Location: Dubuque IA
Dr Dick: I just went through a very painful divorce. My husband of 18 years up and decided that he wanted to start over…in a new job, in a new state with a new girlfriend, someone 12 years his junior. I must be completely blind, because I didn’t see any of this coming. Sure we had our problems, what marriage doesn’t? I want to move on too, but I feel so stuck. I feel like this big loser. The few tentative forays into dating have been horrible. Every guy I meet is this lying sack of shit. Sorry, does that sound too bitter? HELP!
Damn girl, that’s fucked…big time! It’s hell when relationships go belly-up, and I don’t care if they are business relationships or relationships of the heart. If there’s an established bond of trust that is broken it’s gonna smart. And when the bond is broken unilaterally, it’s even worse. But what can you expect when you’re dealing with humans.
Surviving a break-up is not unlike surviving a death. In fact, the demise of a relationship is very much a death in every sense of the word. I believe that any relationship worth talking about has a life of its own; you see, it’s greater then the sum of its parts. I gotta tell ya, I see a lot of this in my private practice. A couple drags in their relationship and it’s immediately apparent that it’s on life support. They’ve actively throttled the relationship to within an inch of its life, and they want me to fix it. Most of the time the option to “fix” has long passed. All we can hope to do, at this point, is preside over the death of the thing, providing its passing with as much dignity as possible. But to tell the truth, when a relationship is in such grave condition, and there is very little good will left between the partners, sadly there’s not gonna be a lot of dignity when the thing finally expires. It breaks my heart, but what are ya gonna do?
Many years ago a therapist working with sick and dying people wrote a book called, On Death and Dying. In it the author, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, identified five stages of dying — 1. Denial: The initial stage: “It can’t be happening.” 2. Anger: “Why ME? This is so unfair!” 3. Bargaining: “Just let me live to see my son graduate.” 4. Depression: “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” 5. Acceptance: “It’s going to be OK.”
I find it helpful to use these same identifiable stages to talk about the end of a relationship, particularly a relationship that ends unilaterally. If you don’t mind I’d like to walk through these stages with you so that you can see how applicable they are to someone in your situation.
Grieving the death of a loved one, or a relationship, involves the whole of us — our physical, emotional and social selves. We have to relearn, or cognitively adjust to, our new self without the loved one or relationship. Moving through the end of things is hard to work. And to survive it; we need be patient with ourselves. You, on the other hand, seem to be having a particular problem with this since you say you feel like a loser. That kind of mindset is not going be particularly helpful. So, if you can please jettison that kind of thinking. Or at least try to have a bit more compassion for yourself. Maybe you could shelf that self-deprecation for a while, until you get your bearings once again.
A person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and so she rejects it instead, insisting that it can’t possibly be true despite overwhelming evidence. This is Stage 1 — Denial! “Honey, I’m moving out. I’m getting a new job in a new state. Oh, and I have this new, much younger girlfriend too.” “This can’t be happening! Sure we’ve had our troubles, I’ll grant you that. But so does every relationship.” Denying the reality of the unpleasant fact may actually serve a purpose. It’s a coping mechanism for dealing with something overwhelming and too shocking to take in at once.
We have a gut-wrenching emotional response to the injustice, humiliation, and betrayal. This is Stage 2 — Anger. Depending on the kind of person we are, we may actively express our anger by lashing out verbally or physically. Or we may passively express our anger — turning it inward becoming silent, sulking or passive-aggressive. We may even consider harming our self as a way of punishing the other.
We try to fix what’s wrong. This is Stage 3 — Bargaining. “We can make this work! I’ll change, I promise! I know I can make you happy. Stay for the sake of the kids. What will the neighbors say? This will kill your mother! What does she have that I don’t have? You’ll never be able to show your face in this town again.” Hmmm, does any of this sound familiar, Valeri?
All our efforts to reverse the inevitable course of things leave us emotionally drained and exhausted. This is Stage 4 — Depression. Why bother with anything — family, friends, work, personal appearances, whatever — life as we knew it is over. We can’t seem to project ourselves beyond the ending of things. In the bleakness we often begin to self-medicate. A little too much food, booze, drugs? As if depression is not punishing enough, we often pile it on. I’ve heard some many people say; “hurting myself is the only thing that makes me feel I’m still alive.”
Slowly we begin to regroup. Maybe it’s through sheer willpower, or the interventions of friends and family, or maybe it’s just time itself. But we stop resisting and move toward acquiescence. This is Stage 5 — Acceptance. We stop resisting what we cannot change. Even if the end was un-chosen, undesired and inescapable, we can still willingly choose to accept it.
I hasten to add that these stages are guidelines. They are not presented in the order that they always happen. Nor is one stage predicated on the other. How long a person is in one stage or another is situational. However, I do hope this was helpful. What is certain is you will experience a wide range of feelings and emotions.
Some suggest the therapy of keeping yourself busy as a means of healing and moving on. This may sound elemental, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Most of us tend to wallow in our misery. We are way too indulgent with sitting on the pitty-pot. While you definitely need time to recover from the divorce, this period of heartache will have an end. And ends of things always led to beginnings of other things.
You now have certain freedoms that you may not have had while you were married. Once the initial period of grieving is over, it is important to jump back into life. Become more involved in your social group. Going out might seem unappealing at first, but it’s better than staying home and feeling sorry for yourself. If you’re only dating assholes, I’ll bet you’re fishing in the wrong holes, so to speak. The internet makes it so much easier to connect with quality people of ever stripe. Use this tool wisely. May I suggest that you start by connecting with people with similar interests as you, rather than posting a profile and photos on a dating site.
Of course, it is necessary to have some time with yourself to realize that you can survive and even be happy without your dick of a husband. The secret to successful grieving is that you need to feel the pain in order to get through it. Therefore, using drugs (prescription or recreational) and alcohol to numb yourself only make things worse.
You might consider working with a therapist to help you understand why your relationship ended. With a little luck you’ll learn how to avoid blaming yourself for the demise. No one is without fault, and your husband definitely has more than his share. But blaming him for everything will do you no good. You are neither totally to blame, nor are you the helpless victim. Lingering at either extreme will rob you of your self-esteem.
At first, being single might seem weird or even unappealing. But being single has its perks. Being single allows you to focus on you and take better care of yourself. And what better way to do that then by reconnecting with your sexual-self. Masturbation is gonna be your best friend during this transition period. Lavish time and pleasure on yourself. You’re worth it! Indulge yourself; instead of chocolate, get yourself a supped up vibrator and kick that thing into first gear, maybe even second! By spending more private sexual time with yourself, you’ll reconnect with who you are and what you want. This will make it easier for you to later choose a partner who can and will satisfy your needs.