In the series Separated & Sharing several portraits will be depicted of people who have experienced a divorce or separation. In this portrait Carla Muisers (54) shares her story. Carla is a mother to two sons, owner of coaching practice Carla Muisers in Limburg, The Netherlands and an experienced expert in the field of high sensitivity and relationships.
Carla’s parents are not divorced. She cannot recall having an image of what a relationship should be since she was a child. Only when Carla got older, she soon realized that the way her parents were together did not have her preference. She didn’t experience her parents’ relationship as balanced. There was always one of them who would be more dominant, one who would take control more often, to which the other would follow. Only when her father passed away, she found out why. She never liked the fact that her mother didn’t have anything to say within the marriage. From Carla’s perspective it was also because of the way her mother is and how her mother would position herself in their marriage. Her mother was the kind of woman who needed someone who would take decisions for her. Until her father passed away, she had a distorted image of their relationship.
Catholic Limburg in the seventies
Raised in catholic Limburg in the seventies, it seems to me that her parents were from another generation, a generation that didn’t easily decide to divorce.
As a child she did experience a divorce close to her. Her mother’s youngest sister divorced when Carla was in primary school. Parents of her class mates were not divorced. When she met her now-ex-husband, she met another divorcee: her brother in law. ‘We are talking about thirty years ago. A divorce did not really happen so often in my surroundings.’
Practically a simple divorce
Carla and her ex-husband have chosen for a mutual request for divorce. ‘Practically it was a simple divorce. He also lend his cooperation and assisted in other fields. That was our priority. Especially for our kids to get along as well as possible and not frustrate each other. It doesn’t mean there was no pain, frustration and pain. Our children and their interests were at heart. Being an example as parents getting along after separation.’
Carla and her ex-husband had already been married for twenty years when they divorced. Their children were seven and ten at the time. ‘We wanted to do it as good as possible for our kids, but you also do it for yourself. We have co-parenting on paper, but which days with whom and when have always been open for discussion till today.’ A co-parenting like theirs is not so common. Carla and her ex have separated with care.
Now we live here with mum and dad is leaving
Their children were intensely sad when their parents shared their decision to divorce. ‘That moment when I left with them to the other house, that first night was heart breaking, it was horrible. Beyond comprehension. That’s when reality hit. We went to our new home. My ex was there too. He said goodbye and then it was ’oh, so this is it. Now we live here with mum and dad is leaving.’ It was horrific, I can still see it.’
While Carla is going back to that moment and shares it, she feels the grief again and gets a lump in her throat.
You sense that something is slipping like sand through your fingers
Carla and her ex-husband had no fight, but they also didn’t have a relationship like it should be. ‘You could sense that something was missing. You sense that something is slipping like sand through your fingers. That moment you want to grasp it, like I have experienced, it is already gone. And what remains is the memory of it. You’d wish to get back that feeling that belongs to that memory, but when you look back later you realise that process has been going on for a longer period of time. Taking distance, that invisible hand not being present anymore. I sensed it more than he did as the decision eventually came from me. He did know it. He also sensed it wasn’t that harmonic as it should be. You are together but you are not with each other. ’
A marriage on automatic pilot
Carla found herself so to speak in a marriage on automatic pilot. ‘Yes, you could call it like that. You’re used to it; you’ve known each other for a long time. We have already known each other for a long time before marriage, from my 16th. It is familiar. It muddles along. With here and there some small frustrations you hide. It is not really a big fight, but there is always a certain uncomfortable tension. It was a bit oppressing.’
What is often seen with relationships with individuals that have known each other from a young age is that they grow as individuals but their relationship doesn’t evolve along. Carla agrees. ‘One wishes to grow and the other doesn’t feel comfortable with it. When you just sense: I have no space anymore, I don’t know what I want yet, but I don’t have space.’ Eventually after the divorce Carla learned amongst other things what caused it. ‘In essence it had nothing to do with me. It has also put the relationship in another perspective, when I once learned that things didn’t go smoothly mostly because of me as a person.’
Highly sensitivity and marriage
Carla refers with this to her highly sensitivity. Highly sensitivity is something that surfaces to many people these past years. At least the definition of highly sensitivity. This definition has been introduced by Elaine Aron with her book about highly sensitive persons. The scientific term is having a sensitive sensory processing system. There has been and is written a lot about highly sensitive persons (hsp), highly sensitive children (hsc), employers who should take highly sensitive professionals and their added value into consideration.
Carla has experienced what it is like to be highly sensitive in a relationship. She could flawlessly pick up non-verbal signals. ‘For example when everything in the relationship seems to going right and you have a conversation and your partner gives you an answer that makes you think: but this is not his real answer. Saying yes, meaning no. You’d sense anything flawless, which makes you pay more attention and even make you tiptoe. You don’t have to do it, but you. Each word, each facial expression, you just sense the true meaning.’ Despite the fact that she could understand it as an adult, she’d wonder at the same time: ‘what is it that I don’t wish to see, what am I afraid of?’ Carla continues: ‘Eventually you start giving so much and do your best, because you are so aware of what the other needs. Until a part of you gets upset: I don’t only want to give, I also would like to receive. It needs to be in balance.’
With the knowledge about high sensitivity Carla has now, she would have been able to talk about high sensitivity then to a certain extent so her ex-husband could understand it and their marriage could have been placed in another perspective. ‘To a certain extent. I wish I could say ‘completely, because I also wondered. It would have made a huge difference. When I had told him afterwards, he had read about it and understood, he could identify situations. For instance, that I would be tired very quickly after a visit or a trip. Due to the lack of the knowledge about high sensitivity it was never received very well. ’Honestly I can’t say if the relationship would have been saved knowing then what I know now about high sensitivity. We are ten years further now. I have evolved. We both have gone our own separate ways. I have changed, I already had then. He has changed too.’
Being aware of and dealing with high sensitivity and the quality of the relationship
According to Carla the quality of a relationship in which at least one of the two is highly sensitive depends on the extent to which the other is open to it. ’If partner understands you can come to an agreement. When there is a trip one day followed by a diner with friends you can choose to leave out one appointment. This way your partner doesn’t need to be disappointed again because there was a cancellation.’
Despite the fact that one person in five is highly sensitive, there are still too many people who do not know what highly sensitivity means. That also counts for people who are highly sensitive and are not aware yet of the role their sensitivity has in a relationship. Fortunately there is being read and share more about this topic. Highly sensitivity is not something you have, it is something you are. Highly sensitivity is a trait.
Stages of grief: de-coupling
As often is the case, Carla being the one who took the decision to divorce was in a further stage of grief compared to her ex-husband. Insofar it was hard for Carla after the divorce as it was not clear to her whether it was because of the divorce or something else. Whenever she was alone she would feel very scared. As she learned many years later it as partly due to highly sensitivity. ‘It was remarkable that after the divorce he did understand me more, for what I had said. During our marriage he would often just set it aside. That would make me doubt whether or not my decision to divorce was the right one. Was it because I was too much by myself? Was I facing too many emotions and wasn’t I able to handle it? Or did I want to continue with him?’ That first year was very confusing for Carla, it had been an emotional roller coast. There have been doubts too whether or not she had made the right decision. It took 9 months.
This fits the Kübler Ross’ stages of grief. It is part of the de-coupling. All of a sudden you get a carte blanche, which you can fill in as you wish. It is understandable that it creates a moment of panic. Especially with a 20 years marriage like Carla’s and knowing each other longer than the duration of the marriage. It is the teen entering the marriage and the independent adult woman who arrives on unknown territory after divorce. That is quite exciting, a new chapter in her life.
‘I know for sure that it played a part. The teen girl unknown to high sensitivity, raised from a certain family in a certain way. On the one hand I came across as confident, emotionally I was still a little girl. That little girl needed someone.’ Over the years, Carla challenged her boundaries, even though she still thought that what she did was not good enough. Especially when the children came and she cared for the children, she got this ‘but hey there is also me’ feeling. That is the growth she meant. She wasn’t that little girl anymore, she had become a woman now, a mother and she has an opinion that matters. ‘When you are setting this aside all the time, how long do you carry on? How long are you willing to add water to the wine? It may not have been huge issues, but it didn’t feel like you were standing next to each other. It felt more like the little girl standing next to him’
The conversations missing during marriage
Her ex-husband also mentioned that things between them weren’t as they could have been. He didn’t necessarily wanted to separate. They have had two sessions with a psychologist. This was confusing for Carla: all of a sudden there were conversations about things she would mention. ‘I would say: you didn’t listen or you would set it aside. If this happens often enough I didn’t know anymore what to say. At one point it just stops.’ During the second session we were asked if we would be prepared to continue our relationship for the other. He answered: yes. I answered: no.
My intuition answered ‘no’. There was also one moment when I was looking for another house. Just before the move I said: I am not going, I am staying here. He told me: Just go, feel and find out what you actually want. Maybe it is actually the best thing to do that in another house, to discover what you really want or we will just keep going in circles. As said I came to that point of doubt.’ Carla and her ex-husband went on vacation together with the kids. Initially it felt good and familiar. ‘It did bring feelings. It was the memory I was holding onto, the memory of good and pleasant times. We still have that line between us, but there is no connection. You are together but not with each other. That is the difference. He also sense did. It was very difficult. Also with our two children.’ The will was present, but Carla would like to have that feeling again. Especially because they were able to have these conversations afterwards. She noticed that unlike previously he was willing to anything. With her decision to divorce Carla woke up her marriage.
Carla and her ex-husband spoke with a psychologist. A psychologist she visited herself when she was young just after giving birth to her first son. Carla got depressed for the very first time. Carla has visited a professional on some occasions in her life, but these professionals never have been able to make a connection with her sensitivity and what comes with it.
The combination of highly sensitivity and being pregnant was quite an overload for Carlo. All the impressions she had collected were also released during labour.
Carla noticed quickly after giving birth that something was wrong. Although she mentioned it, nothing was done about it immediately. It was considered as extreme fatigue caused by very long delivery. Physically restoring was quite a challenge and on top of that there was also the familiar ‘I have to do it right’. According to Carla always wanting to do it right has to with the fact that she didn’t feel like she was noticed. Emotionally she didn’t feel safe. ‘Additionally I sensed everything that was happening around me. I started to control everything to survive, as a child but later also as an adult.’
Being happy together for the children and sharing that happiness with each other
Carla and her husband have managed from the start to have a good rapport. They are still in touch with each other. Their youngest son has graduated. There was a gala for his graduation. She has been able to attend. They have consulted each other. ‘We are both happy for our son and we share that happiness also in messages to each other. I am grateful for this, I cherish moments like this. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can see it also benefits them.’
Unlike her ex-husband Carla doesn’t have a new relationship. Once it was obvious their marriage was over, her ex-husband has met someone else a year after their divorce.
Relationship profile of a highly sensitive woman
After everything Carla has been through, also with respect to her highly sensitivity she has a different view on a relationship. ‘I know, I sense anyway that is about having an equal relationship.’ She means expressing an opinion and sharing a perspective freely. Sometimes Carla experiences her highly sensitivity as a disadvantage when it comes to finding a suitable partner. ‘You can meet a very nice man but if you don’t have that feeling – and I don’t mean infatuation – it is not going to happen.’ There should be a certain foundation, a certain connection that feels good enough to continue. That’s when there are interfaces, that’s when there is space to grow to stimulate each other.’
Tips for a highly sensitive person in a relationship
‘It may sound very cliché but stick to yourself and follow your heart. When it is something small, it is okay to add water to the wine. Is it about something that doesn’t feel right, stick to that feeling, because eventually it turns out against you. Than give and take get out of balance and you will not keep up with it, it will cost energy. A relationship is about giving energy. When you notice your energy draining off in a relationship, any relationship, it is time to observe that relationship and to feel ‘what do I want with this, what can I do with this?’ You cannot change the other, you can only change how you deal with it. Be honest, express your feelings, and point it out. Don’t hide it, because that also takes energy. And take time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty. When you have the need for some me-time reading a book, listening to music, taking a walk, just do it. It will benefit your relationship eventually. Me- time is necessary to feel good again, to sort things out. Otherwise your head gets overloaded and that is not going to work. It is easy to blame someone else, but there is only one person who can step on that brake and set borders. That’s you.’
Read more about Carla Muisers on her website
About Su Changoe
Su Changoe is the owner of Tara Mediation. Tara Mediation guides couple who are considering a divorce or separation, couples who have decided to divorce and already divorced individual. For these individuals Tara Mediation provides the workshop ‘Claim your spot! – from partner to single’. More information www.taramediation.com
For more information about Tara Mediation, interview requests or images you can contact Su Changoe by phone: +31 (0)6 8100 6515 or e-mail: email@example.com Also visit the website: www.taramediation.com
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