Tom called and said, "I simply cannot live with Lynne [his wife] anymore."
"Hardly a surprise," I said. "She's been creating an illusion of studying Real Love for several years now, and yet I've never seen her genuinely listen to anyone but herself on one single occasion. Never. She is one of the most supremely selfish people I know. And as I say this I feel no criticism of her. No blaming. It's just a description. Perhaps she's been wounded all her life to the point where she is capable of feeling nothing but pain and fear, which would distort everything she sees, thinks, says, and does. She very likely has a form of post-traumatic stress disorder [click here to learn about post-childhood stress disorder]. I have seen no indication that she is capable of learning, and she lashes out all the time, so not living with her might be a reasonable option."
"I just can't be around her. I'm completely drained, and then I can't function--with her or anyone else. My health is deteriorating with all the stress. I have to get out. On the other hand, I feel trapped, because financially neither of us can survive on our own. She'll refuse to leave, because she has nowhere to go."
"You're not trapped. You're just not making decisions in the right order."
"What do you mean?"
"You want to leave this relationship that is literally killing you, yes?"
"But you feel like you can't because of financial reasons."
"You feel trapped because it would be too difficult to do what you want, and that's the wrong way to see it. If you stay in the same place because the next step will be difficult, you'll be trapped--in your own words--forever. Instead, simply make the most important decision first, and THEN--after the important choice is made--simply deal with the consequences. Your blood pressure is rising, you're having other health problems, and you're miserable all the time in this relationship, right?"
"And you've already made the decision--after trying to implement Real Love with her for a long time--that you want to leave. So leave. Do it. It's obvious that despite all your efforts to move forward in Real Love, you just cannot deal with the pain of interacting with your wife."
It's worth noting here that I don't lightly recommend that a couple separate. In this case, Tom had already made the decision to leave. He was only asking me to confirm that his decision wasn't entirely unreasonable. I also knew his wife well, and Lynne was capable of sucking the light out of the sun. His relationship with her was physically and emotionally killing him.
"So let's look," I said, "at what you'll have to do after you decide to leave her. Once you've made the decision to separate, the remainder of the decisions are mostly business details. Who owns the house?"
"One of you has to leave, and because you own the house, it doesn't make much sense for you to leave."
Tom had lived in the house for fifteen years before he and Lynne had married, and she had lived in the house for only a couple of years. Moreover, Tom had inherited the house from his parents. It would seem that the house was much more a possession of Tom's than Lynne's.
"So you will remain in the house. That means that Lynne will have to move out. You've already proven you can't stay together, so her moving is not optional. So, don't ask her to leave. Just tell her the exact date and time by which she must have all her stuff moved out. Be kind when you do this. Help her find a place to live. There's no reason to be harsh during this process."
"What if she refuses?"
"You just keep moving on to the next choice, instead of being paralyzed by all your fears about what might happen. If she refuses, you get an attorney, who will help you get a court order to evict her."
"She'll be furious."
"She's already furious. Next step: finances. When she leaves, you'll have less income, so instead of worrying about it and fussing about it, do what it takes to make up the difference in income with Lynne being gone. Get a part-time job. Or get somebody to rent out a room in your place. Just keep making the next decision, and you'll figure it out. But you'll never be happy if you stand still and complain about how it's all impossible."
Most of the time we can see what we need to do next, but we are paralyzed by our fears of the consequences of that decision. Our perspective is wrong. We need to just make decisions in the right order--the most important first--and then methodically and gradually decide what to do when we encounter the consequences of those decisions.