Janelle sat in the chair across from me and said she wanted to talk about her recent divorce. "I feel bad about my ex-husband," she said. "Since the divorce he's been really depressed. I worry that he could even do something crazy. His father killed himself years ago when his wife left him."
"Why did you get divorced?" I asked.
As Janelle began to speak, it wasn't difficult to realize that she was warming up to a long and involved story.
I interrupted her. "Would it be fair to say that you divorced because the two of you didn't know how to love each other?"
Pause. "Yes, that would be fair to say."
"So you've already thoroughly proven that you don't know how to help him, haven't you?"
She smiled. "Yeah, I guess that's true."
"So if you can't help him, why think about it? Why fuss about something you can't do? It will only make you unhappy, and it won't help the other person."
"Does it make any difference that we share custody of two children?"
"A little. Just because you have children does not change your inability to help your husband, but you are always responsible for loving and teaching your children. It's a guarantee that they notice his depression."
"Yes, they've both talked about it."
"They feel bad for him and want to know what to do."
"Janelle my dear, your children are afraid. When a parent is unhappy, children feel bad, because they can feel that the parent has no love to give. That frightens the children, because they so badly need the love of their parents. They're kids. They're supposed to be getting love, not worrying about loving their parents.
"Your children also feel guilty. They've learned—as we all have—that if somebody close to us is unhappy, we are at least partially responsible. In other words, your children can't help blaming themselves for your ex-husband's unhappiness. They feel a burden of responsibility to help him, which is wrong. Young children are not supposed to be taking care of their parents."
"So what should I say to them when they talk about his depression?"
"Tell them the truth, which we so rarely do with children. You don't really tell them why your husband is unhappy, do you?"
"You think you're protecting the kids and him, but you're really hurting the kids by withholding the truth. They can handle it. If you don't tell them the truth, they'll blame themselves, and they won't trust you, because you weren't truthful. So tell them that your husband is unhappy because he just hasn't felt loved all his life. And emphasize that it is NOT their responsibility to love him.
"Tell them that your marriage broke up because both of you didn't have enough love. And now you're doing what you can to bring more love to them—to the kids. Tell them that your ex simply isn't capable yet of loving them—he's too unhappy himself—but that he's doing his best. They want to know the truth and to hear some assurance that you're trying to love them better every day. That's all they want."
We need to let go of the people we are not capable of loving—at least for now. Why? Because continuing to attempt the impossible just discourages us. We need to find more Real Love, and eventually we'll discover that we become capable of loving many of the people who were previously impossible for us.
Focus on the people you CAN love. Practice loving them better and better, and the joy in your life will steadily grow.
Want to learn more?
Show your children that you're trying to love them better.