Liam was a very handsome man. When he entered my life coaching deck, I didn’t believe he was almost 40 years old. He looked 25 and I wondered what kind of woman would leave such a great-looking guy. On his client details form, he wrote that he had two boys and that his wife had left home suddenly and took the boys with her.
If he was the first man who came to coaching because his wife had left all of a sudden, I would have thought that something was wrong with his wife. Who on Earth leaves home all of a sudden? With two boys? After 12 years of marriage? But Liam was not the first and, unfortunately, will not be the last man whose wife left all of a sudden.
During the initial assessment of his life, he told a story of a great love, two well established professionals, parenting maturely, living in their own house and even owning an investment property. Their life was the ultimate picture of a perfect marriage.
“When did the relationship start shaking?” I asked Liam, trying to find the most reasonable explanation for “all of a sudden”. He said that it had started when his youngest daughter was born, about 4 years earlier, and then he told me the typical story of a marriage that brings wives to leave “all of a sudden”.
When Liam’s youngest daughter was born, Liam and his wife decided to move to a better house at a better location and Liam wanted to pay for this. Thinking about the future, he worked, worked and worked, feeling that he carried the financial burden of the family, at least until his wife could get back to work.
He worked until 8 or 9pm some days. He worked on weekends. His main goal was to make more money. For every problem he had at home, his solution was making more money. When his wife wanted him to take a day off and spend time with the family, his mind went straight to “If I made enough money, I wouldn’t have to go to work so many hours and then I could be with my family”.
When his wife didn’t get enough sleep because the baby was awake the whole night, and he came late and the house was not clean, he would say, “If I had enough money, I would bring a cleaner to help her”.
When his wife wanted him to go out with her for their anniversary, he would think, “If I made enough money, we could bring a babysitter and go out as often as we wanted”.
For Liam, and for many other men who sat on my deck, manhood is strongly linked with their bank account and how much money they earn. Men will give up sleep, fun times, social connections, family and even nourishing the relationship that is their main reason for working hard and making, in order to make more money, so they can consider themselves more manly.
I guess “all of a sudden” is a defense mechanism for couples to manage separation. I had a very good friend who was in a very dysfunctional relationship for 15 years. Her husband wanted the relationship to move to the next level and she kept on saying she was not sure he was the right man to have children with. After 15 years, he left and she was in total shock. She said, “He left all of a sudden”, and was totally devastated.
Gal and I were very good friends with them and were very much aware of the conflicts between them. I wanted to scream. “For God’s sake, how can you call 15 years of conflicts all of a sudden?”
Much like many men I know, Liam was in total denial for 4 years. He had his mind so set on making more money that he was blind to the messages his wife was sending him for 4 years.
Best message for couples: Pay attention, not money!
The couch on my deck has heard too many stories of clients ignoring messages for years. Here are just some.
What can happen while you’re making more money
Josh worked 8 years away from home, coming home for a month out of every 6 months. He was very upset he had nothing in common with his wife and kids.
Nathaniel was in a relationship for 22 years. He worked like crazy, dedicating every second of his time to work. When his wife complained she felt neglected and wanted him to be with her, he said, “Who do you think works like crazy to support you living in this house?” She said she would rather live in a tent with him by her side, but he didn’t change. Nathaniel was not sure why “all of a sudden” his wife told him to “get lost”.
Darren worked 14 hours a day, 6 days a week for 12 years and complained that his wife was having an affair.
Stephan left home for work at 4:30 in the morning, when his wife’s sleep was being disturbed by two babies, including that was still breastfeeding. For about a year, Stephan tried to get ready very quietly, but woke one of the babies up and the whole house was in full swing at 4am. After having three kids in a row, his wife did not get a good night’s sleep for 7 years straight. Stephan was very upset when his wife moved to sleep in another room “all of a sudden”.
John worked long hours and in his “spare time”, he went to the gym for an hour and half every day (who on Earth has any spare time with 4 kids?). He was very upset his wife never found the time to exercise while raising 4 kids and working part time. He paid for his wife to have a personal trainer “to get a life” and he was shocked to discover that after six months, his wife had feelings for the personal trainer and wanted to move in with him. Come on! The personal trainer paid her more attention than you did. That is exactly what you paid him to do!
After two sessions, Liam dropped the “all of a sudden” story. 4 years is far, very far from “all of a sudden”.
Money is a very great thing to support every relationship. Money is a magnifier, not a solution. Whatever you are, making more money will just make you more of what you already are. Whatever you have, you will have more. Whatever you think, you will think even more. If you have good relationship, making more money will make it better. If you have challenges, making more money will make it worse. Although some women have the same problem with this mindset that making more money is the solution to all, it is more common with men.
I don’t live to work. I work to live
Attention cannot be bought with money. We don’t live to work, but work to live, and when this focus changes, it will badly impact every family. The value structure that puts money as the highest value is not stable enough and will never, never hold for long.
Money is not the best way to be attractive to your partner, although we live in a society full of movies and celebrities that make us associate money with attractiveness. Yes, we can buy a nanny, a cleaner, a babysitter, a gardener and a personal trainer to make our life easier, but we cannot pay money for what really matters.
Even poor people, with little money, can express love for each other, spend some time together, have a special dinner with candles, kiss, cuddle, watch a movie at home or play the game of dreaming up a fantastic future. The most important things in life do not require money and this is true for your relationship with your partner and with your children.
When you ask old people, who spent 30 or 40 years together, to share good memories, they never talk about what they bought and how much it cost them. They tell of dreams, caring and times shared together in joy.
Of the 5 languages of love (affirmations, quality time, services, physical touch and gifts), there is only one related to buying things as a way to show love, and even then, it is never the price that matters but the thought that was put into the gift. Sometimes, a bunch of flowers that cost $4 (or even freshly-picked in a field) can do magic.
Liam worked on being attractive not by earning money. For the first time in 20 years, he started playing a sport that he loved. He spends more time with the boys now, after his wife left, than he did when they lived together in the same house. It’s funny, but he spends more time with his wife, too. More than he did when they were together. One evening, when he invited her for dinner, he was very surprised to discover that she was on a gluten-free diet and that she had been on that diet for over a year!
The sad thing is that Liam’s wife is still not sure she wants to come back to him. In order to support the boys living in two houses, they had to sell their investment property and their home and to buy two very small units.
What do you think? Was all Liam’s hard work, long hours, weekends, waiting to have a profession before bringing kids to the world, buying an investment property and thinking about the future worth it?
Family matters and cannot be bought with money!
This post is part of the series From the Life Coaching Deck:
- Choosing the Right Career Path for Your Kids
- If-then Parenting Style
- How to Help Your Kid Drive
- The Meaning of Life
- Hyperactive Kids
- Secret Demons
- Making Money Addiction
- Art Fights Depression
- Trust Your Healing Powers
- The Want Muscle
- Abusive Parenting Cycle
- Learning to Want
- Don’t Put Labels on Kids
- Stop Making More Money
- There Are No Hopeless Teens
- How to Have a Good Day Everyday
- No More Disappointment: The Biggest Loser Leads the Dance