Just 3 months after our wedding, my wife left me almost without warning.
A few weeks before it happened, if you’d asked me, I’d have told you we were closer than we’d ever been. I still have voicemails on my phone from her saying how much she loves me, how happy she is that we’re married, how safe I am with her, how much she understands. We’d had some problems it was true, but I really thought that things were getting better.
The conversation, when it came, was in a coffee shop and lasted 30 minutes. She answered almost none of my questions, and we haven’t spoken since. I felt, if I’m honest, more like a Tinder date than her husband, or her partner of almost 4 years. I still don’t really know what happened.
In many ways, the hardest thing has been the sudden change. To go from sharing my life, my home, my deepest feelings, my body and the quiet of the night with her; to pivot in the space of 30 minutes from planning our future together, to wondering if I’ll ever hear her voice again, is very very strange. I’d say it’s like she’s died, but then I hear things from her friends, and mine, and realize it’s a choice she’s made.
It’s taken me a while, but, although it still hurts most days, I’m seeing there are good things, even here. I’ve found some ways to use the pain to keep on growing. I hope that what I’ve learned will help you too.
Head for Safety
No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, go where you feel safe. You’ve just had a massive body blow, and real pain is coming.
I was living in France, and a big part of my brain was telling me to stay:
“There must be some mistake” I thought, “she’s bound to change her mind. I’ll just go and wait it out in our apartment…”
What I actually did was gather everything I valued, call her dad to check he’d help her pay the rent (turns out he knew before I did), leave the keys with a friend and get the next bus out. Within 24 hours I was at my sister’s flat in London. This now feels like a really strong move.
The first few weeks are bound to be a roller-coaster. Putting yourself in familiar, uncomplicated surroundings, being with people who know you well and love you unconditionally will help you find some balance.
If you can’t do this, take time to make the place you’re in feel as safe and straightforward as you can. This almost certainly means putting distance between you and your new ex.
At least not now. The time might come for you to fight for what you’ve lost… but remember:
For you, this has only just happened but for them it happened a long (long?) time ago. For you it’s a horrible nightmare, but for them, although it’s probably hard as well, it’s something that they wanted. They planned it in advance. They aren’t going to change their mind because you text them once an hour.
Hounding your ex looks desperate, and feels a lot like pressure when they’re trying to pull away.
The harder and more coldly you’ve been treated, the truer this probably is. The violence of it, I realized, is kind of like a message: She can’t deal with my feelings right now. What she really wants is space.
If you’re anything like me, and your friends are all good people, the last thing that you want is someone else to tell you what this brand new stranger in your life is “probably feeling”. I’m sorry. Your pain does count, even if the one person in the world you want to care about it doesn’t really seem to.
You’ll probably feel you ‘need’ to say or do something that will make your partner see their ‘madness’ or their ‘cruelty’. Me, I felt outraged, humiliated. I wanted her to give me back my dignity.
You maybe have a chance with some of this, but just hold on:
Someone who you loved and trusted has just dropped you like a stone. There are lots of different ways they could have ended it, but they’ve chosen one that leaves you feeling shocked, confused, and desperate for answers. They must have known that this would be the case.
If they actually deserve your love, if you really ought to chase them, they can’t have done this lightly. They must have good, sound reasons, even if you don’t know what they are. Can you trust a ‘change of heart’ that you’ve persuaded them to have in the first few hours or days? Do you want to be with someone who does this without really knowing why?
Hard as it may be, if there’s any hope of truly healing your relationship - and for you there may well be - it’s probably best served by giving them the space they’re asking for, and a chance to see what life is really like without you in it.
Give it time, and the right thing to do will seem more obvious.
Keep a Journal
In the days that followed, it began to dawn on me how deep and wide the hole might actually be.
I’d lost my partner in life. I’d lost my home. My sense of what the future would be. Although I still had memories of our wedding just a few months before, and everything that meant to me, now it all felt false and full of empty promises.
I kept wondering how I could ever trust, or ever love again. I felt deeply, horribly ashamed.
Life became a blur. I’d have days where everything shone - I saw my friends and family in a brand new light - felt kindness, understanding that I’d never felt before. I felt free, and full of hope. The future seemed bright… Other times it seemed like everyone was against me, and that they ought to be. That all the pain I felt was just what I deserved.
Even in those days though there were moments when I saw things clearly. Writing it all down - the good, the mad and the bad, has helped me see the threads of truth emerging.
Get Professional Help
To be honest, I think everyone should do this anyway, but when the rug gets pulled from under you, it might just save your life.
I’d been seeing an NVC practitioner for about a year before this happened. The first session that we had when I got back, I was crying before I even started talking:
“It’s too much!” I wailed “It’s just too intense!”
She looked at me, puzzled.
“What do you mean too intense?” She said, “You’re here aren’t you? You’re still breathing…Not dead… It’s intense, sure… but…”
I had to admit that she was right. And when she asked me to describe the feeling in my body that was “too intense” I saw it shifting, changing… realized that it wasn’t what I thought at all. In that moment there was real, deep peace.
For me this was really powerful: For a long time I’d been stuck with an idea from my childhood that the only way I could be worthy of love was to be weak, vulnerable or sad.
For that childish part of me, it turned out, this big disaster in my life was actually a massive gift! Finally something to get properly upset about! Now I’m bound to get the love I need!
I realized in that session that I have a choice to feed the self-defeating part of me by sinking into misery, or to use my suffering to get stronger.
Of course, in time, the pain returned, and with it anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness and all the rest… but I never quite forgot the power of that moment.
Ideally when a relationship ends, the work of building narrative about what happened, falls to both of you. No-one else, in fact, can really help you understand. If your partner doesn’t want to, though, you’ll have to work alone, and with the people who are there for you.
A professional listener, I think, gives you something no-one that you personally know can give - a balanced, neutral view. No matter how they try, your friends and family will always have a bias. They’ll take your side in ways that feel great (that are essential in fact) but that deprive you of the other side(s) of the story, and of the growth that comes with seeing the bigger picture.
A professional’s job is really to be as unbiased as possible. If they do it well they’ll help you see your blind spots, and challenge you to grow through things you never thought were there.
Be Really, Deeply Honest
This one might be difficult.
No matter how or why it happens, when a relationship breaks down, there’s always responsibility on both sides. Even, dare I say it, in cases of abuse, we have to question what it was inside ourselves that made us stay.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re to blame for what has happened to you.
I’m not talking about fault or guilt at all. Only that there’s something you can learn from it; if and when you feel you’re ready.
For me, I’ve learned a lesson about how I hold myself in love: I see, for example, I was way too needy, demanding, often. Stuck, as I said, in a heavy, weak and miserable frame of mind. I know that this was difficult and scary for my partner.
I’ve seen I need the courage to sustain myself in a relationship without expecting someone else to ‘make me whole’. I have to cultivate the skills to meet my own needs independently, even if I’d like a helping hand from someone else as well. Although I got some way to understanding this before it ended, and have understood it now, it was all too late, I guess, for her.
The other side of this is understanding where your partner sold you short. Not least in how they’ve left you.
If you’re empathic and compassionate by nature, it’s hard sometimes to see your own point of view. Take off the rose-tinted glasses. Recognize where your boundaries were violated. Be precise.
For me this part has been the hardest: seeing that the pull and push, the hot and cold, the silence and withdrawal which are obvious in the way she left were typical, in fact, of something subtler and less obvious in the way she was with me as my partner, and as my wife. At the time I couldn’t see it, now I can’t believe I didn’t.
The point of this is not to paint the other person as the culprit. I think to do this is to miss a real opportunity for growth. No-one is to blame, but both have things to learn.
Try to see as clearly and as deeply as you can.
Be Brave, Keep Going
This whole thing really sucks, and following the steps above will probably make it suck more – and harder- for a bit. I’d be a liar or an idiot to claim that this has been a ‘blessing’ or a ‘gift’ for me. It hasn’t, to be honest, it’s been shit.
In the end, though, no matter how much pain this process brings for you, I think it’s best to try to see the bigger picture. If you don’t, you might just make the same mistakes again.
Try to act at every step with integrity and strength, even if it seems your partner’s failed to do the same. Try to be honest. Try to be kind.
At the very least, you’ll come out stronger than you went in.
Previously published on Medium.
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