We’d been married 14 years when I made The Big Mistake.
Really, like most conflict, it started a long time before that.
To back up, this is a love story.
Not the kind you see from Hollywood, all glossed over and easy, but the kind that’s real. It’s a messy, imperfect and beautiful story filled with commitment, character and micro-moments where we re-chose each other.
Fourteen years ago, we opened a business together and were the only employees. We were scrappy and young, newly married, starting from zero. Life was good. We had different, complementary skill sets. I was a strategy-focused CPA; he was a charming salesman with a gift for connecting with people.
Then babies came. Babies with lots of appointments related to deafness. I ran the back end of the store from home mostly, in between spit up and diapers and managing our home. The business was thriving and it started feeling like an Established Business. Actually, it was two full-time businesses by then. I was still managing paperwork, plus homeschooling, with a child still in early intervention and speech therapy and a third in diapers. Over time it becomes less “our store” and more “his store”.
After a years of our intense work schedules, I was tired of the grind. I was tired of being the one that got stuck with the thankless tasks at work. Audits--oh, that's me. Paperwork--also me. Cleaning up our accounting system after a major virus followed by a system glitch--me. I got handed shit and was asked to magically transform it into cotton candy.
And at home, I was the one in the trenches, the enforcer. I was annoyed that I never got to be the “yes” parent, to hell with the consequences! I was a homeschooling Mom with the kids full-time. Because of the store, even a weekly trip without kids to the grocery store had to be negotiated into a 7am time slot on Sundays.
I realized I wanted to quit my job. Any sane person would. It was an impossible, thankless job, a behind-the-scenes clean up job. He knew I was miserable and he knew it was time to make a change. He loved his job and he loved the connections we had made with thousands of fans over the years. Once he left the house, he was unencumbered and able to be the expert. He was adored and even a celebrity in his niche. I missed that feeling of being the expert somewhere, like I had been in my career, and I missed that adult time of focus and reward.
We began strategizing toward selling the store and putting all of our efforts into our other business. We opened ourselves up to dreaming to possibilities of what could be next and it was good! We fell in love with an equestrian property with a spectacular view of the Salish Sea. Although we didn’t end up buying it, that process caused the dream to expand. It opened my eyes to the possibility that we could re-design all aspects of our lives. I could have salt water + horses + a small community + a husband who works at home and + lots of family time. What a dream!
As the store closure got closer, we had lots of “oh shit” moments.
What the hell were we doing, tearing apart a successful business loved by the community? How were we going to make enough money to support our family without it? Was this the stupidest thing we’d ever done?
Fear is a funny thing.
It pops up when you start to dismantle the “known” and dream up a new life. It wants you to stay safe, in a life that’s predictable and small. Fear causes you to push away the people you love, isolate yourself, blame others, dismiss the feelings of others, clam up and stop sharing your thoughts and feelings.
And that’s what happened. Fear started to take over.
I remember driving over the Thanksgiving weekend for 24 hours with little conversation between us. Talking was a chore, filled with silence and awkward gaps. We were in two different worlds with our thoughts.
We were both grieving the end of an era, but in different ways.
I was in “future mode”, excited to start planning our next stage together. I had been unhappy with the situation for a long time and was mostly relieved that it was ending.
He was in “today mode”, focused on the millions of tasks that needed to be done well today, asking not to be bothered by the future. All he could handle was the one day in front of him, doing his best at the store with customers, quietly sad with the reality. He was feeling the impact daily, as customers reminded him of all the good times at the store, he commuted to the physical location that customers loved, he reminisced about all the relationships, relived all the laughs.
Sales went through the roof as we dismantled what we sacrificed so much to grow.
It's like watching a healthy person get murdered--this idea of retiring from a business that is financially successful and well-loved, yet no longer conducive to family goals.
The decision was unconventional. Strange. Stupid even. People didn't get it, until they heard stories of the long hours and sacrifice, the current stress and compared it with our dream of connecting as a family and balancing all that we wanted to accomplish.
About two months from D-Day, he told me “I'd never be selling the store if it were just me. I made this business. I would happily stay in Seattle and continue for a long time. I love that place.”
I didn't know what to say.
Fear took the driver’s seat at that moment and my mind went right to the worst thing that could happen. The store closing was going to cause us to hate each other and that would lead to our breakup. I heard anger in his tone and wondered if he’d hate me forever.
That’s when I made The Big Mistake.
I told him (insisted, even) that we had to go to marriage counseling.
It did not go well.
And I learned I had a choice: I could continue to push him toward “doing something”, while making myself and him miserable, or I could work on me.
I turned inward.
I turned author Byron Katie's "The Work" on my anger and sadness toward him. Instead of continuing with thoughts like “He should want what I want”, I used her turn arounds to meditate on other thoughts that could be equally true, like “I should want what he wants” and “I should want what I want.”
Katie is a master at questioning her thoughts. (Visit www.thework.com to see what I mean). She likes to ask, "Why are you pretending you don't love me?" when she finds herself in a situation where another person is unkind.
What if that were my perspective? To assume everyone loves me, they just may not know it yet. Or even if they know they love me, they may not know how to show me in that moment.
What a difference that shift in perspective made.
A funny thing happened along the way.