Living on Purpose: Love who I am now
Vail CO, Colorado
About six years ago, a friend of mine cut her hair. Her long, curly, ’80s hairstyle became a short, updated look. Although the new style was quite flattering, her husband said he preferred her hair the way it used to be. Her hair has since grown back and her husband likes it once again.
“Perhaps he’s more comfortable with what my hair looked like when we first met,” she said.
This memory came to me as my client Sonja talked about her relationship with her husband, Don.
“We argued all day yesterday,” she said. “It’s been building for a couple of weeks over little things. He continues to say that he’d like me to go back to the way I was.”
“What do you think that means, ‘the way you were?'” I asked.
“He talked about how I was when we first met seven year ago. Things were different then; we were younger, we didn’t have kids and I was more interested in going out partying than in doing yoga.”
She continued, “A lot has changed. Besides starting a family, I have more responsibility at work. I also have new interests, some that Don doesn’t understand or like. When we were dating and then newlyweds, we did a lot of activities together.
Maybe he’s threatened because I have broadened my interests.”
“How do you feel about it? Could you go back to the way you were?” I asked.
Sonja replied, “When Don first asked me to go back to the way I was, I tried, but it felt fake. I wondered why I couldn’t change back and make things easy and fun again, but I wasn’t that person any longer.”
“Let’s create a metaphor for what’s happening between you and Don,” I said.
She thought for a minute, playing with the idea in her head.
“I am a butterfly who has just emerged from my cocoon and Don wants me to go back to being a caterpillar … but I want to fly.”
“As a butterfly, how do you feel in the relationship with Don?”
“I feel he is most comfortable keeping me in a cage,” she said. “In the beginning, the cage felt safe to me, too. As I emerged from the cocoon, I had wings and wanted to fly … but there wasn’t enough room in the cage.”
“Where is the cage now?” I asked.
“The cage is far behind me. The world is open with possibilities. I want to grow, learn, experiment and discover who I am and what my purpose is … which is probably what threatens Don. We are in a power struggle. He wants me in the cage and I refuse to go back inside,” she said. She was crying, realizing the truth and feeling the pain. “I don’t want to ruin my marriage, but I can’t go back in the cage.”
“If Don understood how you felt, what would his reaction be?” I asked.
“We’ve been arguing about petty things, but I feel this is the crux of the situation. It would help to talk to him about it and come up with some strategies together that allow him to feel safe and included, while giving me the freedom to continue to grow and explore. Maybe we should see a marriage counselor.”
I asked for action, “When will you have this conversation with Don?”
“First I want to process how I am feeling. I’ll write in my journal this weekend and talk with Don before our next coaching session,” she said.
“If it starts to feel scary, what can you do to continue to move forward?” I asked.
“I have a butterfly pin that I will attach to my purse to remind me how important flying is to me.”
Sonja paused for a moment. “You know,” she mused, “I just figured out that in this case, going back means going backward. Butterflies aren’t meant to become caterpillars again.”
I marveled at the wisdom she had tapped into.
Coaching Challenge: If you are in a romantic relationship, write a description of your partner as you remember him or her when you first met. Fast forward to the present and write down things that have changed in your partner and why you admire or enjoy this part of his or her growth. Share your positive insights with your partner.
Sheri Fisher is a Life Coach who lives in Grand Junction. Her practice, Living On Purpose, focuses on personal and professional coaching. The situations and characters in her column are fictional to maintain client confidentiality. Sheri can be reached at email@example.com or for more information, visit http://www.coachwithsheri.com.