I Was Unprepared to Leave My Husband
7 Things I wish someone had told me about relationship grief
I practically skipped home from my lawyer’s office. I finally did it. I had the nerve to cut the marital umbilical cord. It had taken me years to swing open the doors of legal and emotional freedom.
I felt a much-needed surrender. A relief.
The next morning I was singing in the shower. I love singing in the shower. I had forgotten I used to do it. The unhappiness had lasted that long.
I was liberated.
I was living again. Breathing again.
And then all hell broke loose.
Divorce isn’t easy.
Even if you are the one who chooses it.
I remember something someone told me when my mom passed away. They said, “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.” At twenty-eight I couldn’t imagine what kind of person would say such a thing. It seemed depressing if not mean.
But months later when my face was smacked against a soaked pillow it actually made me feel better. I knew it was normal. Someone had warned me.
It got worse.
And that meant one day it might also get better.
Here are seven things I wish someone had told me about relationship grief.
Divorce is a ‘living’ grief
It is true grief without closure.
Why? Because that person is still walking and talking. You can still see them on social media, at a restaurant, or a ballgame. Their lives continue on without you and yours without them.
You have to make peace with the loss of someone who still exists.
It’s harder than it seems. Especially when formality now replaces what was once your greatest intimacy. These encounters are awkward. And they thrust the living grief upon you again and again.
Embrace your loss.
Most will never understand it. Don’t feel the need to explain it. You know it’s real. You know it’s painful. Separation and/or divorce are misunderstood. It’s inexplicable grief and society expects you to keep moving forward without any time for mourning the living.
As is the case with actual grief, people don’t always know what to say. Or they say too much. Or not the right thing. Or worse, they judge you at a time when no one should be judged. It’s grief, remember?
But here’s the difference.
In actual grief, you don’t beat yourself up.
If someone says something stupid you actually know it was thoughtless. You can nod your head politely and shake it off.
But with living grief you blame yourself.
You made the relationship choices that turned disastrous. You played a part in breaking up a family. You criticize yourself endlessly. Even if your spouse was the one who behaved badly. You are still incredibly hard on yourself. You don’t need help from others.
Do not absorb these thoughtless comments. Protect yourself. Do not internalize them. Walk away and insulate yourself from anyone who doesn’t support and uplift you.
Make your world smaller
This is a time to hunker down with the few and the true blue.
You need to be insulated so your emotional energy is reserved for you. And for your children, if you have them.
Nothing brings out unwanted opinions more than human suffering.
Your closest friends and family will already have a lot to say. You do not need to be overwhelmed by too many well-meaning voices.
This is a time of transition and confusion. A time where you have to regain your footing and learn to trust your own judgment again. Shut out the world, lick your wounds, regain your strength, cry, cry some more, and heal.
You feel a need to keep it all together at a time like this. To keep attending every game, additional meetings, fundraisers, etc. whatever the world is calling for.
You limp along, force a smile, and feel as if you are doing the right thing.
But are you?
Keeping busy may help some; however, it may not help others. Everyone grieves differently, processes change differently, and heals differently. Minimizing obligations and spending time alone or with family may mend emotional wounds far better than continuing to play a part.
Your world is emotionally crowded. You don’t need any additional distractions.
Tell people what you need
It’s hard to ask for help or tell others what you need but if ever there was a time for communication this is it. Because many people genuinely do not understand this experience.
They will tell you..what a shame. I feel bad for you. I’m so sorry.
When they should be saying…
You are a beautiful person. You are strong. You are loved. I am here for you.
They will often retreat not knowing what to do. When they should…
Invite you over, drop off a meal, send an uplifting card, text a heart emoji just to remind you they are thinking of you.
Unfortunately, separation and/or divorce is severely misunderstood and tends to be accompanied by judgment. Again, it’s grief, and the same type of empathy, compassion, and loving gestures should prevail.
Tell the ones who love you what you need and what will support you during this unsettling and upsetting transition.
Some will surprise you, others will disappoint you
Unfortunately, difficult times demand support.
The kind of loyalty and love which will put friendships through an unwanted test.
Some will surprise you and others will disappoint you.
The individual you believed would be the first on your doorstep might be the last. Or not even make it to the stoop at all. And another you never expected will show up again and again.
This is to be expected.
Not all friendships will be what you thought they were nor will they survive. It is a part of the compounded loss which accompanies this life change. You naively believe you are leaving your spouse but ultimately you will be forced to leave others behind.
Believe it or not, the pain will subside. The focus will no longer be on the loss of a few. It will be the appreciation of the many who stayed. Because anyone who walks away from you at your worst, never had the ability to love you at your best.
Be good to yourself
Take care of yourself. Be good to yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself.
We all make mistakes. And most of us make our relationship choices far too young in life. You barely understand who you are when you marry someone who may not turn out to be who you thought they were.
You didn’t let anyone down. You were enough. Even if another person lost sight of that.
Remember who you are NOT how another person made you feel.
I wish someone had told me these seven things.
I wish I understood I was experiencing a form of grief. A living grief.
I wish I had protected myself from the thoughtless comments instead of absorbing every single word.
I wish I had made my world smaller. And lessened my commitments rather than limping along and feeling as if I wasn’t doing anything well. I wish I had told people exactly what I needed.
I wish I had understood as I did when my mother passed away, that when some disappoint you and others surprise you — it says more about the individual — not you.
I wish I had been good to myself. Rather than beat me up, let my pain turn to anger, and look to others to approve of what I was doing.
I wish the world understood this form of emotional grief — a living grief.
Perhaps the judgments and stigma would evaporate. The taking sides and hurt would become unfathomable and the compassion and love would overflow.
I wish someone had told me, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
So when my face smacked against a soaked pillow…
I knew it was normal.