02/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Taking Responsibility For Yourself (And Your Country)

Q: I feel like I am right in the moment. There is a new president. We are all feeling change in the air. We are all hoping that Obama will bring us the peace that we want. We are all hoping that he has the smarts to improve the financial situation. We are all hoping that we will again begin to feel secure in all aspects of our life. We are all looking forward to a transition to a new, happier, more comfortable life.

This is no different from what I am going through in my own life. I am in the middle of a very contentious divorce. Of course, our marriage started as they all do, with hopes and dreams for the future. We were looking forward to sharing a full life and together solving any problems that arise. It isn't important to detail how or why this all went wrong. All that is important is that it fell apart. In my opinion, my husband stopped being aware of my needs. In his opinion, I became demanding. We dissolved into a relationship of pressure, stress, and unhappiness.

So now, we are trying to figure out how to divide assets as well as our time with the children. Needless to say, each of us has a different idea of what's equitable. I am hopeful that our differences can be resolved. I am actually looking forward to the change that's coming in my life. I am looking forward to peace and security. I am looking forward to being able to controlling my own finances. In short, I am looking forward to the divorce. I am looking forward to a new, more peaceful, and more comfortable life.

How am I different from the country as a whole? We are both emerging from stifling situations and we both need this change to get us out of misery and into happiness.

A: You are no different. And that is why you need to stop and think and why the country needs to stop and think. It is not realistic of you to believe that change alone will bring happiness and it is unfair to the new President to believe that he alone can restore a sense of optimism and contentment. I am hopeful that what you seek will come only with hard work -self knowledge and a certain acceptance of reality. I am hopeful that the country does something similar - understands what in its past brought about the problems of the present.

We all have a tendency to idealize an individual when we are hurting. We look for a hook to help us to feel better. People do that; countries do that. History is replete with examples of countries desperately choosing dangerous leaders that made them feel good. We are not so desperate nor are we that type of country. Still, we all hope that there is someone or something outside of ourselves that will ensure the future. Perhaps this is because we don't trust our own competency or ability to improve our lives. Perhaps this is because we have become accustomed to thinking that others -the government, affluent parents, credit cards, etc. --will do what is needed. As a society, perhaps we were overly-indulged by the generation before us. Perhaps their desire to give us everything led us to assume that others will always take care of us. Obviously this is not true for all of us, but we are experiencing an economy that is certainly suffering from a juvenile sense of entitlement and greed. And it is certainly true that it will take the entire country's patience and sacrifice to rectify the situation. And it will take the entire country's adjustment, compromise, and acceptance of a new role in the world that may lead us to a new peaceful environment.

And for you as an individual going through a divorce, it is obviously tempting to believe that just signing some papers will make life better. To a certain degree, it will. A bad marriage is no fun and jus getting out of one can be exhilarating. But after that comes some hard work --some very hard work.

Eric Ericson's developmental theories stated that in order to successfully pass or transition into a new phase of one's life, one must work on unresolved conflicts from previous transitions. In other words, you are not merely a victim of a bad marriage. Relationships fall apart not only because two people grow apart, but also because two people did not recognize their own roles in the dissolution of the marriage -maybe a lack of compromise.

Just as the citizens of a country must take responsibility for both its failures as well as the way problems will be resolved from here on in, so must individuals in a marriage search for what they did to increase the tension.

In your question, you say that it is not important to know why the marriage fell apart. But that is not true. Without understanding the past, one can be almost assured that the old mistakes will be repeated in a future relationship. As Ericson says, the unresolved conflicts of the past will hinder the smooth passage to the next phase of our life.

A successful transition for you and for the country requires introspection and an acceptance of past mistakes. If not, we will not be able to change the path. Reality will soon set in and, like a person, a country's basic personality will emerge to create familiar problems. But with a measure of thoughtfulness, acceptance and work, both you and the country can look forward to better future.