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January 17, 2006

Sister Isabelle

Six months ago today, Izzy (Isabelle) told me that she wanted to divorce. We have been legally separated for just over four months. We lived together for eleven years and have been married for eight-and-a-half years

When Izzy told me that she wanted to divorce, I went into a state of shock and disbelief; the reality of it sank in very slowly; I talked about it as if it were not real; I behaved as if I could fix it. I always fix everything, that's what I'm good at: I can solve any problem, I can make anything work. I came back from the hot springs in Oregon refreshed and ready for my challenge. On arrival in the UK, I persuaded, begged, reasoned, cried, and wrote letters; during that week, before I went to India, I tried so hard. But her response was totally negative and utterly determined. I picked up the phone once and heard Izzy telling a friend "... and then I realized that he doesn't love me." which was very painful to hear and I felt so ashamed that I could be such a poor husband. I felt extremely rejected and I realized that divorce was inevitable, so I gave up.

Still not having totally accepted what was happening, I went on my pre-planned trip to India. I spent a month there, alone, briefly meeting travelers as they passed through, and going over our whole eleven-year relationship in my mind. About half-way through my time there, I met with a very wise meditation master. During our many hours of discussions, we talked about what was happening with my wife. At first, and knowing very little about us, he told me that it was best that we separated, that it would be good for me, that I would be free. But then, after I gave him Izzy's birth date, and he spent a night looking into it more deeply, he said that it would not be good for us to separate; he said that she was a very good woman and that it would not be good for her; he said that I should stay with her, and that it would be good practice for me.

This was a turning point for me; I decided that I was not going to give up. Later that day, I went online and I found out about Michelle Weiner Davis and her Divorce Busting book. Michelle's parents had divorced when she was a kid and it had really hurt her. Early in her counseling practice, she would do what a lot of counselors do: give up on the marriage when both or even just one of the partners wanted to call it quits. As her experience developed, she found that it really wasn't the best choice for most people and that marriages that seem hopeless can be saved and can often be lifted to new heights of love and intimacy. I devoured everything on her website; I read and posted on the message-board and I ordered a copy of her book, The Divorce Remedy, for when I got back to the UK. I also found an online book called Stop Your Divorce by Homer McDonald and I read it about four times while I was in India.

I started writing a journal; I had continuous recollections of episodes from our relationship; times when I felt that I had not been caring enough, when I had not been open, vulnerable, considerate, friendly, or compassionate. I ended up hand-writing a few hundred pages of memories and feelings about our relationship. Often, as I realized things, I wrote emails to Izzy apologizing for all of the things that I felt that I had done wrong in our relationship. The flow of feelings and memories was immense and I learned a great deal during that time. Everything reminded me of her and our relationship: "Would you like a glass of water, sir?" Water, I would think, Izzy likes to drink a lot of water. On the plane back from India, I spent most of the time writing in my journal and sobbing while the deep love for her moved through my pain. Even the film that I watched on the plane seemed to be about her, it was all symbolic; for me it was about her childhood pain and how going through it would free her to be her authentic, happy self.

On arrival in England, ahead of me was still a month of time off from work. As Izzy insisted, I moved out of our home and have been living in our other house since then. After ten years of intense mental labor, that three months break was supposed to be for rest and a change of perspective. Though it didn't seem appropriate at the time, the growth experience that I ended up having was just what had I wanted and needed. I started reading relationship books intensely: The Divorce Remedy & Stop Your Divorce, as already mentioned; Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, by John Gray; The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman; Loving What Is & I Need Your Love - Is that True, by Byron Katie; The Case Against Divorce, by Diane Medved; Families and How to Survive Them, by Robin Skynner & John Cleese. I highly recommend all of these books for anyone who is in, or is entering, a relationship. I tried to get everything I could from these books; some I read multiple times; I wrote notes, did exercises, and made lists. I thought about how I could express my love for Izzy through quality time, gifts, acts of service, words of appreciation and physical touch (the five love languages). I kept track of things that seemed to be working and things that seemed not to be working.

I spent most of my free time with Izzy, trying to show her that it was possible for her to be happy with me. When she went on holiday to Sardinia with Callum and her friend Suzie, I cleaned and serviced the car; wrote cards; bought gifts; went shopping; cleaned, tidied, and organized the house for her. I was willing to do anything to show her that I loved her. We went away to the Lake District and I made sure that it all went smoothly, that it was all planned, that we left on time; these things are important to her. I did all the cooking and shopping: I wanted her to realize that she deserves to relax and enjoy life. As with other episodes like that one, it culminated with me trying to persuade her that she should let me come home, and that didn't work at all: it just pushed her away.

During this whole time, I was aware that my love was conditional. I would love her but only so long as she was willing to have me back. The more I felt like she was not going to change her mind, the less I was willing to love her. This was partly because I had over extended myself: I was trying to love her more than I was able to love myself. I had already done that when I had moved back to the UK: I had sold my beloved Porsche and our lovely home, both with great losses; I had spent a very great amount of time and money orchestrating an international move; my brain-child project at work had run into hard times and I had been demoted, partly because of the stress; I had finally needed to give up my green card and chance of US citizenship in order to be with my family in the UK. Izzy says that she did not ask me to do these things, and she is right: I had a choice, it was my family or my career, lifestyle, and friends; I chose my family. It was too much for me, I was not honest with myself at the time and it resulted in a hidden resentment. And in hindsight, I found myself trying to take back that love, because I felt that, in wanting to divorce me, she hadn't kept her side of the bargain. I was aware of the conditions on my love and I didn't enjoy that I was feeling that way, but there was nothing I could do about it; all I could do was to be aware of it.

Now at this point, I can imagine Izzy saying, "How can you expect me to stay married to you after you said those things?" and so, I will share those things: I told Isabelle at one point, when my heart was very closed, that she had never been super-attractive to me. At the time I said this, I was blinded with passive-aggressive resentment and I now see that it was totally not true, which I have told her several times since. I also once said that I regretted not having a relationship with someone who I fell in love with at first sight; Izzy and I had been best friends for six months before we dated. Having read so much about relationships and having reflected on my own experiences, I now see that love at first sight is really lust and that true love is a choice; I have also explained this to Izzy several times. The last and most painful episode, since I relinquished my greed card, was that, having never had sex with anyone but her, I asked her if I could have sex with a certain other woman; she said no, and I did not do it. I do not fully know why I asked her this; I know that it highlights issues in our relationship: issues which we never seemed to address in couples counseling; perhaps it was a desperate plea for help. I feel so much gratitude to myself that I could find the great courage and honor to ask that question; I have met only one other person who feels the same way about it. At the same time, I find it hard to imagine how totally painful it was for Izzy. Her choice is now to cut me off, like a gangrenous arm.

As my remaining month came to an end and it was time for me to return to work, I scaled back on seeing Izzy and Callum; I tried to leave Izzy alone more, so that I could focus on work and also to give her space: so that she could feel what it was really like for me to be gone; she had been telling me that she was enjoying living alone, but it seemed that I had not really been absent. I also wanted to experience being on my own. So I worked from home in the evenings and was alone on my own in the house. I only have two close friends in the town where we live: since coming to what is largely a retirement community, I had been working in the evenings — California Time — and spending most of my free time with Isabelle and Callum. The house where I live is in a very up-market area: one neighbor is a partner in a law firm, another is a consultant doctor at the hospital; it's very quiet, conservative, and peaceful. So I would wake and run in the woods next to the house; I would read, write, and architect chips. Many days or weeks would pass with me hardly leaving the house. I would spend many hours feeling a deep sense of loneliness and abandonment; as much as I had courage for, I went into that pain. I spent a lot of time talking with my mum on the phone, perhaps an hour a day. I have come to know my mum much more deeply; I love her very much and I really appreciate her unconditional love for me. I would often deeply feel the need to go home: "I just want to go home." I would say, feeling like a little boy. It really was like I had been abandoned by my family, and it started to bring up feelings from my childhood related to abandonment.

Many people, including Izzy, were saying that I should take a business trip to California, to see my colleagues face-to-face, and to see all my friends. I did this and I've written about many of those experiences in other articles. I remember during that time driving near a book store in the bay area, with my heart so filled with love for Isabelle that it seemed to be overflowing.

During my visit, I saw a very good psychic named Marcy Calhoun, who I have written about in another article. I asked Marcy about my relationship with Izzy, without telling her who she was; she said that in several past lives, we have been siblings and that in those lives, I have never been male when she was female: it was always male-male, female-female or where I was female and she was male; so she said that our relationship would be kind of strange because of that. After that meeting, I was thinking about Izzy being my sister and it started to make so much more sense. I feel a very great love for her and she behaves as if she loves me very much, yet she is divorcing me. So it feels like she's abandoning me and yet still wanting and needing for me to support her; and so there is a tendency towards resentment: how can it be right? And as I considered her as being my sister, I started to feel so much peace; that I could protect her, care for her, and support her, as I have been, and that it would be because she is my sister. She will likely be getting a large amount of money that I have earned over these years and I can feel more comfortable with that when I think of her as my sister. On top of that, I will likely be supporting her financially until she develops her own career, and her being my sister makes that so much more palatable. I have an inherent and deep love for her and this realization allows it to flow through me in a much more unobstructed way. As the song written by Scott and Russell almost goes: "She ain't heavy, she's my sister."

On top of this, I experienced so much adoration, love, and appreciation from both male and female friends in the Bay Area; I realized that I deserve a life where I am fully adored, loved, and appreciated. I didn't really feel that I deserved that before and now I see that I have a choice. And with the healing of so much childhood pain that has occurred over the past few months, I have come to feel freed to create an incredible life characterized by unconstrained and boundless success.

I am so much more than a bitter, divorced man: I am a powerful, loving, sweet, reliable, honest, spiritual, sexy, capable, hansome, successful, intelligent and vulnerable man, with a mission on this earth, a beautiful son and a sweet sister who deserves to be happy; and I deserve to be adored, happy, and fulfilled. While it is raining, and to the extent that I am able to, I wish to hold my large umbrella over Izzy's sweet head and keep her dry. And I want nothing for it; I want only to continue to feel this unconditional love. This is all I ever wanted; at last it has come.

"... reading your words has eased the pain of my own divorce ... I'm so glad to learn there's light at the end of this miserable tunnel I'm currently traveling through. Please continue to write and I will be a loyal reader." — Chris (Redmond, Washington State, USA)

"Dear wonderful, powerful, free, happy, deserving of all, Duncan: I LOVED reading this. Thank you so much for letting me be one of the people you send your thoughts to. Your honesty and willingness to see is inspiring. Congratulations on accepting your beautiful self. Yes and yes and yes, you deserve Love! ... Thank you again for letting me read your writing." — Barbara

"That was an awesome story about your relationship. Thanks for sharing. I went through a similar thing ..." — John

"Beautifully felt and beautifully written. I came to the same place with my ex." — Charlie

"Wow, Duncan, wow." — Rosie

"Thanks particularly for this. Your articulation shows how deeply you have founded your thinking and truth." — Michael


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