Author Charlie Bloom describes just one of the many myths that we hold about relationships — we either sacrifice our own needs to our partner, or we fulfill our needs at the expense of our partner — by sharing his experience with his own wife.
He says, “It soon became clear to Linda that certain topics of discussion were off-limits. The consequences for violating this code were explosive outbursts from me, designed to have her keep her concerns to herself.”
In their new book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places Charlie and Linda Bloom, who are also the authors of Happily Ever After…and 39 Other Myths About Love, present a raw, unedited, and insightful look at what it means to love wholeheartedly through the joy and the struggles, and to appreciate the clarity gained from both.
After a particularly trying time, when Charlie is fixated on building his career while overlooking the needs of his family, Linda confronts him: “Who are you? I don’t know you. When I see the man you’ve become, I don’t like you very much. If I met you now, I wouldn’t be attracted to you. I certainly wouldn’t marry you.”
As a psychotherapist, Linda even second guesses her ability to counsel others when her own life seems so challenged. She writes, “I felt split and fragmented. Part of me loved Charlie dearly, and another part felt he was causing me unbearable pain, a part that admired the beautiful work he was doing and a part that wanted him to leave his draining job.”
When Charlie finally makes the decision to resign from his position as a trainer for a company whose ethics he had struggled with, he is surprised when the company asks him what he needs to stay and then makes good on their promise.
As Charlie’s enthusiasm for his work re-ignites, he attempts to reassure Linda that things will work at home, but her response doesn’t reflect his enthusiasm. She says, “The more excited that you get about your work, the more scared I get that you’re going to move even further away from me and the children. It’s hard for me to share your enthusiasm because I’m afraid that these changes are going to mean much more separateness and it feels like there’s already too much.”
However, Charlie falls back into trainer mode and his need to control leads to an unwillingness to listen openly to Linda. He writes, “You are nothing but a bottomless pit of unquenchable needs that can never be filled. You’re weak and self-centered! You can’t stand it when I get excited or joyful about anything and you always have to bring me down! You always have to inflict your self-pity on me because you can’t stand me being happy about anything!”
As Charlie rationalizes his defensive behavior toward Linda and the conflict he feels between his own values and the demands of the company, Linda’s frustration is fueled by her assertion that she is in the morally superior position. She writes, “I’m the committed one. He’s the uncommitted one. I’m the generous one; he’s the selfish one. I’m the good mother; he’s the neglectful father.”
Becoming more confident in his career, Charlie’s self-doubt is replaced with arrogance, and as work becomes the primary source of self-esteem, he sees Linda’s need to connect as a weakness to be fixed. His coercive tactics, however, only intensify her anger.
After being gone on a camping trip with their son and not calling as he’d promised, Linda unleashes her rage. She writes, “I hate you. You are not a good husband. You are not a good father. You’re never here to fulfill those roles, and you’re a fraud. You fly all over the country telling your student how to make their lives work when yours is such a mess.”
Later Linda realizes that not only had her behavior reflected all of the tactics that don’t work in a relationship, but their circumstances had triggered both her own and Charlie’s sensitivities. She writes, “Our deepest fears were fully activated, enflaming any negotiations we attempted.”
Linda comes to see is that her own perfectionistic expectations had imprisoned her much more than Charlie’s behavior had. As she learns to let go, embrace nonattachment and forgiveness, she begins to see the lack of time she has with Charlie differently. She writes, “I began to refer to this process as creating scared time and scared space.”
Finally, when Linda takes Charlie’s hand and volunteers them to receive support from the group while at a couple’s retreat, he is able to experience not just the pain he has caused to Linda and the children, but his own deep sorrow. He writes, “In the space of that moment, I felt like I was seeing all, what I had succeeded in denying for the past five years, and I experienced what felt like a lifetime of sorrow.”
In the years that follow, Charlie struggles with depression and Linda battles cancer, and yet these challenges offer a deep insight: life is precious and the value of deep love, inner peace, and connection with those we live cannot be quantified.
That Which Doesn’t Kill Us is a beautifully written story of love, pain, and the power of redemption that should be read by anyone looking to better understand their relationship.
That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places
Sacred life Publishers, April 2018
Paperback, 252 pages