kids did. For the first time in our lives, the four of us were on the same playing field. It was good for Tim and me to share leadership with Katie and Matt, and it was good for the them to see us as human and fallible. Our sense of friendship strengthened as we traveled together and experienced new things at the same time. Power struggles were few and far between as Katie and Matt developed a stronger sense of selves as they were afforded greater autonomy with the ability to use public transportation safely and effectively. They did not have to rely on mom and dad for transportation anymore.
We found great joy in watching Katie and Matthew blossom before our eyes. Both their senses of independence and interdependence flourished side by side. WIthout other friends and countless distractions they turned toward each other for emotional support and camaraderie.
Q. What lessons have you been able to incorporate now that you are back in the US?
A. Re-immersion was tricky, but we continue to keep a sharp eye and heightened awareness of the role that culture plays in our lives. We are no longer mere bystanders but active gatekeepers of our home. We love our American culture, but that doesn't mean we must invite all of it into our home. We have simplified our lifestyles and our social lives, and pay more attention to faith and family matters. Less has never been more! I continue to enjoy a peaceful heart, a grateful spirit and a happy family.