Face down on the cutting board
On the day I found out that my wife was cheating on me and had hired a divorce lawyer, I was defeated. I bailed out of the 3D web startup which I had been sweating over for years, leaving two of the nicest partners I ever had holding a technology they couldn't sell and a business which folded without me as the CEO. (sorry, Nic and Ian)
I gave up on startups.
I lay in bed and watched all of Hulu.
I got a 9-to-5 job writing a CMS for a newspaper.
In the months that followed I knew that I had ruined my life, the life of my beautiful one year old daughter, and my now-ex-partners' lives. I had even ruined the life of my now-ex-wife! (She agreed)
It was clear that everything that I held to be true was in fact false and would forever be false.
For most of a year I was defeated. My oldest friend, Matt, once said that while some people "struggle with depression" he just "bent over for it", and that's where I was that year; folded over a kitchen counter, face down on the cutting board, passively letting defeat have its way with me.
When I worked at Be, Inc. I noticed that many of the engineers slept on their couches and it didn't occur to me until years later that they might just be scared to go home to cold spouses or empty beds. I saw the same behavior at i-drive, at PARC, and then I made it happen at my startup.
For the last few years of my marriage I was absent. Absent so that I could work another few hours each day. Absent from my body because all that mattered happened in my brain. Absent minded about relationship commitments because who wants to add yet another item to an already packed calendar and to-do list. And most painful to remember is how even when I was with my daughter I was in fact still working, still thinking about the problems of the business and the code.
I remember driving to a huge Italian wedding at a Marin county winery and thinking about some 3D rendering problem while my wife was telling me about her workplace drama and it felt like she was being an asshole for interrupting. So, yeah. Self-absorbed and absent.
I made one really good decision in that year of defeat, which was to take care of my body. I ignored my mind but my body grew younger. I stopped drinking alcohol. I trained for and then ran a half-marathon. I slept for ten hours a night. I turned 30 pounds of flab into 10 pounds of muscle.
I turned off my brain to everything except my minimal responsibilities but my body returned to a health I hadn't felt since I was a single college student. That was the foundation on which recovery started and only after my body was better could I begin to think again.
Thinking and reading lead me to improv, where there are three basic rules: Hear offers. Say, "Yes". Make your partner look good.
These are also the rules of listening. To hear what our partners are telling us we must listen without formulating an immediate response so that we can hear what they offer. Keep a "yes" or a "yes, and" in our hearts while listening and the conversation will spiral up into agreement instead of down into conflict. Look for opportunities to boost our partners' feelings with support and clear signs that they're being heard.
Once we're actually a part of the conversation instead of secretly figuring out why the test suite takes too long to run, we might notice that it's pretty nice being in our bodies with someone we love.
Now I'm three years into a happy relationship with Amy Leigh. We work out together every day at lunch and I've never felt so seen and heard in all of my life. Partly it's because she's a relationship rock star but also it's because I'm finally here, present and listening.