How to support a loved one with a runaway spouse

In the aftermath of my husbands departure, so many people asked me how they could help. I did my best to say what I needed and accept support, but I know a lot of people have a hard time with it. Here is a list of some of the Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with a runaway spouse, and how to support your friends or family who are living through it.

Do: Call them, email them, text them, every single day. Seriously, every day. A lot of people reached out to check on me in the first couple of weeks and it meant a lot. So many times people do not want to reach out because either a) they are afraid of witnessing someone’s pain, or b) they do not want to be intrusive. Please do not let this stop you from being there for someone you care about. There is not much you can do to make this person feel better right now, but simply showing up for them is one thing you CAN do. Also, keep it up! After 2-3 weeks I stopped hearing from most people and that is when the shock wore off and the despair set in. 

Don’t: Be offended or hurt if they turn down your offers to talk, to meet up, to visit, etc. They may not feel comfortable being a mess in front of you and just want to be alone. 

Do: Offer to help them with moving, if necessary. Packing up your home and moving is a physically and emotionally draining experience even if there is no divorce happening. Its so, so much harder to do after abandonment. Someone should be there to help with packing up emotionally charged momentos (photos, cards, letters). Someone should be there to hold them as they fall apart on moving day. Someone should bring by dinner. Someone should offer to watch kids or pets during moving day. 

Don’t: All show up to help on the same day! Again, moving is emotionally trying – try to be conscious of how much your friend can take. The divorce and moving day is not an excuse for a giant reunion of friends. 

Do: Send them a plant or something living once they have settled into their new place. My sister in law did this and wrote on the card, “Here is some beauty for your new chapter. Never forget: you are the dragon breathing fire.” It still brings tears to my eyes to think about how much that meant to me. 

Don’t: Send them booze. Alcohol is a depressant. It’s fun and cute to tell people to drink away their pain but it’s far more likely to make your friend feel like shit and/or do something they regret (like angrily rant on Instagram). I am not saying no drinking, I’m just saying your friend needs a friend more than a bottle of wine. 

 

Do: Give your friend articles, books, or other resources that you think they might find helpful, if you have them. 

Don’t: Give advice about what they should be doing, thinking, or feeling. 

Do: Keep inviting your loved one out. At some point, they are bound to say yes. 

Don’t: Guilt them when they say no thanks. For a long time, they will not want to be with other humans. 

Do: Tell your loved one how much he/she deserves better than this, that it is not fair, and that you are sorry it is is happening. There is not much you can do, but simply acknowledging how much much this fucking sucks is really helpful. Your loved one will get sooooo much advice from so many places and that really is not what they need. They just need to be loved and held as they grieve. 

Don’t: Wax philosophic about how this is a blessing and how much better off she will be. Its true: she will be better off. But right now, she can only feel how much pain she is in and how much her life sucks right now. Don’t patronize her by talking about how this is good in the long run. Allow her to experience the grief and the pain of right now. 

 

Do: Reach out on anniversaries and birthdays. As time goes by, the every-single-day calls and emails are no longer necessary. Your loved one will slowly begin to heal. But some days are harder than others. Keep tabs on when your friend has an anniversary (of the wedding – of the day they were left – of the divorce) or a birthday approaching – a simple “thinking of you today, let me know if you want to talk” can go a long way. I cannot tell you how many times I did not take someone up on their offer but so, so appreciated that they had offered nonetheless. 

Don’t: Assume that just because months or years have gone by, that those particular days are no longer hard. I cannot imagine a time when my former wedding anniversary will not cause some emotion for me.

 

 

Adventures in sober divorced dating

This past week I *officially* re-entered the dating scene. I’ve been messing around Bumble and the like since June, but canceled nearly every date – I just wasn’t ready. But I officially took the plunge and this is literally me right now:

I went on three first dates this week, which was a lot. I am le tired. But it was good – I feel like I got over my “get back out there” jitters and learned some big things.

First – I am not ready for a relationship. I definitely want to keep dating, and I am open to something developing if it feels right, but I am not ready for anything quite yet.

This is big for me – I’ve never casually dated. I’ve always been into a relationship or nothing, and the idea of NOT getting immediately serious is confusing to me. I literally never knew what people meant by “taking things slow” until now. Its amazingly clear to me right now.

Second – I am strong as hell. 

In the beginning, I felt like I was living without skin. I felt raw and exposed and wounded. I thought this experience would make me more afraid of abandonment and rejection. But it turns out, its made me almost immune to it. One of the men I went out with let me know he wasn’t interested in pursuing it further and it didn’t destroy me. Normally something like that would have sent me into a tailspin.

I will caveat that though – this guy wrote me early on and was clear, and kind, and concise. I imagine if he’d played the bullshit chase game filled with deceit and half truths it would have felt differently.

Third – My ex-husband is cruel. The fact is, this guy I’ve known for six days was more compassionate and kind about letting me down than my own husband was leaving our marriage.

Fourth – Sober dating is super confusing. I have been left wondering if I actually liked my ex husband on our first date, or if I was just drunk. I didn’t feel much with any of these guys, despite the fact that we got along well and had great conversation. I wonder if the butterflies come later, or if they are just a fantasy, or if these are just the wrong guys.

Fifth – There is a delicate line between honesty and putting your best foot forward. 

I’ve got baggage. I’ve got trauma. I’ve got trust issues, and intimacy issues, and body image issues, and, and, and.

I want to be open about who I am. I don’t want to hide the fact that I have dealt with a lot, but I don’t know how to be honest and true to self without seeming like a hot mess express.

I feel like dating post-divorce at a young age is tough. I feel like everyone out there is looking for a happy-go-lucky fun dating adventure and I bring down the vibe. I want happy and fun dating adventures too – but being realistic, I’ve got some bitterness in me. And I am working through that. I don’t think I need to be 100% healed before I can date again, but at the same time, sometimes I feel like a walking red flag.


That’s all for this round. Hopefully some more promising dates soon.

A revelation of compassion

The other night I woke up for my standard 4am panic spiral (when does that part stop? because I am le tired) last night and I had this intense feeling of heartbroken sadness for him. Compassion for him. Not pity or feeling sorry for him…. It was more like a clear understanding of the life he has ahead of him.

He must live in shame. He does all of these things that destroy his life, because he’s unhappy and he thinks [work, other women, alcohol, pot, porn, spending money, pick your poison] will make him happy. But it never will. He wanted to be a good person, an honorable man, and he tried to grow, he tried to change – I watched him. I was so moved and impressed with how hard he was willing to work. But in the end, he couldn’t do it. As someone in recovery and with borderline personality tendencies, I really get this. I get it on a level I wish I didn’t – I spent so long doing things I hated and that hurt others because I couldn’t stop. I thought my choices would make me happy but they ended up making me miserable and more self destructive. I am just like him in so many ways.

And that is an awful place to live. Doing things you hate and know are wrong but not being able to stop. Being driven by some compulsion to do things that your reptilian brain thinks will make you happy but just instead destroy everything around you.

This is not an excuse for bad behavior. He made these choices. But for the first time I really and truly feel intense compassion for him. I know what that life feels like. It’s absolute hell. It hurts to see someone that I loved so deeply make choices that will destroy him. I am so sad for him.

The difference between my husband and I.

A few years ago I was going through a really hard time. I was depressed and struggling with my direction in life. I’d quit my job and was waitressing to get by. I started drinking really heavily. At the end of the shift I would go out with coworkers and get plastered, coming home at 2, 3am. There was a guy who worked in the kitchen who was rather flirtatious and I found myself out with him a few too many times.

At the height of my drinking, I would black out on a regular basis. During this time, I was terrified I would black out and cheat on my now-ex. I loved him. I did not want to be with someone else. And yet, I knew it could happen because I know the power of low self esteem. I knew how good it felt to flirt with other guys – I knew the dopamine hit that comes from getting male approval.

One night I let this guy drive me home. The next morning I was horrified – nothing happened, but what if it had? If he’d tried, would I have said no? I don’t know. I was so filled with shame. It happened a few more times after that – I was repeatedly putting myself in situations that would destroy my partner, whom I loved, because of my drinking and my low self esteem.

The difference between my soon to be ex husband and I is that I made a choice to get out of that environment. I took steps to change and heal the pain that was causing me to seek validation from this stranger. I quit that job. I got sober. And I never cheated on him. I stopped flirting with other men. I became more honest and vulnerable.

On the other hand, he doubled down. He knew that going back to working nights in a rowdy bar was going to put him into the exact same situations that led him to cheat on me all those years ago. He knew, and yet he did it anyway (and – my favorite – told me over and over he was doing it for “us”). He ramped up the flirting and the lies. He repeatedly and consistently made choices that would threaten our marriage.

Every person on earth can be put in a situation that tempts them from being faithful. Cheaters are the ones that willingly put themselves back into that situation even though they know the risks.

Thoughts on karma

One of the hardest things to come to terms with: there really is no divine justice that’s going to come in and make his life terrible and make mine wonderful. Life is not a movie. People can and will do bad things and the consequences do not look like we want them to look. I may have the moral high ground but, in the end, that is simply a feeling of being right – it doesn’t translate into anything real. That can be depressing on one hand but also liberating on another. It can help you move on because you stop expecting consequences to appear – and stop being disappointed when they don’t

I am a firm believer in karma – the Buddhist principle, not the western interpretation. Karma is not divine justice. It’s just the natural consequences that flow from ones actions. His consequences are not visible to me yet but I know this: he has to go through life now knowing he’s a liar and a cheater. He has to live his life, as him, as someone who had a loving wife and family who supported him and would do anything for him, and he threw them away for literally nothing. He can pretend all he wants – he can lie to his friends and his family and the world – but deep down? He knows what he did.

And deep hidden feelings of shame and self loathing are the literal roots of future affairs or addictions. You can’t run from that – no one can – and the more you push it away the more insidious it becomes. I know he isn’t going to be living happily ever after. He’ll be living with guilt and shame that he shoves down, that will pop up randomly in unpredictable ways – but usually more affairs, gambling, alcohol abuse, porn addiction. His karma is a life without peace, without contentment.

Karma isn’t the universe sending bad things to happen to you because you did something bad – it’s simply what arises naturally out of the choices you make. My karma is that I am stuck facing the hell of abandonment and infidelity, not because I am a bad person, but because I married someone for the wrong reasons. And I have a choice right now – I could be like my husband and run from the pain, hide it away, become bitter and spend the rest of my life miserable and in more shitty relationships – or I can invite my pain in, make it some tea, and ask it to stay awhile. I can hold myself with compassion during this time, and recognize that by doing the good work now, my karma can be a life of peace and equanimity and love. 

The sea floor is calm.

Divorce feels like a hurricane. Its so destructive, and its nearly impossible to walk away completely unscathed. But I have gotten a lot of peace thinking about how the hurricane is just on the surface of the ocean.

On some days the sea is calm, and other days rough. Remember that while the surface may be choppy, the fish at the seafloor don’t feel the waves. Deep within all of us is a place that cannot be disturbed by what is happening on the surface. You cannot stop the waves, but you can remember that deeper place of stillness. You can find peace by retreating to that place.

Writings from early days: Thoughts on acceptance

I am writing this blog while I am in a place a little further down the road of recovery. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was in the thick of the crisis. I journaled a lot at that time, as well as posted on a number of support forums. I am going back now to post some of those writings, which capture the most raw and real grief. In some cases, I’ve edited the original text or combined text from different posts into something more cohesive.

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The time has moved so slow and yet so fast. The early days blur together – what have I been doing all this time? Has it really been that long since I’ve seen him? Since we said I love you? Have I really survived this long without a kind word from him, without a hug? And yet…the days feel like weeks. Every day seems to drag on. I don’t want to exist in this shell of a life, and yet here I am. I am so exhausted by the daily ups and downs. How can I go from confidence and grit to sheer terror in a matter of seconds? 

I honestly am really having a hard time believing this is happening still. Obviously it’s happening but I still believe that somewhere inside of him exists the man I married. It is hard to let go of the concept that he is in there. It is hard to accept that he may never have been that man. It feels humiliating, like I was conned or tricked. 

I knew that something was wrong with him, with us. I had that gut feeling that something wasn’t right. I was able to push it away and ignore it based on thinking it was my anxiety, thinking no one is perfect, and (most importantly) thinking we loved each other enough to make up for it. I believed that I could love him enough to heal him. I believed he loved me enough to not be able to walk away. 

I was wrong. And it stings. 

I miss him right now. The old him, obviously. I miss his arms. I miss his texts. I hate missing him because he doesn’t deserve it. 

I hate the idea of acceptance but recognize its necessary to survive.

Writings from early days: Thoughts on rejection

I am writing this blog while I am in a place a little further down the road of recovery. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was in the thick of the crisis. I journaled a lot at that time, as well as posted on a number of support forums. I am going back now to post some of those writings, which capture the most raw and real grief. In some cases, I’ve edited the original text or combined text from different posts into something more cohesive.

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I do not hate myself anymore. In fact…I kinda like myself these days. I like who I am and my hobbies and I like that I am more genuine than I used to be. I know I am loved and surrounded by people who care about me. 

So why, after all that, do I still feel so shitty and worthless? WHY is my relationship status, my “rejected” status, so indicative of my self worth? Seriously, how do I make it stop?

What is the underlying fear? Not having a relationship means people do not like me. I am a loser. I am not pretty or thin enough to get a good man. I am not fun enough or cool enough. The fear is that I am not okay – and the problem is that I need other people to assure me I am okay or else I will not believe it. 

What is the pain of rejection? It’s different than the pain of nostalgia, or the pain of memory. It’s different than the fear or anxiety about the future. They get lumped together in your mind, but the rejection pain is different. I’m not clear on what it means or why it cuts me so deeply. It’s basically being told by someone whom you love “I would rather be without you.” Looking at all of their options, they chose the option to not be near you. 

A letter I DID share…

I wrote the below letter to my husband on March 19, two days after he dropped the bomb on me that my sobriety was a problem for him and he didn’t know what he wanted. I read it aloud to him that night. It accomplished nothing, but I am sharing it regardless.

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Mike, this doesn’t feel like you. It doesn’t feel like the Mike I know, the person I have KNOWN for the last five years. I am not talking about a sad, depressed person who has no aims or goals. I am talking about the man who planned to spend his life with me, who had dreams for our family, who told me he was ready to settle down and build a home and life with me. 

You have demonstrated for the last four years that you are ready to be done with this partying lifestyle, that you hate being drunk and just wanted to come home and smoke a bowl and have some quiet. This is the basis for us making all of these plans to move out of the city, have a baby, and settle down. 

I’m not sure why, but you are quickly falling into all of your old, self destructive tendencies. You are returning to be someone who is unfaithful, flirts with other women, and lies to me.  I think this is why you have become so defensive and angry toward me all of a sudden. 

Here is a list of the things you told me the other night: 

  •       It’s my choice to stay home and I could be out drinking with you if I wanted to
  •       I should find someone sober to be with
  •       You can’t decide who you like more, drunk me or real me
  •       You have nothing to come home to
  •       “Leave me the fuck alone, I’ll come home when I want to”
  •       Given the choice, you aren’t sure if you would choose me over your job
  •       The only reason you were such a devoted and caring partner in the last few years was because you “had nothing else”

Mike, if I printed this list out and showed it to you three months ago, you would not have believed it. This is not who you are. You have always been so loving and caring toward me. Please take an honest look at yourself, at your words, and at your choices. Is this the person you want to be? 

You are free to decide that this is the real you, and that you need more than what I can offer. But understand that once you do, you will not be coming back into my life. I truly believe there will come a point when you realize what you have done, when you wake up to the hurt you’ve caused, and when you understand what you have thrown away.  And I know you will regret it.