(Jami) By 1998, I was desperate to deal with the pain that I had kept hidden from everyone my whole life. I had been passively suicidal since a failed suicide attempt at age 13. I eventually began taking high sexual risks that were threatening not only to my physical health, but also to the survival of our marriage.
Then I read John Bradshaw's book Family Secrets. It shook me to my core and let me know that I needed to share with Marla, my wife of ten years in 1998, what had been going on with me. I didn't really have the words to describe my depression, because I was so good at keeping the image of being everyone's hero. Nobody would have guessed I was depressed, or that nearly everyday I debated about how I could drive my car or my bike off a cliff, or into oncoming traffic thinking that it could look like and accident and my family would be well taken care of with the insurance money.
John Bradshaw did a great job of documenting the results of family secrets and how toxic they could be. He performed multiple extensive genograms and researched crimes that grandfathers did and never told anyone and how those crimes were lived out by their sons and grandsons. I knew that the biological father that I had never met had infidelity, violence, and alcohol issues but I only had bits and pieces of the story. My adoptive father had rage issues, to put it mildly.
Realizing first that not all the trauma I was dealing with had come from my lifetime, and second that some of the secrets I was keeping were very toxic and were already affecting our children offered me a place to start. I needed to tell Marla that I was being unfaithful, and hopefully understanding the “why” would lesson the blow.
I had engaged in seven affairs over the ten years that we were married. They were mostly brief, what I called "twenty minute affairs," and they were getting more complicated. And the reason I knew I had to be rigorously honest with her was because my most recent affair scared the crap out of me. It was with one of our best friends*.
I took several steps to prepare for the telling Marla, and had the kids spend the night at their friend’s house. I began by telling Marla the situation in general terms, having learned not to include too many details, and I did not say with who, other than some of the long past co-workers that she guessed. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done, and watching her heartbreak and keeping her from hitting the sliding glass door with her fists, that I was sure was not safety glass, was the most painful day of my life. My lies and infidelity crushed her.
(Marla) I thought we had the perfect relationship…really. Even though I had been doing some intensive personal work, I never once imagined what was really going on. Just days before his words about infidelity crushed my soul to it’s core I had admitted to Jami that I “might have issues with control,” to which he assured me that he could see the amazing emotional growth I was experiencing and knew we’d be better than okay. After he told me what had really been going on for 10 years, I wasn’t sure I could survive this truth, but knew that I would do whatever to took to heal our marriage.
(Jami) That same summer my half sister contacted me for the first time. I had three half sisters and a half brother. Marla and I made a trip to Alabama from Arizona to visit. The two surviving sisters were amazing. The third, Kelly, had been killed in an accident at 18 had left a daughter that I got to meet as well. Meeting my biological father after hearing my sister’s, and their mother’s, version of our shared history was a real trip. He was a rogue, had been violently abusive and the story is actually too complicated for this blog... Just suffice it to say he had turned a new leaf and was trying his best to live an amends.
Meeting Mawmaw, my biological Grandmother would have fit right into one of John Bradshaw's genograms. She immediately shared about my grandfather's (her dead husband) infidelity that rivaled the horror of the stories my sisters told of our father.
(Marla) It was crazy how many things began to make sense to me, meeting these relatives. After Jami told me what was up, I had read Family Secrets as well and began to see not only the patterns in Jami’s family, but in my own. One small example of this is my grandmother’s sexual shame. It had been passed down to my mother and then passed down to me. We were all sexually abused at five. What??? That’s insane talk. But real life. No wonder I married a man who had exactly the sexual shame that fit the lie I believed from the time I was 5, that I was never going to be enough for anyone. I wasn’t enough for Jami, so it must be true. This was the lie.
Finding out about Jami’s history allowed me to breath for the first time in months. I realized that this was fixable! We could get through this. AND. It. Wasn’t. My. Fault.
(Jami) I did not need to know all this painful history, but it certainly made sense to me that genetically there was a heapload of issues to sort out. The quiet rage that I had been dealing with from my adoptive dad's anger and biological dad's abuse and infidelity, and the fact that it was all shrouded in secrecy that made it all more toxic, really helped me deal with all of this. And the fact that I had chosen, as a coping mechanism, not to feel my feelings but to stuff them down and look like everyone's hero had lead to my outrageous, even to me, behavior.
(Jami and Marla) Now we have a borage of research validating the work that John Bradshaw did in the 90's. The field of Epigenetics has emerged, and issues are being tracked all the way to our genome. They are also tracking what they are calling "micro RNA" as the gene changer. While science will be proving that there are genetic markers for just about every behavior and mental illness for the next twenty years, we have been seeing the direct success of using this knowledge to change the genetics that have trapped so many into less than desirable outcomes, including ourselves.
In our own lives, and with the thousands of our coaching clients, we have seen the power of simple tools to transform individuals and couples from dark depression and poor coping systems into relationships that are passionate and full of humble power. This is why we call our business Passion Provokers. We provoke PASSION!
The habits and modes that keep people from realizing their hopes and dreams are not usually all that complicated, and once the tools of learning how to be more aware of their feelings and how to express them healthfully breaks the patterns that have been set for generations. The first step is to figure out what you are feeling at any given moment. This takes practice because of our heavily distracted lifestyles as well as our habits of not feeling. We don’t teach these skills in our culture. And that is why we built the Feeling Wheel 4.0. You can find it HERE.
The Feeling Wheel is a compass for your heart. The goal of the Wheel is to safely drain the SHAME out of the center of the north side and allow the feelings to be the signals they were intended to be. By beginning here and then moving onto mode awareness (the nine feelings in the center of the wheel are modes that can dictate our behaviors) we can then learn how to shift into more functional modes so that we can achieve our goals and dreams effectively.
We have never seen this system fail for anyone who has completed our recommended number of sessions, and has continued the basic practices. They are not complicated; they just take persistence and practice a few minutes a day.
Our favorite example is a 60 year old lady who got her first checking account just before comings I see us, so she could pay. She had gone from her father to her husband and not had a job or her own money until the day she stepped through our door. She was very unhappy with her husband, and even expressed hatred of him and the dog he had. She informed us that she was seeing us so she could divorce Fred*.
After the recommended six sessions she had made some big changes in her life, and we did not see her for three months. We saw her on the street one day. She looked different and we said so. She reported that her fibromyalgia, depression, and several other maladies were all better and she was nearly off all her medication. She also said she and Fred were back in the same bedroom and she loved him more than ever. She even loved the dog, and had improved her relationship with her adult children. Then she got kind of stern and asked "Are you seeing Fred behind my back?" We laughed! She said, "I didn't think so. He has just changed so much since I started seeing you that I though maybe he was coming to you as well."
We know that even just one person in a coupleship can change a relationship dramatically for the better, and when both partners come together we see significant results in three weeks. With all the new research from Brené Brown, Tara Bennett Golemen and the Epigenetic research findings, we are discovering so much validation for the tools that we train people in. To say the least, we are very, very excited for 2016, the year that coupleships around the world will be transformed forever.
Are you ready for an passionate and healthy coupleship?
*Names and circumstances adjusted for confidentiality.