12/30/2010 04:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Every divorce is uniquely unhappy, to paraphrase Tolstoy. Some people enter into marriages with little foresight, and leave the marriage with vision still clouded. Sooner or later, though, most who go through divorce discover something about themselves. They become able to answer the question: "What was I thinking?", or better, "What knowledge was I resisting?"

As a counselor, with the extraordinary privilege of being brought into the life journeys of reflective people, I find myself somewhat in awe of those who make the discovery sooner.

A word about sooner. Going into therapy with the right person can accelerate knowledge. I have a very biased view about the "right person" -- I mean a person who can pull you into a light that years of living in the dark will resist. This idea is anathema to some therapists. Some approaches to therapy have us work for the gentle discovery of self knowledge. People come to know things in their own time. I believe this to be true to some extent. I also believe that some people procrastinate and some even perendinate when the truth that will change their past can be known. We resist change, especially when we are feeling wounded and self righteous. The acuteness of the suffering requires a strong guide.

I think especially of the pretenders. We all learn to lie to survive our childhoods and adolescent years. A person comes to consciousness when they begin to see through their own Big Lie, the story they tell about themselves that keeps them in a regressive state. One finally sees: "I am not really all that kind; I use kindness to manipulate people." "I am not really at heart a good listener; I just like to avoid contention." "I am terrified of failure." "I will never get over my first love, and no one will ever live up that first love."

A good guide can help us break through the Big Lie sooner than later. When the wounds of divorce are still open, the anger, shame, sense of betrayal and misery still throbbing, the breakthrough to the Big Lie or one of its corollaries can reframe every hurt and accelerate our healing.

A person yearns for normalcy, because their life has also been chaotic. They meet a person who is redolent of that normalcy, subjectively defined, of course, and sex invades psyche. They fall in love. They don't see that the object of their attachment has become something of a fetish, an object that has some power over our psyche, and which can grant us a status that redeems us from our despair. The boy with the car, the girl with the boy with the car. The boy with the pretty girl. The girl with the wealthy man. We can't see the fetishizing because we are pretending so hard that we are in love.

I counseled a woman some years ago with the usual but nonetheless heartbreaking tale of misspent years and emotions. As she went deeper into her own motivations, she saw that she had never really seen him, she just saw what having him meant to her. She didn't even particularly like him the length of the marriage. And she could see that he had gone through the same thing. There was something about her that would roll off onto him if he had her as his wife. For each of them, the other person was more of a stage prop than a soul mate.

Upon seeing this, the woman was gripped with a profound sadness and grief, and her anger at her estranged husband disappeared. It had been one big sordid mess, and she had played her role. Perhaps he, indeed, had acted more badly, perhaps driven up the wall by his instinctive knowledge that she did not really love him. She forgave him, and had to work on forgiving herself. She had to face this void within that she filled up by marrying him, a void she had to address now that she left him.

I and others led her to a" sooner than later" knowledge, and the transformation was astounding. Beneath the tortured psyche that was beneath the facade of well being, was a deep soul waiting to emerge. Consciousness on a mission from God, making up for years of slumber.