The Dog Walk of Appreciation

The Dog Walk of Appreciation

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In some ways I suppose this is another article about not losing things (and another article highlighting the importance of the family dog). But in this case, the potential loss in question is not a thing, but one’s significant other. And in this case success rested upon what might feel, at first, to run counter to everything I said in the ‘losing things’ article. With items, it was essential to think of that item as only mislaid, and coming back to me with certainty. But with my relationship, it turned out that I had no chance of recovering it until I first accepted that it was lost.

There is no contradiction. Energetically, this represents the critical step that most people (including me) find hardest to achieve when it comes to conscious creation: being at peace with “what-is”, and letting go of the outcome. With objects it was achieved easily enough: visualise the happy outcome and then surrender to whatever occurs, saying to oneself “all is well”. Not so easy to say to oneself when your second marriage — the one that seemed so very blessed at its inception — appears to be self-destructing.

Background: something that had been on my lover’s list of ‘wants’ in Costa Rica had been a child of his own. When we returned from paradise (freshly married), he moved in, and during the months that followed, he proved his parenting skills with my three small wolves boys so comprehensively that I decided it would be churlish not to give parenthood one more shot.  Part of me perhaps had some concerns about that, and those unconscious concerns manifested as SPD – symphysis pubis dysfunction.  What this meant in practice was that during the last few months of my pregnancy, and for a few months after our daughter’s birth, I couldn’t move without pain. As a result, my husband took on a great deal of extra physical labour. He was looking after me, my three sons, our new daughter, the house, plus running a theatre (for love) and doing removals (for cash). His own needs were at the bottom of a very long list. Cue broken immune system. A bad cold at Christmas turned into flu. Six months later he was still ill. Eventually it became clear he had developed ME/CFS.

For the first couple of years, our relationship was unaffected. But after a while it began to take its toll.  He became, understandably, angry and depressed. Five years in, we were pretty miserable.  Both of us hit moments where we wanted to bail out, but we had a small daughter. Plus at the bottom of it all, I kept remembering Costa Rica. Surely that person, the person with whom I had forged a deep, soul-level connection, was still there?  During this time, someone told me about Tam Lin. This is how I wrote it up in Devotion:

When her husband is swallowed by a monster, the good wife waits. There is an old folk tale, Tam Lin. A beloved husband is cursed by a witch. The curse can be broken only by love. The husband’s first disguise is a tree. So the wife hugs her wooden, unyielding husband, declaring her love. But it is easy to love a tree, and no test of your trueness. The tree will not love you back, but it’s harmless. The witch’s curse tests love more completely. The husband will keep changing form, and the wife must hold on no matter what form he takes. If she drops him, he’s lost, stuck forever in the shape that his wife couldn’t tolerate. Whether she finds in her hands a poisonous snake or a razor-sharp blade, a slippery eel or a white-hot poker, and though she cannot know what terrifying transformation will follow, the wife must grip fast, keep faith that this is her husband. Only when her love has been tested to its end will her husband be restored.

We made it out the other side of my writing The Marlowe Papers, but only just. He recovered to a certain degree but still had to take it very carefully, and between the two of us, a lot of damage had been done. I swallowed so much anger that my appendix burst. Communication was difficult and partial. We’d become pretty good at making each other miserable.  He kept saying he wanted to leave and I was making a lot of arguments about why he needed to stay.  Then one night, I stopped fighting for ‘us’.

I took the dog out for his late walk. It was a frosty night and there wasn’t another soul on Hove lawns.  I felt a huge amount of sadness to think that my second marriage was ending; such a failure.  But I had learnt that negativity doesn’t go anywhere good, so I was looking for a way to turn that around.  I decided I would use the 45-minute walk to list all the things I appreciated about my (soon to be ex) husband, out loud. I started with small things. It was hard at first, with all the rancour that had passed between us (some of it that very day). But any emotion, when focused upon and indulged in, builds its own momentum.  The more small things I could think of to appreciate, the easier appreciation came.  Here are a few things I said to the frosty air.

  • I appreciate what you did for me when you came into my life.
  • I appreciate the way you were such a good parent to the boys when they were small.
  • I appreciate how you had the patience to get them to put their shoes on the shoe rack every day for eighteen months so that I wouldn’t stress out every morning trying to find them.
  • I appreciate how you brought organisation and order to our lives.
  • I appreciate how you always put us first, even to your detriment.
  • I appreciate what a brilliant father you are to our daughter.

And so it went on for 45 minutes. I must have come up with hundreds of statements. When I came back in, nothing had changed for him; he was still looking at me with exhausted and slightly hostile eyes. But I could only look at him with the eyes of love. I was full of appreciation for him, so much so that even though he was utterly unresponsive, I was able to hug him and tell him very sincerely that I loved him hugely as a human being, and that he must do whatever he could to create a life for himself that made him happy, and that if that meant leaving me, although I would be sad about that, I would support him 100%. I left him standing in the corridor and went to bed.

This was about five years ago.

We are still together.

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One thought on “The Dog Walk of Appreciation

  • March 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm
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    Dearest Ros – thank you for being brave and sharing this. I know what a toll ME can take on relationships. I’ve not seen you both for a while, but you and Paul have always seemed such a great fit and so good for each other.
    Much love
    Rosemary xxx

    Reply

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