It has taken me over three years of deep grief to accept my former spouse’s decision to end our 17-year marriage. Sadly, after reading one of your columns, I am sure my actions pushed him further away and solidified his decision. My emotions have been on the surface (due to supporting him through school, his graduating, his new job requiring we move, my cancer treatment, and then the divorce, all in a few years’ time). My children and I just felt that somehow some way we’d be able to move forward as an intact family. Recently he made it very clear that he is not interested and will never be married or live with me again.
My ability to believe in a bright future where I can create and dream has been obliterated. I still get hit with the “grief train” about once a month. I have strived to forgive him and am finding my heart still gets jealous of his happiness and success. He told me he is looking for a new wife. One girl reached out to me. Same height, body build, interests, etc. Being replaced by someone who is so similar is gut wrenching and spiraling me back into grief.
So now what? What is recommended to begin building a life of happiness, hope, love, peace and beauty, without him, for me and my children?
You’re accurate in using the word “grief” to describe your experience. Even though there are unseen details of your marital demise that others can’t see, you’re working hard to look at your own part while simultaneously feeling all of the loss. It’s a strange and painful emotional whiplash where one minute you might be settling into the new normal and then suddenly feel a surge of anger, jealousy, and self-loathing. It’s perfectly normal to wonder if you’ll ever experience long-term happiness, especially when it feels so unpredictable.
I don’t know the details of your marriage struggles and what decisions each of you made that led to a three-year separation. However, it only took one decision by your husband to be done with the marriage and start a new chapter of his life. He had the power to end the marriage, but you have the power to begin making decisions that will lead you toward the peace you’re seeking. I know this is easier said than done, especially when you have constant surprises and unwanted emotions showing up in your life. However, there are heavenly promises to help you embrace this reality and start moving forward.
President Russell M. Nelson recently reminded us of the Lord’s latter-day warning that even though “peace [would] be taken from the earth”, we could still live our lives without fear. [i] You’ve experienced this loss of peace and also felt plenty of fear. However, I want to echo this promise that you can absolutely not only live without fear, but it’s also completely possible to experience happiness, hope, love, peace, and beauty.
You believed that the only way to truly experience these things was with your husband. I want to reassure you that God doesn’t determine our happiness and peace based on our relationship status. Even though our Father’s eternal plan of happiness involves becoming one with our spouse, He invites us to first become one with Him and the Savior so we can weather the unpredictability of mortality.[ii]
We need to know we can access this peace and happiness independent of how those around us are treating us. Otherwise, we would live in constant anxiety and fear that someone else could permanently destroy our peace. Now, I don’t believe for one minute that having this type of unity with Heavenly Father is going to protect you from feeling the pain of your situation. It will, however, keep you from believing that you are worthless and that your life is hopeless. Whatever mistakes you made in your marriage were also balanced out with plenty of sacrifice, love, and the best intentions. You can learn from all of these experiences and co-create a brighter future with Heaven’s help.
Even though you were optimistic during the three-year separation that somehow things would work out, I invite you to hold that same optimism for yourself and your children going forward. The pain will come and go, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It’s just how grief and loss heal. Author Megan Devine taught that, “Pain will be there until it loosens. This will happen on its own. There is nothing you can do to make that happen. Little by little, pain and love will find new pathways.”[iii] Her counsel aligns beautifully with the Lord’s way of teaching us and healing us, “line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”[iv]
It can feel like you’ve wasted three years waiting for him to make a decision about your marriage and now you feel behind and panicked about your future. Please don’t rush ahead trying to make all of this pain go away quickly. The work I’ve talked about is more about letting go of the reflexive ways we deal with grief and loss and opening yourself up to a gentler process of moving forward.
You’ll discover what you need to release and what you need to embrace. For example, you’ll have to decide if talking to his future wife prospects is good for your mental health. Only you can be the judge of that, but my recommendation is to pay close attention to what that felt like afterwards and have the courage to adjust. Some of this will take time to loosen, as mentioned above, but if you can release something that is hurting you, then please give yourself that relief. It’s hard to immerse yourself in the beauty that awaits you if you’re still clinging to the old dream.
This is an important time to create a safe and loving space for you and your children that nurtures your senses, your spirits, and your relationships with each other. While it may involve some rearranging and redecorating, it doesn’t have to cost any money. This is about identifying and removing those things that keep you stirred up and anxious. It’s also about keeping out contention that makes it hard to gather and nurture each other.
There are plenty of practical things you can do to start creating a life full of joy such as starting new traditions, making new friends, looking for ways to help others, and so on. However, recognize that you’ll be living with waves of joy mixed with waves of grief while you’re doing the very things that you thought would guarantee you happiness. There’s no way to do this without the waves. Your capacity to love, to feel joy, and to have happiness was not destroyed. It’s just been deepened and ready to receive more.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[ii] John 17:18-21
[iv] Isaiah 28:10