I’m Fine Does Not Necessarily Mean I Am Fine


Evelyn has been married for 11 years and has 2 little girls.  “It’s a great marriage,” she says, “but I’m so unhappy in it.”

I ask her to explain.  She says her childhood was emotionally painful; she learned early on to put on an “I’m fine,” smile.  “And, I did that throughout school as well as in my marriage.  I am pretty certain I didn’t love him, but he loved me, so I thought that was enough.  I want to be happy now, but I don’t want to upset him or our daughters.”

I ask her the Crystal Ball* question.  “If you could look into a Crystal Ball and see that in the future you would never meet a man who offered you more than your husband, what would you do?”

She grimaces.  “I don’t know.  That’s what’s so upsetting; I have no guarantee I’ll be happy even if I leave.  But, I do know I will be ok if I leave.  I’m independent; I’m competent; have a great job so I can support myself.  But, I’d be disappointing so many people.  My mother would give me her “You’re really messed up” look.

The more we talk, the more it becomes clear Evelyn has so little sense of what she wants for herself.  The only escape, she assumes, is getting out of her marriage.  And, while that may be the right thing for her, there is no way she can really know what she wants for herself – until she focuses on herself.  Fleeing the marriage without being clear what she wants, not just pleasing or avoiding others, might only leave her vulnerable to getting into another relationship where she loses herself.

As soon as I start saying any of this, she nods and finishes the conversation.  “I don’t want to always be ‘fine’ with what others want for me. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I have to ‘find myself.’  How do I do that, though, without becoming that cliché?

We start with her just observing herself for a week.  “Don’t do anything different; just watch yourself with your new eyes.”

The following week, Evelyn has done some serious watching, including seeing how she was training her daughters to be “nice” to everyone.  “I have got to do something; I don’t want them growing up and stuck like I am.”

We talk about a number of options.

“I definitely need to keep working with you, but I like the idea of that retreat you talked about.  It would be really helpful for me to talk with (and listen to) other women.  I know you said some of them will have their lives together more than I; they will be there for other reasons, but they would also give me a sense of where I could grow.”

What I can not guarantee Evelyn, but what I have seen so often, is that these intensive retreats can significantly cut the length of therapy.  But, what I can guarantee her is that she will get out of it whatever she is willing to invest.

The following year, I receive a letter from her.  She had attended a Unique Retreats for Women and completed her therapy.  She is happily married – to the same man she had been unhappy with before.  She writes,

“It’s hard to explain exactly what happened, but being at the weekend really changed things for me in some crucial ways.  Something about seeing some women who had more of their lives together and those who were struggling like me was a turning point.  I got hope, ideas about what I was missing, but more important, I came away with a game plan (based on all that hard work you made me do (!).  As you know, I worked on that after the retreat, and I’m so pleased to say I have a business plan and a meeting with the bank next week.  Opening a coffee café/book store/art gallery was always a dream I never allowed myself to dream.  And, now it will happen.  Thank you so very much – you and the other women.”

In a postscript, she says, “Feel free to share this with any woman who is considering the retreat.”

Thank you, Evelyn.


*See Single Women: Know Yourself and Use a Crystal Ball in my articles for single women


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Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

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