Recently I received an email from a man whose wife left him suddenly one day, just shy of their ten year anniversary. She came home and said she didn’t love him anymore and he needed to move out. He was stunned and begged her to go to couples counseling. She agreed, but two weeks into it she said it was pointless and over and so he moved out, and is now seeing his children one night a week for dinner, and every other Saturday. The kids are young, one is four and the other is two. It seems mom has a new boyfriend who’s spending time with them already. So you can imagine our friend is having a tough time.
To be fair, I’m only getting one side of the story. It’s highly unlikely this happened one morning. Mom didn’t just wake up and think, “I don’t love him anymore.” There’s more to the story. Nonetheless, the ending was hard and fast, with little or no time for understanding or closure. She may not be feeling the pain of her actions just yet, but these things have a way of biting you in the ass later. The kids are in shock, particularly their four year old who is suddenly wetting the bed.
He wrote to me asking how he’s supposed to accept this. His vows meant something to him and he wanted to fight for his family and fight for his marriage. One night he went over to his old house uninvited and begged her to just talk to him, to help him understand what had happened. She called the police, so now he can only contact her about issues pertaining to the kids. It seems incredibly cruel and unfair, but again, this is only one side of the story. Whatever the other side may be and wherever the truth lies, this man is in agony. His heart is broken, his trust is shattered, and he’s tortured by thoughts of this new man spending time with his not-yet ex-wife and their children. He misses his kids and he didn’t see it coming. Maybe he missed the signs. Maybe she had a million conversations with him and he didn’t take her seriously. Maybe he took her for granted and maybe she just got involved with someone else and didn’t look back or forward. I don’t know, but I do know he’s suffering the effects of trauma and shock and that he needs some help.
Life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, we think we know what’s happening and suddenly, the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. Betrayal is one of the toughest experiences we’re asked to withstand, whether it’s betrayal of our trust, our friendship, our marriage vows, or the worst betrayal a person can suffer — the betrayal of the self. Those times when we override our intuition, or sacrifice our deepest truth, or numb out and stick our heads in the sand. Being human is sometimes a messy, painful affair. Sometimes it’s so incredible it takes your breath away. But when life hands you a set of unforeseeable circumstances, you really have to have some compassion for yourself and ask for help if you need it. There’s nothing worse than being in shock and feeling alone. Like you want to reach out in the dark, but there’s no one there to take your hand. The feeling that no one would care if you disappeared. There are always people who care. The world is full of loving folks who would happily hug our friend, or invite him over for dinner, or meet him for a hike or a tea. We’ve all been this guy at some time or another, to varying degrees. We’ve all had our everything fall apart. All you can do in times like those is sit down in the debris of what used to be your life and pick up the old photos and a letter you wrote four years ago and the sweater that still smells like what was, and just allow your heart to break. Allow yourself to be enraged and confused and shattered. There’s no magic bullet, it’s just a process and it takes time.
Also recognize you’re not alone. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen. “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” Rumi. I could go on and on. There wouldn’t be so much written about it if it weren’t universal. This is it, this is sometimes what’s required as we move through this experience of being alive. We will all suffer at some time or another, and some people will suffer more than others. These experiences can soften you and open you if you let them or they can harden you and close you if you let them. The choice is yours. Sometimes when it all falls apart, something newer and stronger and more real emerges. Some secret strong place in yourself that you didn’t even know existed stands up in the middle of the storm and starts to co-create the new story. But don’t tough it out alone. When you’re sitting in a pile of broken glass that used to be your life, by all means, ask for help.
Sending you so much love,