It had been a little over three years since David’s wife had left him. After seventeen years of marriage, he was shocked when she asked for the divorce. Yes, he had known that the marriage was not perfect, but then again, who had a perfect marriage? Certainly not his friends. They were often complaining about their wives, yet the couples were still together.
Although they continued to coparent and get along for the sake of the children, David knew that Tanya had moved on. His sons kept him informed of whom their mother was dating. He knew that she had dated several different men over the past year, but nothing serious had developed until recently.
David had spent much of the past three years depressed and ruminating about the relationship between Tanya and himself. His obsessional thoughts often fluctuated—some days he thought only of revenge, and other days he focused only on ways to save the relationship. His emotions were like a ping pong ball; one day he was overwhelmed with anger, and the next day he was filled with love, longing, and regret. He had lost thirty pounds over the past three years. As he had never been overweight, the loss left him looking sick. Anxiety had made even his favorite foods taste like cardboard. His appetite had disappeared along with Tanya’s love.
Week after week, David came to his sessions, always on time and always eager to improve his life. The only problem was that in David’s mind, his life would not improve until Tanya came back to him. No matter where I tried to steer the sessions, David would ultimately go back to brainstorming ways to work things out with Tanya so that he could find happiness again. I admired David’s determination, but Tanya had made it very clear for several years now that she had no intention of reconciling. David’s focus was now taking a toll on his health and preventing him from appreciating his precious children. David believed that Tanya, and Tanya alone, held the key to his happiness.
One week David walked into my office looking as if a massive weight had been lifted off him. He was smiling, and the anxiety that had been radiating off him for so long was no longer present. David sat down in his usual chair, and I asked him how he was doing. He was silent for several moments, and then, letting out a really long sigh, he stated, “I have accepted that we are not going to be together, and I feel more relief than I have felt in years. Now I can finally move on with my life. She and I will have to work together parenting our children, but we will not be together.”
David went on to say that he felt as if he had been released from a self-imposed prison. “I would have never chosen to end my marriage, but now I realize that my happiness isn’t dependent on anyone but me. It is time to let go and appreciate what I do have—my wonderful children.” David had come to accept that which he could not change. And this acceptance set him free.
David finally had that aha moment and began to live again. He realized that he himself was the friction holding him back from gaining positive momentum in his life. David’s story is a story of acceptance and letting go. David came to realize that all he could do was to be the best person and the best father he could be. Living this way gave him peace.
Is there something in your life that you cannot change? Is it the past? Is it another person? Do you spend a lot of energy dwelling on something that you wish were different but have no power to change? What would happen if this thing, whatever it is, were accepted so that you could put your energy into doing something within your control? The trickiest part, in my opinion, is knowing the difference between what you can change and what you cannot. The difference is key. Talk to trusted others. You may have decided to accept what can be changed. Or you may be wasting your precious energy dwelling on what cannot.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
In all your unique situations and circumstances, may you have the wisdom to know the difference.
The following is an excerpt from my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life. Available Now! Amazon and Barnes and Noble.