Ask Maddisen -- How To Stop "Shoulding" On Yourself

08/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dear Maddisen:
My spouse and I have separated after more than a decade of marriage. We've been in individual and some couples counseling, and we've spent many hours and months in honest conversation about the fulfilling and non-fulfilling aspects of our relationship. We are now in mutual agreement about one key area that we consider a deal-breaker.

We've really made a disciplined effort to explore the personal and spiritual lessons of this partnership, to honor why we came together in marriage, and to live up to our vow of 'till death do us part.' But honestly, at this point, my entire being is emphatically declaring that "we are complete." And when I let that in, I feel clarity and a sense of relief. But isn't it wrong to turn away? Shouldn't we make this marriage work? Our families and friends think we should. I'm conflicted and very confused, and would appreciate your viewpoint on this.
Thanks, ML

Dear ML,

I acknowledge you for your courage and honesty in sharing your story here, for your devotion to growth and enlightenment, especially in naming the elephant in your marriage, and for being open to highest good solutions. This is certainly a widely discussed topic that elicits many viewpoints. Some may suggest more time, more counseling, making concessions, compromises, and a myriad of other recommendations based on specific belief systems. My intention is to address your doubts and the emphatic answer you are hearing -- "we are complete" -- and to offer suggestions for how you might follow all of this to resolution.

I empathize with you and can understand how very confusing it may feel in the chaos of your own and everyone else's conscious and unconscious beliefs, social and religious mores, and, and... all pressuring you about what you should do.

However, it's possible that the "shoulding" is a sign that you are swimming upstream, rowing against the current, and actually heading in the 'wrong" direction. Your emotional symptoms imply this. "Shoulding" can invoke negative feelings such as confusion, discomfort, unhappiness, resistance, frustration, sadness, depression, and/or anger.

But don't lose hope, because this is actually good news in that your emotional guidance system is feeding you vital information. You see, when we're "shoulding" on ourselves, we're most likely facing an adverse situation. And although this adverse situation may cause us to feel uncomfortable or unhappy, it's actually happening to help us define what would make us happier. Yes, I'm proposing that we use adversity to clarify what we don't want, in service of moving into what we do want. This is the nature of Nature.

If this rings true for you, ML, and for any of my readers, your next step is to explore the adversity to get clear on what you want. To do that, take some time for yourself and carry out the following process.


Step 1 - Notice the adverse situation
What adverse situation are you experiencing? What are your symptoms? They might include discomfort, confusion, resistance, sadness, hopelessness, suffering, frustration, depression, and/or anger.

Realize that this is an opportunity for you to gather information about what you don't want in service of clarifying what you do want.

If possible, accept the situation and all of your uncomfortable feelings. If that's too difficult, just notice it all, be aware of it all, and observe. Be patient and loving with yourself and the others involved. Practice self forgiveness.

Step 2 - Identify what you don't like
What don't you like about this situation? What's not working? Specifically, what joy are you missing?

For example, are you sacrificing your own true voice and being true to yourself in any way? Are you sacrificing values, basic needs, and/or heartfelt desires?

If it helps, you might also list this on paper, speak it aloud, or both.

Step 3 - Identify what you really want
What is it that you really want? What fullness or balance do you desire? What joys are you seeking?

What is your truth calling forth, what values, basic needs, fullness, and/or heartfelt desires must be acknowledged and experienced?

If it helps, you might also list this on paper, speak it aloud, or both.

Know that this is why we are here in this lifetime -- to live our fullness and heartfelt desires & purposes, and that when we turn away from adversity and move into our loving desires, we are moving in the "right" direction.

Step 4 - Take inspired actions
Allow yourself to take the inspired actions that move you into the fullness and joy you desire. Do this with love, patience, and respect for yourself and all concerned.

In your case ML, what might your inspired actions look like? It's possible that your separation is one such inspired action. How else might you support yourself and receive support in moving into your fulfillment and joy? Might you share this process with your spouse?

Step 5 - Honor yourself
Allow yourself to enjoy your life journey. Be your greatest ally and supporter and honor your truth, honor what you want. Let those rockets of desire lead you into happiness and fulfillment and loving purpose. In living your highest good, you will indeed be serving the highest good of all concerned.

We can change "what is" at any moment!
Reality is not static or fixed. On the contrary it's dynamic and in a state of constant motion. The same is true of our life stories! We may sometimes feel like we're stuck, but it's simply not true! At any moment, we have the option to change, to adjust our inner and outer choices, and to use our current reality, or what we call "what is", as a launching point into something different, something we want even more. And we can take baby steps or giant steps, but we've got to take steps!

I'm throwing in this mini science lecture to emphasize that adversity is not a static condition, and that we have the power and the choice, at any time, to use adversity as a launching pad into our enlightenment and upliftment! And you can use the process above to do just this.

Regarding Step 1 and my suggestion about "acceptance". I understand that acceptance can feel difficult and even impossible when we don't like "what is". That's why I recommend you just notice the adversity and observe it. However, if you'd like to take acceptance a bit deeper, check out Byron Katie's process called "The Work", which is outlined on her website at:

And so, dear ML, I hope all of this has helped you toward resolution. You've shared two important points that I'd like to repeat: 1) you and your spouse are in agreement about one key area that you consider a deal-breaker; and 2) your entire being is declaring "we are complete."

Therefore, you may indeed be complete. I trust you will take the time you need to make a decision that is in your highest good and ultimately in the highest good of all concerned.

Don't get stuck in "shoulding" on yourself, but rather use it for your liberation. Remember that adversity is a natural part of life, and that it's there so we can determine what we don't want in service of moving into what we do want.

Here's my message for us all... When adversity slaps us upside the head, may we have the good sense to turn the other cheek toward what we really want. May we turn our boats around and head them downstream into the flow of our joys, enjoying more heartfelt, loving, full, and purposeful lives.

Your Coach, Maddisen

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