Question

My wife and I were married for 24 years then out of the blue she told me she wanted a divorce. That was almost 20 years ago. I have asked her time and time again, “why”, and all she can say is “you know why.” I’m having a difficult time trying to understand and put all of this together. I have been to counseling and tried other ways to cope with this. I just want closure. What do you suggest? I see my ex-wife from time to time and especially at family gatherings, but I feel nauseous when I’m there and see her. She took me for everything during our divorce. I know I am supposed to forgive her and that’s what the Savior would have me do but it has become very difficult. I just want a life back.

Answer

I’m sorry to hear about the pain and confusion you’ve experienced since your wife asked for a divorce almost 20 years ago. It sounds like you’ve been working hard to understand and process what happened, but you’re still struggling to find closure and move forward. Let’s explore some ideas that may be helpful for you.

I want to acknowledge the pain that you are experiencing. Divorce can be one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through, especially when it comes unexpectedly and without explanation. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and lost in this situation. I understand that after 20 years, you have expected to feel much differently. I agree that this is a long time to not have the closure you are seeking. Even though there’s no timeframe on grief, it’s understandable that you would expect things to feel differently in your life after this much time.

Let’s first address your feelings of nausea and discomfort around your ex-wife. It’s understandable that seeing her brings up difficult emotions, but it’s also important to take care of yourself in these situations. If being around her is too difficult, consider limiting your interactions or finding ways to cope with the discomfort, such as focusing on positive aspects of the gathering, bringing someone with you, or finding a trusted support person to talk to. It can also be helpful to do trauma therapy, such as EMDR or ART, so you can help your body release the sensations in reactivity you experience in her presence.

As you well know, closure may not come in the way you hope or expect it to. You may never fully understand why your wife wanted a divorce, and that’s okay. Sometimes, people make decisions that are difficult to explain, even to themselves. It’s also possible that your wife may not be able to articulate her reasons in a way that satisfies you. This doesn’t mean you can’t find peace and healing, but it may require letting go of the need to have all the answers. It is possible to heal without having all the answers. Healing from ambiguous loss is challenging, but it’s possible. Taking care of your body is essential so you don’t stay in a fight or flight state as a way to protect you from uncertainty and unpredictability.

Not having information about why she left so suddenly can leave you bitter and resentful. She obviously had her reasons, but you have no idea why. Instead of trying to sort through possible reasons, it can be more freeing to surrender all of this to God and forgive her and yourself for a tangled mess you can’t untangle on your own. Forgiveness is a way to help you release the burden of this unrequited pain. Remember that forgiveness isn’t about excusing her behavior or pretending that it didn’t hurt. Rather, it’s a choice to let go of resentment and anger and to release her from the debt you feel she owes you. Forgiveness It may also involve setting boundaries and making changes to protect yourself from further harm. It’s a choice to surrender the outcome to God instead of us playing God. Elder D. Chad Richardson taught:

“Forgiving a sin does not mean excusing it. When we forgive a sin, we neither say it is OK nor that payment will not be required. Rather, forgiveness allows us to turn both the final judgment of guilt and the full payment of the debt over to the Lord.”[i]

It’s also important to remember your part and the Lord’s part. The Lord reminds us, “Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay.”[ii]

You don’t need to let this divorce define you. It’s important to focus on creating a meaningful life for yourself, rather than trying to recapture what you had before. While it’s understandable to long for the past, the reality is that time moves forward, and we can’t go back. Instead, think about what you want your life to look like now. What brings you joy and fulfillment? What kind of relationships do you want to have? What activities or hobbies nourish your soul? By investing in yourself and creating a life that feels good to you, you may find that the pain of the past loses some of its power.

Remember, healing is possible, even in the face of deep pain and ambiguous loss. I wish you all the best as you continue on your journey of recovery and growth.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If broken trust is an issue in your relationship, download Geoff’s FREE video series “The First Steps to Rebuilding Trust” to help you begin healing: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/freebie

 


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About the Author

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. 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.

 

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.

 

[i] https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2007/03/forgiving-oneself?lang=eng&adobe_mc_ref=https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2007/03/forgiving-oneself?lang=eng&adobe_mc_sdid=SDID=287389AEE1FCB386-28DBAE53785F2441|MCORGID=66C5485451E56AAE0A490D45%40AdobeOrg|TS=1682513754&v=V01

[ii] D&C 82:23