How a Relationship Becomes Stronger Through Challenges
Many relationships fall apart after going through major crisis. Listen to this inspiring episode about a couple whose relationship becomes stronger through life’s challenges.
My radio guests, psychotherapists and relationship counselors, Charlie and Linda Bloom, discussed how a relationship becomes stronger when challenged. Their latest book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places, chronicles a ten-year period in which they experienced a series of grueling ordeals that brought their marriage to the brink of divorce on more than one occasion. Unlike many couples whose marriages don’t survive these ordeals, Charlie’s and Linda’s did. Their story is illuminating, instructive, and deeply inspiring, and will serve any couple facing the inevitable challenges that frequently confront committed partnerships.
Check out highlights plus unaired bonus material for episode #308: How Life’s Difficulties Can Help Couples Become Much Stronger.
Why did you write this book about how a relationship becomes stronger through surviving crises?
Charlie: We wrote the first draft in 1992, 26 years ago. We wrote it initially to chronicle a journal of our challenges, and to gain understanding of what we could learn from it. We became aware that others could benefit from our experience. We were unknown at the time, and the publisher thought it would be difficult for us to sell the book. A few years ago, we both felt we were ready to get this book out there.
Linda: For me, there were two reasons I wrote the book. One is it was a profound healing for me to journal and relive the experience so I could have further healing. The other reason was we got some good help at a time that we were desperate, and I feel a sense of obligation to pay that forward to help other couples that are stressed and considering giving up, to inspire them to do their own work and hold the vision that a breakthrough is available rather than a breakup.
Your book is a story of broken trust when Charlie took a job that took him away from the family and broke his agreement to raise the children jointly. Can you share your story?
Charlie: It all began when we were living in Connecticut. I was a therapist, and one of my associates was a psychiatrist who did a personal growth seminar and came back wildly enthusiastic about it. I was reluctant to jump into it, but I noticed how he had changed in a positive way. I eventually decided to do the seminar, and I applied for a job working for the company. They hired me and moved us out to California.
What had been an egalitarian relationship [with Linda] flipped. My job was so consuming, I was only home a fraction of the time. It eventually spiraled out of hand, and our family structure transformed.
Linda was the primary caregiver for the kids and managed the household. I was gone about three weeks a month. We were both under tremendous pressure. We were both maxed out most of the time, and we had little reserves left for each other. I tend to be introverted, and I need to recharge in solitude. Linda is a flaming extrovert, so she recharges by turning to someone else. I had nothing to give.
Linda: Things did improve some that fifth year he worked for the company. Before he left his corporate job, it was still stressful even though I had gotten some good help to keep my attention on myself and stop blaming him and trying to change him. I practiced forgiveness and letting go, so the little time we had together could be as uncontaminated by arguments as much as possible. We learned to make every moment count.
Then, as soon as Charlie resigned from the corporation and came back into the family, our healing picked up speed. We had time to be together to take stock of what had influenced us to come under the influence of the cult.
What life lessons did you come away with from this demanding period of your life?
I learned so much about commitment. I thought I had been strong in commitment, but these demanding circumstances required me to write a whole new scale of commitment.
I learned a great deal about forgiveness and letting go. I had come from a family of black belt grudge-holders. I hadn’t learned much in my family about forgiveness and letting go. But I got some good help from Stephen and Ondrea Levine and practiced forgiveness meditation so that I wasn’t marinating in resentment all the time.
I learned the importance of re-entry. When Charlie would return from a trip after six days away, we made a strong effort to have the first possible moments that we could connect with each other in a meaningful way to catch up on all that happened when we were apart. It was an important piece of building a bridge to connect us because back them we were living two parallel lives because we were apart so much.
I learned how important the sexual pleasure bond is to keep us connected in the small piece of time that we had together. It was the splendid sex that was glue that held us together when we were stretched to the max.
I learned how important it is to get professional help from someone who knows the territory and who is a compassionate change agent when a relationship is hanging by threads.
I learned that that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. I didn’t like the lessons. I fought them; I hated them; I resisted them. But they were good for me. I grew up, I grew stronger, more resilient, and more grateful for the simple pleasures like sitting down to a meal together, a leisurely conversation, and watching a movie together, because there was a long period of time when we didn’t have some of these very simple pleasures to enjoy.
What were some of the things that allowed you to hang in there when things were so rough?
Charlie: The beginning of our healing and recovery was when we were attending a weekend couples retreat. Linda volunteered us to sit in the middle of the group. I was able to finally see and hear how my behavior and actions were affecting her and the kids. I saw the price everyone was paying for this and what I was missing and could never get back again. It was like five years hitting me at once. It cracked me open emotionally. I got into therapy and did a lot of work on myself.
Linda: I’ve always been strong in vision. I held fast to my vision that we had been very happy at one time and this difficult period would pass and we could be happy again one day. It’s a good thing I didn’t know how many years it was going to take to get past the hard part, because I would have been completely demoralized. Some things it’s better we don’t know.
How did your relationship become stronger at the broken places?
Linda: When we teach our courses, we always tell our students that crises are underrated. What we mean by that is as long as you have to go through a crisis, you might as well use it and not waste it.
When the life you have known is shattered in pieces, due to a broken agreement like an affair, a difficult medical diagnosis, being downsized from your job, a serious financial set back, or some kind of a difficulty with a child, our life as we have known it is gone.
We are challenged to pick up the pieces and reassemble them in a whole new way, a more creative way, a way that suits us even better than the life we had before. Out of the crisis we lived in for literally years, we co-created a life we have been enjoying for decades.
Looking back we can appreciate that we could not have had what we have now without going through those ordeals.
What kept you together? And when should couples call it quits?
Linda: If there’s a little burning ember under the ash, that’s enough to keep you together. We always had that. Sex alway worked in our relationship. Sometimes it was the only thing that worked for us. So, know what’s really working in your relationship.
Real deal breakers include: abuse without treatment, infidelity that is chronic, or a serious values clash.
Learn more about Linda and Charlie’s workshops and buy the book here.
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