My buddy’s marriage is on the rocks. After raising four children and celebrating thirty years of marriage, he and his wife debate whether they should stay or go.
Since their children have finished college and left home, the kid-buffer that used to mask the tensions in their marriage is gone. Now, he and his wife are tackling the underlying resentments, flaws, and betrayals that clog a relationship.
I want to fix my buddy. Having scored a “one” on the Enneagram—which designates me as a “reformer”—I want to jump in and coach him through the practical steps he and his wife need to survive this difficult time. Morning meditation, spiritual direction, and counseling—those are the tools my wife and I added to our marriage toolbox when we hit the empty-nester zone.
But my buddy won’t take my advice, or at least not as quickly as I wish. I get impatient and frustrated. “For God’s sake,” I want to shout, “insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
In my angst, I’m discovering a life-lesson, a piece of wisdom the Creator invites me to integrate into my life. I often resist it, but the lesson is to let go; to accept life on life’s terms; to let empathy be a grace, not a trap.
Empathy is a gift we receive from the Holy Spirit. It’s understanding what another person is feeling—seeing the world through his or her eyes. It goes beyond compassion, since with empathy we often physically and emotionally experience the other’s pain.
Empathy becomes a trap when we fail to distinguish between others’ emotions and our own. It becomes unbalanced when we think we must solve their issues so we can feel right about ourselves. Trapped by empathy, we become desperate to fix the situation. We unknowingly take on the role of God.
As I continue to learn the distinction between the gift of empathy and its trap, my mentor introduced me to the 3 Cs:
- I didn’t cause it.
- I can’t control it.
- I can’t cure it.
I can, however, be the presence of Christ’s love. This is the grace of Holy Detachment that Saint Ignatius taught.
I’m learning to use the 3 Cs as a self-check. They are a practical path out of my obsessive, ego-based need to fix others.
I didn’t cause my buddy’s marital problems. And I can’t control what goes on within the walls of their home. Perhaps their struggle is a life-experience they need to go through so they can both grow. Most important, only they can cure their issues.
As I practice walking alongside my friend in a more balanced way, he and I exchange texts throughout the day. I affirm and encourage him. We work out at the gym and go for a beer occasionally. I’m learning to be patient and let life unfold.
I hope my friend’s marriage survives. I don’t know how or if it will. I do know his journey helped me discover the three Cs—didn’t cause it; can’t control it; can’t cure it.
They’re part of a life-lesson I’m going to need to work on—for the rest of my life.