I am a 42 year old man, and I am going through heartache in longing for a wife and children. I can spare you the details, yet I was married, and then divorced at 35. I haven’t met the right gal, and moved twice for various reasons. The heartache for family is so very intense, it seems unbearable at times. I know there are steps I can take to open up my parameters to meeting a compatible spouse, and I have in the past. I feel that as I am getting older, that my chances of meeting a compatible gal of childbearing age get more intense.
The main reason I wrote to you, is the intensity of the longing for family, wife, and to be open to children.
Answered by Dr. CBT
First of all, it’s important you start with the idea that anything think, feel say or do is perfectly understandable given your unique personal history. If you see yourself as not living up to some expectations, your own, a parents, societal, gender, whatever, you’ll generate shame, and “shame blocks change”. It just makes it harder to identify the specific thinking that causes you to feel worse than you need to, and than you’d like to. There’s an adage: “Look at your past, but don’t stare at it”. The point is that somewhere in your past there are clues as to why you have such longing. You may or may not know what they are. If you don’t, you may or may not be able to figure them out. Some forms of therapy (not that you need it) spend long stretches of time trying to figure out why you feel the way you do – good for the income of therapists, but of questionable value for a patient. Bottom, where you are right now is understandable given the unique mix of things you’ve been through and probably some genetic temperament, etc. Put others through the identical events you’ve been through and they more likely than not would end up feeling more like you do than not. And you’re certainly not the first person to have the thoughts and feelings you do, and you certainly won’t be the last. The same is true for divorce and everything else. Trust me, you’ve got a lot of company. And logically all that proves is that you’re a fallible human being (FHB) like the rest of us, who at times thinks, feels, says and does thing that make their lives worse instead of better. You’ve really got a lot of company in that regard, including me. Therefore, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
That said, the key to what you’re feeling is how you think. If you read the article, (and they are worth re-reading, first to have it really sink in, and then to remind us of new ways to look at things lest we slip back into our old “ruts” for looking at things the way we used to?
From the little you’ve told me, my first thought is that you’re “longing” is the product of something all human beings do, something that Dr. Albert Ellis said was probably innate to humans, to start to think we NEED things that we simply want (and perhaps REALLY want), would like or prefer, that’s nice to have, but that we can live without. We start to treat simple preferences as necessities, and then start to DEMAND those things of ourselves, others and life.
If you read that post I did about irrational thinking (BTW, Ellis said a normal person has about a 50/50 split rational/irrational thoughts, so again, you’ve got a lot of company), we need air, water and food. We’ll die in minutes, days or weeks without them. Other things like love are really nice to have but we don’t need them to survive. If people died whenever they didn’t get as much love as they wanted (which may in turn be caused by some prior deficit, for example in a family upbringing) there wouldn’t be 6+B people on the planet. When we start to think we need something we simply want, it’s called a PERCEIVED need. Unfortunately, we are often cultured to believe we NEED love. Just think about that famous Beatles song and think about how many people brainwashed themselves by repeating ad nauseum “All you NEED is love” while singing along.
So if I’m right, that that’s what you do in your own mind, there are some questions that deserve asking:
1) I understand why you would want people to love you, but why do you NEED for them to?
2) Do you NEED for them to, or just WANT them to?
3) Do you NEED them to, or would you just really LIKE them to?
4) Do you NEED for people to love you, be with you, want to be with you, for you to be with them the same way you need air, water and food? Or, is it simply something you’d just really like?
It’s each of our choices how we want to look at things. And the way we do is perfectly understandable. But there are emotional consequences for the way we do choose to look at things that we alone have to live with. The question becomes
1) What do you really want? How do you want to feel?
2) Is the way you’re looking at things helping you get what you want? To feel the way you want to feel?
3) Is it making your life better or worse?
4) In other words, how’s it working for you?
5) If you keeping thinking the same way, will it be easier or harder to get what you want, feel the way you want in the future? If you do think, feel, say and do what you always, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
When people make demands of others that don’t get met, they get angry. Anger can be a precursor to depression, which I suspect is what you have often. I suspect you might be making some demands of your ex (maybe) and your children that aren’t being met. Dr. Ellis used to call anger a temper tantrum because people are being demanding like a young child, i.e. “They SHOULD…..” or ‘”They HAVE to….” or “They CAN’T….” Depression can also be caused by making demands of life. BTW, Ellis called depression a “quiet temper tantrum”. Loneliness is not caused by being alone, but by what we think about being alone. For example, if you are alone, and constantly tell yourself “I SHOULD be with someone”, “I SHOULD be in a relationship” and so on, you’re going to feel lonely. BTW, that’s called SHOULDING ON YOURSELF and just makes you feel shouldy if you get my drift (as opposed to SHOULDING ON OTHERS, which does the same thing)
Point of all this is that it’s what you think about your life events or circumstances that make you feel the way you do, not the actual circumstances or events. And you have a host of choices you make all the time that determine how you feel (see article above). And you’re probably doing the same thing everyone else does at times, thinking you need something you simply want, prefer and desire. Rule #1: you have a right to want whatever you want. But when you start thinking you need it, you’re going to make yourself feel worse than you need to. Like depressed instead of just sad, angry instead of just frustrated, anxious instead of just concerned, and lonelier than you need to feel. And how do you make those choices listed above? What do you focus on, what meanings do you attach to what happens? (i.e. “My kids must not love me because….) What do you compare things/your life to? What are you imagining is going to happen next/in the future (I’m never going to have anyone) Remember, you have CHOICES.
When I was a kid a stand up comedian used to do a joke where he said “I went to a doctor and said Doc it hurts when I do this and he said ‘stop doing it”. Hope you get what I’m saying. If you identify how you really do think about everything that’s going on in your life versus what you’re expecting, and then are telling me I feel bad when I do all this kind of thinking, what would I tell you if I was that doc? But only you can do that. And the problem you face is that once thinking and feeling certain ways are “rutted” in your brain, you can’t get rid of them. You can only create new “ruts” that can compete with the old ones. You do that the same way you created the old ones. Practice and rehearsal!!!!!
If you read the post on irrational thinking, you’ll know you also are AWFULIZING, telling yourself you CAN’T STAND (or bear, or live with) things you simply don’t like. It all follows from treating something you simply want as something you think you NEED.
You’re probably also LABEL AND DAMNING yourself for not being where you wanted to be in life. We call it condemning yourself to SH*THOOD. In so many words, you’re probably calling yourself a SH*T for how your life has turned out. Perfectly understandable. Been there, done that. But it comes back to that question from above, “How’s that working for you?”
Hope this helps. There are a lot of tools in the article I posted, even more on in the book I wrote. It’s like being an apprentice at any trade. First you’ve got to get all the tools you need, Then you need to learn what the tools can do, where they get used. Then it takes a lot of practice to get good at using them. Like they say in the trades, “Any job is easy if you use the right tool”.
Hope this helped some.