Monday, July 4, 2022

In Grief: Death of A Marriage

In every friendship hearts grow and entwine themselves together, so that the two hearts seem to make only one heart with only a common thought. That is why separation is so painful; it is not so much two hearts separating, but one being torn asunder.  ~ Fulton J. Sheen

A reader writes: Two months ago my wife of 5 years came to me out of the blue and asked me for a divorce. To make a long and painful story short, she had been seeing another man and in the time since discovering this I have found out our entire relationship was one lie after another.

I feel foolish, naive, weak, and sad. I am an intelligent, attractive, passionate, funny, 32-year-old and yet I find myself sobbing at times for this loss. I am deeply spiritual, and have found much comfort in my faith. But I just don't know how to let go. Every sign is pointing to the fact that I have really lost nothing, but instead have been given the chance to greatly improve my health and overall wellbeing.

I feel so weak knowing that deaths and marriages much longer than mine abound. I realize the significance of loss is a deeply personal thing, but I feel irrational and so very foolish.

My wife was my dream come true. I can remember nights when I would simply watch her sleep and thank God for this precious gift. The sight of her sleeping brought me joy because I felt like I was watching over her and could protect her from the outside world. She never needed rescuing, it was merely a tender feeling I cherished and miss so very much. I miss holding her close and placing my head against her chest to listen to her heart beat. It was in those moments I could hear eternity and feel my soul connecting with the divine.

The mornings and evenings are the worst. I loved that I would wake up with her face as my dawn, and fall asleep with her in my arms.

I have always been a passionate and romantic soul, but now I curse my heart because it just refuses to let go and I am finding it hard to move on. I have made so many improvements in my life and overall I am very happy. But I feel shackled by these deeply buried feelings of attachment.

I know there is no quick fix, but it feels good to get it out. Thank you for reading.

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the difficulties you're facing, my friend. You sound like such a caring, sensitive man.

Whenever there is a loss of something important in our lives, we suffer grief, and grieving is a part of the divorce / breaking-up process. Usually for a death there is a set ritual with a funeral or memorial service, and some understanding in our culture that mourning is important. But for the death of a love relationship, there is no prescribed ritual of mourning, and the grief is seldom acknowledged or accepted. As Robert Fulghum writes in his book, From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Daily Lives:

When we’ve changed our religious views or political convictions, a part of our past dies. When love ends, be it the first mad romance of adolescence, the love that will not sustain a marriage, or the love of a failed friendship, it is the same. A death. Likewise in the event of a miscarriage or an abortion: a possibility is dead. And there is no public or even private funeral. Sometimes only regret and nostalgia mark the passage. And the last rites are held in the solitude of one’s most secret self — a service of mourning in the tabernacle of the soul.

When a relationship dies, oftentimes there is an injury to one's own ego, a sense of failure and a diminished sense of self-worth. There are nagging questions about what went wrong and many fears about the future, especially when children are involved.

In order to get yourself into a position to enjoy life again, it's important to learn whatever lessons this experience has to teach you, to get to know yourself better and to develop new parts of yourself that you did not know were there before.

I'd like to recommend to you four books that I think you'll find quite helpful and "on point". They're all still in print and should be available from your local library, neighborhood bookstore or online at Amazon:

Coming Apart:How to Heal Your Broken Heart, by Daphne Rose Kingma

The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments, by William Bridges

Life is Goodbye / Life is Hello, by Alla Renee Bozarth

Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends (4th Edition), by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti

There are also some very helpful websites you may wish to visit, all of which are listed on the Death of a Relationship page on my Grief Healing website. You might also consider joining our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which include a forum for Loss of A Love Relationship.

Here is an example of the sort of sound advice that was posted by one of our members in response to another recently divorced individual:

Your experience is not unusual nor is it anything less than real. Divorce and separation are often placed in a bin called Ambiguous Loss. It's ambiguous for the simple fact that the object lost is still present, the love spent is not reciprocated.

Don't discount or lessen your experience in light of others' losses. The pain and anguish you experience is as if someone had died.

When love cannot be returned, grief happens. You are affected cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially. Two months is not a long time. You are only now overcoming your disbelief at what had happened. If anything, your pain will increase as your psyche says, "I can take this, now." Those who have suffered through the death of a loved one will often say, at three months, that things seemed to get worse. That's why: The fog has dissipated. Observe yourself as you pass through that.

All of us, who have experienced loss have four tasks to perform in order to process grief:

1) Acknowledge the loss. As acknowledgment is a simply statement of loss, realize that, for the first three weeks, even saying it filled you with disbelief. Simple as the statement is, it's hard to come to the truth of that statement.

2) Acknowledge the pain of the loss. This often follows closely upon the first task but it too takes time. That pain is deep and reaches into the psyche to the root of the love you felt.

3) Move on from sad to joyful memories. This will sneak up on you. One day, a few months down the road, you'll note to yourself that the preponderance of thought goes to the happy rather than the sad.

4) Re-invest in the future. This is the last task and it's meaning is obvious. We may carry the spirit of the love lost as we live our lives into a future without it.

I don't want to appear too didactic, but it's important to know that, while you may feel victimized, you do have an opportunity to move yourself forward when you are ready.

Make it okay that you may not yet be ready. Process the sadness of your feelings for your loss. Dwell on them when you can. Put them aside when daily life intrudes. Just don't repress them.

Grief will out. If you process your sadness, you'll feel the pain. If you repress your grief, it will raise itself in the ugly guise of guilt or anger'll feel the pain.

I return to my first point: Your grief is as real as you are. Applaud yourself for taking the risk of sharing it with others. This forum is "talk therapy" carried on in cyberspace but it heals just the same.

I hope this information proves helpful to you, my friend, and I hope others who've experienced similar losses will share their insights with you as well. Meanwhile I wish you all the best as you continue to work your way through this difficult time.

Afterword: Well, I suppose I have been guided to the right path! I thought I was going crazy. I had been doing so well the past few weeks and all of a sudden I became overwhelmed with sadness again. I think it is the acknowledgement of the loss. As much as I told myself I was moving on and forward, a small part of me was holding on even if I was unaware of it. I suppose I am doing the right thing. When I feel sad, I cry and let myself feel it realizing it has to pass at some point, which it always does.

At the heart of deepest sadness, I am so very thankful at the same time I am weeping for the loss. Some people never get to taste love, but I was blessed and had it in abundance. It is gone now, but I don't think anyone who is given the immense capacity to love this deeply is destined to be without it forever. I remain optimistic that I will always have love in family, friends, and a future.

I am in a unique position in that I moved away from all of my family and friends to be near my wife 5 years ago. While my family is not terribly far, they are not right there to drop in on for support. Recognizing this, as well as my desire to stay in an area I adore, I had a decision to make. I chose to stay in my "home." I faced days and nights of true solitude, and so I decided I needed to start taking care of three areas of my life that would be feeling the emptiness the most; my spirituality, my physical well-being, and my mental health. I started attending church again and have found tremendous support for my spiritual needs there. I began writing again after a 3 year hiatus, and that is taking care of my mental well being. And I got back to the gym and started eating the way I had always eaten before my marriage -- very healthfully. I am now 80 pounds lighter and very happy with my physical well being.

I mention all of this because despite the floundering I feel like I am doing almost hourly, if there is any advice I can pass on to ANYONE who might be going through something similar, it is to follow your advice to focus on one's own needs. And for me, this is the first time EVER I have been able to do it.

I miss my wife terribly and the hole feels raw and exposed every day. But I am surviving and I am learning about how atrong a person I really am.

Thank you for your advice. It means so much and I am so very grateful!

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