Over the years in our therapy practice in Berlin we have come across colluding and colliding tales of pain and suffering, presenting themselves in the repeating questions and the various emotional dilemmas that surface again and again. Perhaps you will find yourself in the words and expressions collected here.
“To restore the human subject at the centre – the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject-we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tail: when we have a “who” can we have a “what”, a real person, a patient, in relation to disease-in relation to the physical.” Oliver Sacks
The dilemma: 6 months ago my husband told me out of the blue that he had fallen in love with a woman in his office and that he wanted to separate. We have been married for 9 years and have no children. I couldn’t believe it, I knew that we had been through some hard times, especially after I suffered a miscarriage 2 years ago and went through a long period of depression afterwards, but things were looking up and we were planning to start trying again this year.
After he told me, they immediately moved in together and I have been living alone in our old flat and trying to get my life back on track.
To be honest I feel as though I am not succeeding. I have never felt so low and depressed. I go through the motions but deep down I am lost without him and my only hope is that he will realize the mistake he has made and come back to me. I see my friends around continuing with their lives and getting married and having children and I feel as if I am a loser who will never have the life she dreams of. I have started to withdraw from social events and have become obsessed with stalking his Facebook account to find out any new details of his life. I am obsessed with the fear that he might propose to her. I know there must be a way forward but at the moment all I can see is misery in front of me. I need help.
The reply: First things first, break ups are up there on the list of most devastating events that human beings can suffer. That means up there with sickness and death. A break up is a traumatic loss, a ripping of attachment that goes against everything our mammalian limbic system is programmed to achieve: relatedness and belonging. Short separations provoke protest and long separations provoke despair. An inevitable part of life, attachment and separation go to the core of what it means to be human being.
After only 6 months, it sounds like you are very much in the “protest” part of separation. You are longing and craving for the attachment that you lost. The biological drive to reestablish contact is often so powerful that few can resist it. This isn’t made easier in our modern lives where we can access digital connection with a person long after the physical connection has disappeared. This is keeping you from the painful reality of true separation and the resulting despair that you must go through in order to heal.
The pain of despair is akin to depression where all interest and energy becomes sapped up into the focus on the loss. People often complain of worrying that the despair will never end and all of us who have been there can relate. It is not the first time I have heard the words, “I will never meet anyone again.” But just because it hurts does not mean that you won’t survive or that it will never end.
Your fantasy that the relationship could resume again, if he only realizes the mistake he has made, is keeping you from the hard truth that the relationship as you knew it, and all of your hopes around it, has changed undeniably forever. In order to move forward all hope must be buried.
This is a chance for you to look within and gain new perspectives about the relationship dynamics and what went wrong. What were you possibly avoiding in order to stay comfortable? and what can you work on to be a stronger individual. Although it feels as though it came out of the blue, I’m sure there were problematic aspects in the relationship that you can think about. Take the opportunity to learn about yourself. Relationships are a great practice for tolerating and deepening intimacy but periods of solitude are just as important for self-reflection and building on the capacity to be alone. Both are equally important and we do well to learn the ability to relate to ourselves so that when we are in a relationship that has the chance to stand the test of time, we can bring that wisdom to the table; we all know the bitter couple who can’t bear to be alone but torture each other in mutual resentment and co-dependency.
Sometimes things in life are not fair and what we think we want the most we can’t have. It helps to remind yourself that fairytales belong to children’s books and aren’t the stuff of reality. In real life we are all unique individuals with our own unique stories and sufferings. I personally think this is what makes life worth living and experiencing. Protesting the pain won’t help you move through it, only truly accepting it and feeling it will. Take the time to face your despair and you’ll feel much more connected to yourself. Over time this deepening will lay the groundwork for a new sense of inner strength and joy.
Although it might be difficult now is the time that you need your friends and other relationships the most. If you feel like your support system is limited or can only handle so much, now would be the time to seek out a competent English speaking therapist who can guide you on your path to healing.
It’s not easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but just like loss is inevitable, so are new beginnings.
Girl image by Jonathan Levitt.