We are delighted to announce the publication of our 4th book. That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Got Stronger at the Broken Places is unlike any of our previous books. It is a joint memoir covering a ten-year period of time in which we experienced a series of challenges that threatened and nearly destroyed our marriage. The book provides a vivid glimpse into the struggles we endured and how they ultimately transformed our relationship and our lives. It reads like a compelling novel yet contains some very powerful teachings that apply to nearly all committed partnerships.
Charlie: In September, We will have been together for 50 years, 46 of them married. We were kids (21) when we moved in together. Not surprisingly we went through some very rough times, particularly in the early days. We beat the odds but not without going through a fair amount of struggle and suffering. Through a combination of hard work, determination, good help, and some good luck, we managed to avoid the separation and divorce statistics, but we did have a couple of very close calls.
We learned a few things along the way that served us to keep our family together and go on to share what we learned with others, something neither of us ever imagined we would be doing when we first met in 1968.
Looking back over the difficult years, it seems like a miracle that we managed to resuscitate what at times was very nearly a mortally wounded relationship. In retrospect, we both recognize that it was more than good fortune that enabled us to come through our ordeals without losing ourselves, or our marriage.
The biggest factor in the process was that we both, even during the most painful times, were willing to learn from our experiences and put in corrections that served to help us stay on track, and to get back on track when we had lost our way. We became more able to recognize our mistakes and the behaviors that contributed to the breakdowns that occurred between us. This enabled each of us to assume a higher level of responsibility as well as the power to influence our relationship for the better. We also learned that getting help when your relationship is in serious trouble not a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of intelligence.
In our work with other individuals and couples across the country and internationally, we’ve learned that most of the lessons that we’ve learned are universal and apply to people everywhere. We’ve shared these teachings in our writing, seminars, intensives, and in our counseling sessions. And now we’re sharing them in our fourth book entitled, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Got Stronger at the Broken Places.
This book differs from our previous books in that it is extremely personal and describes the process of our descent into the realm of relationship hell as well as the steps involved in climbing out into a recovery beyond what either of us had dared to hope for. The book is written in the form of a joint memoir with each us writing in mostly alternating chapters in which we chronicle our behaviors as well as our inner feelings.
We both believe that this book is by far the most powerful of all of the books that we’ve written and contains wisdom that is embedded in what reviewers have characterized as “a story that is as compelling and riveting as a page-turning novel.”
What follows is a modified excerpt from our book that will provide you a sample of the content and style of our writing. That Which Doesn’t Kill Us will be available for purchase on Amazon on April 9 and can be pre-ordered after March 25. If you’d like a signed copy of the book sooner, it can be ordered directly through our office by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 831-421-9822. The cost is $16.95 plus tax and shipping.
Charlie: On the verge of my fortieth birthday, I was going strong and fulfilling my life vision. I had a loving marriage, three beautiful children, a large comfortable home, a good income, and work that I loved. I was on the fast track to success, leading personal growth seminars all over the country and enjoying the good life. The thrill of the attention of being in the spotlight, and the excitement and stimulation of the training room, made the days and sometimes weeks at a time that I was away from home seem worthwhile. Outwardly, everything looked great. Inwardly, it was a different story.
I told myself that I was one of the fortunate few who had the opportunity to do this cutting edge work and that, of course, certain sacrifices did have to be made. Unfortunately, Linda didn’t seem to appreciate the “realities” of our situation. She would all-too frequently tell me what it was like for her and the kids with me on the road so much of the time. My ability to silence Linda’s complaints with my defensive justifications kept me from recognizing that my “success” was coming at a price that was much higher than I had realized.
My response was usually to encourage Linda to “be strong”, to use this experience as a growth opportunity and “be a good example to the kids.” I would also occasionally acknowledge and appreciate Linda’s efforts to hold down the fort in my absence. I said these things mostly in an effort to coerce her into doing her job more effectively and stop complaining to me. I sometimes helped out a bit when I was home and did some child care in the hopes that these contributions would make a difference. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. In my mind, Linda was unwilling to “let go of her resistance” to our situation and over time I began to lose patience. I became more critical and upset with her for failing to “get with the program”.
Linda’s ongoing message was, “It’s just not working,” to which my usual response was: “Handle it. Can’t you see I’m busy?” I wasn’t just busy, I was gone, often as much as three weeks a month and barely present even when I was home. I wasn’t there to get involved in our kids’ arguments, help them with their homework, attend their swim meets, go to school meetings, or read them bed-time stories like I did before we moved to California.
On the Saturday before my fortieth birthday, it all finally came apart. In a final effort to save our marriage, Linda had arranged for us to attend a couples’ retreat in Santa Cruz. I grumbled, but she made it clear there was no way we were not going. I agreed to go primarily to indulge her, but I also knew that it was time. I couldn’t continue to put off what I saw was the inevitability of having to face what had become an unavoidable confrontation, even if it had to be in public.
There were twenty couples at the retreat, and as I checked out the other group members, I concluded that few, if any of them were in the kind of trouble that we were in, at least they didn’t appear to be. It felt extremely uncomfortable for me to be in the student’s seat in a workshop. Stripped of the insulation of my facilitator role, I felt vulnerable, exposed, and unprotected. When it came our turn to share, Linda almost immediately dissolved into a pool of tears and before I knew what was happening, the facilitator invited us both into the center of the circle. I obediently followed Linda and we took the two seats that had been set up facing each other. At the request of the facilitator I grudgingly reached out to take Linda’s hands. I wanted to be anywhere else in the world than in the middle of a circle of people who would soon be witnessing the pain, anger, and shame that we had been dancing around for God knows how long. After what felt like an excruciatingly long pause, we were invited to speak. Linda went first.
Looking into my eyes, Linda spoke of her loneliness, of her fear that we might not make it, her concern that the kids weren’t getting the time that they needed with me, and the exhaustion that she was beginning to feel crushed by. I’d heard it all before yet for some reason this time it was different. Having others bear witness to her pain enabled Linda to open up more fully. There was something about being in the presence of caring witnesses that enabled me to hear her deeper feelings as well as her words in a way that I hadn’t previously heard them. For once, I was listening, really listening to Linda, rather than trying to “fix” her and tell her what I thought she needed to do.
I heard her as if for the first time, and it didn’t feel good. It felt horrible. No wonder I hadn’t wanted to let her words penetrate into my awareness. Somehow I knew that the truth from which I had been distracting myself and denying, would be overwhelming if I really let it in. In a last ditch effort to keep her words out of my awareness I made a feeble attempt to rationalize my position, defending myself and justifying my actions, even though I heard the hollowness in my own voice as the words came out. The facilitator heard my defensiveness and gently, slowly, restated Linda’s words looking straight into my eyes. I felt disarmed. The walls I had so carefully constructed were beginning to crumble and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Then to put the icing on the cake, the other group leader invited the men in the room who had been in my shoes, to describe their version of my scenario, and to speak about what they had experienced when their day of reckoning finally came. One by one they spoke, many through tears, of how fortunate I was to be in a position to salvage my marriage and family before it was too late. They spoke of the visits with their children, how different it was than when they were living together. They spoke of how they wished they had known then, what they had to learn the hard way, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t have gotten divorced. They spoke of how empty the pursuit of success and wealth is compared to the experience of living with a loving partner in a loving family.
I had known these things on an intellectual level, I had been teaching these values for years, yet somehow hearing these men share their stories was like hearing it for the first time. It went straight in to my heart and cracked it all the way open. I experienced shame for my hypocrisy and guilt for the pain I had caused others, and grief for the lost opportunities for connection that I would never be able to replace, all at once. I became overwhelmed and flooded with emotion, as if a huge dam had burst. The images of the missed and lost experiences of my life flashed before my eyes. It was too late to watch our daughter take her first steps, too late to comfort our son when he fell off his skateboard and knocked out his tooth; too late to hold my other son when nightmares awakened him in the middle of the night. All this time I had been struggling to straighten out Linda, trying to get her okay with a situation that wasn’t working for her. I was finally seeing that it wasn’t working for any of us, including me.
My focus had been so much on Linda’s experience and that of the children that I never saw how much I had missed in the process. It felt like I was experiencing all the years of denied losses simultaneously, condensed into one very long moment that seemed like it would never end. I felt myself drowning in pain, down for the count. I saw how disconnected I’d been from the people I said I loved more than life itself. I saw that their complaints, rebelliousness, non-compliance, and arguing were all cries for help, cries from their unmet needs that had gone unattended. I had been rationalizing that I was doing my part by building my career to provide income and security for the family. And of course there was just enough truth in that justification for me to buy it and to sell it to others. The problem was there was another huge truth to the equation that I was not including, and that was the cost of the so-called benefits.
I broke down like I never had before and collapsed, wailing like a baby, my sobs coming from a place deep within myself that felt bottomless. I cried for the lost unretrievable moments, the grief and the guilt. I cried for the countless others who like so many of the men in this room shared this experience. But I was also crying tears of gratitude, or relief, of joy, as I kept hearing the same phrase being repeated over and over again in my mind: “It’s not too late. It’s not too late….”
After what seemed like hours, but was in fact minutes, I looked up at Linda who also had tears streaming down her cheeks and through the tears she smiled at me. In that moment she looked more beautiful than ever. During a brief period of silence we drank in each other’s presence completely unaware of the other forty people in the room. I spoke first. I don’t know exactly where the words came from, but there was absolutely no question they were true: “It’s over,” I said. “It’s over.”
Linda smiled knowing that this time, it was really true. But we weren’t out of the woods yet, far from it. What was over was just the beginning of the first stage of my recovery from the grip of work addiction. What I didn’t realize was that the process that was yet to unfold would require more from me than any challenge that I had ever undertaken in my life.