Sacrifice and Love | Psychology Today United Kingdom

PICRYL

Sacrifice procession

Source: PICRYL

Monique is married (roughly), in her late 40s, with no children. She grew up in France, surrounded by privilege. She never expected her life to be anything but peaceful. She married a doctor slightly older than her, and he encouraged her to go back to school. She obtained a law degree, but never practiced. She thought you would start a family.

But then life took a turn. Her husband, a gastroenterologist, was invited to become a manager of the American branch of an international pharmaceutical company. This meant travel, increased pay and a chance for further promotion. So what could go wrong? New York sounded exciting. After long talks and goodbyes, they packed up and left.

Took a while to settle. Monique’s husband, Charles, traveled more than expected and was sometimes gone for a week. Did he understand how she felt? She thought he was too busy to wonder.

But finally, when he returned to New York, she insisted that they talk about her. They tried for a baby for years, but nothing ever happened. They decided it might be time for Monique to refocus her life, at least until a baby arrives (if that). What about trying to practice law? It was Charles’ idea.

With a French law degree, she will need to obtain an LL.M. from an American law school, and sit for the bar. It was a daunting prospect, but thousands of people did it every year. So she decided in the spring to apply and was accepted. but . . . Then she got pregnant. Finally, it seemed she would feel satisfied. If life wasn’t perfect – Charles still traveled more than he was at home – at least the baby would take her time. It will give her focus in her life, a sense of purpose. Monique’s mother had flown in from Paris to help.

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The problem was, about six months into the pregnancy, just after her mother arrived, Monique had a miscarriage. Her husband rushed back from Bern, where he attended a conference, and took a short vacation. They mourned together, and Charles wept. They made a decision that his work was ruining their life together. “Charles said the miscarriage was his fault, that if he had been with me, we might have saved the baby. He said I was under chronic stress because he was never there.”

Charles decided to leave his position and return to practicing gastroenterology. He would have to pass the exam in the US and do an internship for a year or two, but he thought he could do it. Of course, Monique would have to support them. But she found a job at a translation company translating legal documents into French.

Thus, even though nothing went as Monique had planned, she was not truly unhappy. Her husband was at home – studying, mostly – and her mother decided to stay for an extended visit.

But after two years, Charles failed to pass his exam. He hated himself for sacrificing his destiny. In any case, it has now become clear that his life is not what he expected, and he has become a moron. Then he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

They caught it early enough that it wasn’t fatal. But he had to have part of his colon removed, and he will need chemotherapy. It would take maybe a year for him to fully recover, and during that time, he wouldn’t have the strength to do much of anything.

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In bed they would talk about how each sacrificed for the other. She gave up a happy, almost idyllic life in France. He left a job that excited him, where the prospects were tremendous. They agreed that when you love someone, this is what you do. But Charles was clearly not pleased. “He would ask ‘What am I supposed to do now? Live on your salary while I watch what I eat?'”

After a while, after they had lived here for about twelve or thirteen years, Charles said he had had enough. He was going to be a doctor again, and to do that he would have to go back to France. It will be hard to get recertified, but still easier than passing those exams in the US. Monique was overwhelmed. Over the last few years, her mother had been deteriorating and had recently fallen. She was in an assisted living facility for people with memory loss, which Monique was trying to pay for. She visited on weekends and some weeknights. Charles gave her a choice: go back to France with him and leave her mother, or stay in the US and forget the “obligations” that marriage supposedly imposed.

It was two years ago. Monique’s mother still recognizes her, and Monique can’t bear to leave. She visits Charles occasionally, and he contributes to her mother’s upkeep. He is not yet fully qualified to practice, but earns what an intern does and expects his salary to increase soon. But more to the point, he is happier with himself. Monique wonders if Charles is seeing someone, since he stopped encouraging her to go back full time.

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Monique feels like she messed up her life. She blames herself, although she also blames Charles. But I explained to her that what seemed right at the time might not work out in the long run. Also, if she had chosen differently – that is, had she convinced Charles to stay in France, who knows what might have happened?

We never know how a decision will turn out. So now, Monique is still here. I suggested she consider what she really wanted. If she wants to go back to France, she should ask Charles. If she wants to stay here, at least for now, she should try to make a life here. But feeling sorry for herself, and being consumed by regret, can be crippling.

I thought maybe she could let Charles know she still loves him – which she does. She could see how he was reacting. Her life has taken so many turns, and it could take so many more. We do all kinds of things for love, and it does all kinds of things to us. Love is never a prescription for balance. Once in love, we are never in the same place. We have to learn to live where we are.

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