I recently wrote a post about a concept Dr. Henry Cloud discusses – necessary endings. His book Necessary Endings, was SO influential that I decided to make one of THE MOST pivotal decisions of my life. Two chapters in particular (5 and 6) clinched things for me and when I read them, the film came off my eyes and the answers became crystal clear.
I want to share these two chapters with you over the next few days.
What Brought Me To My Necessary Ending?
The pivotal decision I made was to end my marriage. A little history (and herstory) is needed for background, and to put things in perspective…
At the time, my wife and I were trying to reconcile a failed marriage. I had moved out about three years prior to that and now we found ourselves back together. We had been back together for about a year before I was thinking about leaving again – this time permanently. I struggled and struggled internally while trying my best to keep up the good fight, hoping things would change SOON.
I couldn’t take any more. I felt neglected, rejected, and out in the cold again just like I was the first time. Nothing had changed.
I vividly remember the pain of not being invited to move back into the house. Friends told me she wanted to remain married but to continue living separately. I felt like a weekend secret and did a walk of shame every Friday morning with bags packed for the weekend as I snuck out of my apartment before the sun rose so my neighbors wouldn’t see me and scoff. I was afraid my neighbors would see that I was going “back home” for the weekend like some strung along, foolish husband.
At the end of the work day, I would arrive “home” (to the marital residence) after dark so the neighbors there wouldn’t see me entering my own home with packed bags. I snuck in like a foolish, dirty secret, under cover of darkness.
I was embarrassed and found myself becoming resentful over time. I don’t think she knows how much this hurt me.
This was just one of many red flags in our relationship.
We weren’t good communicators and argued constantly. When we got into an argument we didn’t talk for days at a time. We didn’t trust each other. I kept finding things out about her on Facebook and she was insecure about the relationships I had in the interim.
I felt like I was jumping through hoops to appease her. She felt like she was always walking on eggshells.
I was tired a lot. She usually had people and neighborhood kids at the house and I always felt so crowded and overwhelmed.
I was “addicted” to sex, she found it a challenge to be compassionate and intimate.
She felt like she was doing everything she could to make the marriage work. It seemed that the more I tried to help (e.g., folding the laundry, cooking dinner, vacuuming, and taking care of the yard) the worse things got. It was so disparaging.
Everything had turned so businesslike and cold.
Things just kept crashing down. A sink hole opened and sucked us down into it.
I questioned myself. Was I going crazy? As a husband I saw it as my duty to continue with reconciliation whatever the cost. No matter how embarrassing. No matter how much work it took on my part. No matter how painful it was for me. No matter how neglected I felt. It was my duty to continue no matter the obstacles. It was my duty to continue working on bettering myself even if I felt she wasn’t trying. It was so exhausting.
What is a Necessary Ending?
I was introduced to Dr. Cloud’s book during our Sunday sermons. Our pastor loves basing his series on concepts found in books and this one came during his relationship series, which he always starts the year off with.
In his book, you get the sense Cloud is comparing relationships to gardening. For example:
- If you want a relationship you have to plant seeds.
- If you want a relationship to grow, you have to water it. You have to nourish it and take care of it.
- Sometimes you have to cut branches off.
Wait, WHAT?!?! I have to cut branches off so the thing can grow? Isn’t that the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve?
In a sense. But yes, that’s right. In order for a plant or tree to grow, you have to prune it. You have to cut off the harmful portions. Otherwise nutrients will go to the unhealthy portions, sucking them away from the healthy ones. If you’re focusing and funneling your precious energy into the toxic relationships in your life, everything else will suffer. Even the healthy things in your life, like your physical health and your mental well-being.
This is when a necessary ending should take place. This is when pruning should happen. If you want the healthy parts of a tree to grow, you have to prune the unhealthy parts…the parts that are decaying and dying…the parts that are diseased and infected.
In turn, there are certain relationships and things that must end in your life. Certain things have to be pruned for the tree to survive. You have to prune the withering, dying, or infected parts for the greater good.
- Are you like me and “stuck” in an unhealthy marriage?
- Have you struggled to gain your mother or father’s acceptance your entire life?
- Are you in a job that is going nowhere and pulling you down from boredom and lack of challenge?
- Maybe you have a friend who is a negative source of energy?
- Maybe you’re addicted to porn? Gambling? Eating?
For you to grow, these things need to end. They need to be pruned. You need to go through a necessary ending. Though Cloud’s book focuses on relationships, this is a concept I’ve tried to apply to all areas of my life.
So What Is The ONE THING You Need For A Necessary Ending?
You need hopelessness.
Huh?!? Watchu talkin’ ’bout Willis?
That’s right. Hopelessness is a positive thing. How is it possible that hopelessness is positive?
Easy – when we reach hopelessness we’ve accepted reality. And when we accept that our reality is hopeless we realize that change is needed. That’s when we start to look at pruning. We start to make changes. Positive changes. We start pruning the things that are toxic in our lives and are causing harm.
“…you must finally see reality for what it is – in other words, that what is not working is not going to magically begin working. If something isn’t working, you must admit that what you are doing to get it to work is hopeless.
“The awareness of hopelessness is what finally brings people to the reality of a pruning moment. It is the moment when they wake up, realize that an ending must occur, and finally feel energized to do it. Nothing mobilizes us like a firm dose of reality.” (74)
Does everything need to be pruned just because it feels “wrong” or “off”? No. And Dr. Cloud discusses how to know what is in need of pruning and what is not at depth in this same chapter.
Really, the bad thing here is hope.
Hear me out.
Hope is bad because it’s what keeps us holding on when things are at their worst. It’s what kept me holding on in my marriage when I was doing everything I could and still felt rejected by my wife. Hope forces you to continue fighting even though every rational thought you have is telling you to do otherwise. Take away hope and the will to continue fighting ceases to exist.
I wrote my thoughts on why people take their own lives – because they have reached a point of hopelessness. Do I advocate it? No. Do I understand it? Yes. Have I been there and attempted the same? Absolutely. But let me return to how hope impacts relationships.
Are there areas in your life where you have hope and feel like your fighting through a quagmire of resistance?
♦ You hope that things will get better in a friendship that has turned sour. You hope that your friend apologizes for the hurt they caused, or will stop lying, stop gambling, or stop stealing.
♦ You hope that your marriage will work out even though you see the same negative patterns happening over time. You hope that things will change. Or you hope that the other person will change.
♦ You hope that one day your estranged mother will call and apologize deep heartedly for neglecting you ever since you were a child. You hang on to the hope that not only will she apologize, but that things are reconciled over time and fixed for good.
♦ You hope that your boyfriend will stop drinking and beating you. You remember and hang on to the good things about him, not the bad though. You hope the broken bones and broken promises will heal. You desperately hope the negative things will stop and that your situation will improve.
♦ You hope that your boring job will take a turn and become more challenging or provide some sense of excitement.
In all these cases, you are probably hanging on to an unrealistic reality. Are you able to continue fighting the fight you’ve been fighting for the next year? The next month? How about for the next week? If you answered no to all three questions, you have reached the point of hopelessness and it is time for a necessary ending.
Hope, specifically a “false reality”, is bad because it makes you hang on for however long it takes. No matter the energy. No matter the cost.
“Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. With hope, we can endure almost anything, and certainly more than if we lost it or don’t have it to begin with. In short, hope keeps us going. And that is the problem. (84)
“Hope is always about holding on when it looks bad and being able to hold on sometimes for a long time. The time dimension is a key component, because if it did not require time, we would have no use for hope…hope buys time and spends it.” (85)
“What reason, other than the fact that I want this to work, do I have for believing that tomorrow is going to be different from today?” (90)
Hope can be good, but only when there is forward movement or noticeable positive change. Otherwise, you are living a false reality.
Only when we face hopelessness toe-to-toe do we start to make the necessary changes for a better life. Only then do we realize that a necessary ending is in order. When hopelessness is reached, pruning can begin.
Dr. Cloud has an entire “boundary” series on relationships. If you enjoyed this book, or are struggling to make a decision with a personal or professional relationship you will love his series. Thank you for taking your time to read, comment, and share this post with others. I’m looking forward to having a dialogue and reading your comments!
What are your thoughts?
- Are you experiencing a place of hopelessness in your life?
- What area(s) in your life require a necessary ending?
- What are your thoughts on this chapter?