"Leaving - ready or not."
It’s a common enough story. She may have stayed silent. She may have criticised. She may have run out of ways to explain what the problem was. Whatever she did, for you it simply didn’t register that there was a real problem. At least not one that was splitting-up serious.
It almost doesn’t matter why you didn’t get the message, now you have to live with the consequences. And the consequences start with shock.
When it comes as a shock - and it often does – it’s way up the Richter scale. You can spend a long time stunned and disbelieving. It’s not what you expected and it’s not what you want. It’s not what you thought you were choosing.
Instead, someone else’s choice has just turned your world on end, and you don’t seem to get a say about it. You probably thought the person who’s doing the choosing was on your side. Only now she’s dropped you from the team. So on top of the shock you’ve got rejection.
Your disbelief is likely running high. There must be some mistake. You start asking why? hoping a reason will lead to a solution. As if there is something that simple. As if any explanation will actually satisfy you.
You greet whatever answers you get with doubt. You take them apart, looking for the flaws. As if you hope that showing her she’s wrong will change her mind. And when it doesn’t, your hope turns bitter and your hurt grows.
Maybe you’re frustrated by the way she sees things, by the emphasis she puts on things that don’t seem so important to you. You can’t believe that everything you did seems to count for nothing with her now.
Maybe it feels like you’re being judged – perhaps on terms you don’t recall agreeing to. Perhaps you get defensive. It’s hard not to in these circumstances. You try to explain, but it comes out sounding like you’re making excuses. Or maybe it sounds like you’re blaming her. She probably blames you right back. And it’s likely you’re both right. You both contributed something to the shape of your relationship.
Or maybe you take on responsibility for the whole thing and get really down on yourself and maybe really depressed.
You’re gutted. You’re shattered. And nobody else quite gets it. It’s your own personal mix of sadness, fear and hurt. And then there’s the anger at the way she’s given up on the relationship so you don’t get a second chance. Anger at the way you have no choice.
Whatever reaction you have, it’s likely that you’re on the back foot. Your partner is ahead of you on this. She’s been thinking about splitting up long enough to get definite. You may have toyed with the idea, but you haven’t worked your own way to this conclusion.
Having to play catch up often smarts. It adds a layer of desperation on top of the shock you already feel. When your partner pulls the plug on your relationship its like you somehow get left behind and if you’re not careful the distress can suck a big chunk of your life down the drain.
Men are often vulnerable to getting caught in that spin and stuck there. You may have fewer strong social connections. So loosing a partner means you’re not only lonely for that particular person, but you could be isolated as well.
You might have fewer people you feel able to approach for support. Fewer people to listen to you, to care how your day was, to help you keep a sense of perspective, to be companionable even when you aren’t good company.
It can be a short step from isolation to desolation. Its something you need to watch.
It’s a generalisation, but many men just don’t have a lot of practice dealing with distressing emotions. You get a lot of encouragement to just tough things out, to ignore how you feel and just get on with it. But ignoring the emotional fallout of a separation is a pretty big ask.
Men are often uncomfortable talking about feelings, and are likely to face pressure to cope. Your friendships and family relationships are less likely to be built around sharing personal and painful feelings. Your departing partner may be the only person you feel able to confide in, but she doesn’t want to hear what you have to say.
Your desire to fix this and get your life back keeps you focused on wanting to see her, spend time together and sort it out. But as far as she’s concerned it is sorted, and its time to be moving on. So each time you try to put the relationship back together you get rejected again. The more times you go round this cycle, the worse you feel.
There is a lot in this situation that you have no control over. If she has decided she doesn’t want to be with you, you can’t make her be willing to reconsider or to change her mind. Focusing on the things you are in charge of helps you to feel steadier.
What you do have the ability to control is yourself. Though it may not feel much like that if you are swamped with emotion. Never the less, you can make decisions for yourself and you can carry them out. You can start getting an eye to your own future now.
A good starting place is allowing yourself time and opportunity to grieve. In part this means not cutting off options you may want in the longer term. Resist the impulse to quit your house, your job and your friends for a cave in the mountains. Look for a balance between drastic change and staying still.
Most people are still feeling the effects of separation well after the relationship has ended. How long it takes is very individual, but you could expect it might take two years to have your life really back on track. So you want to make things steady for yourself while you go through that rocky period. It’s way too long to be camping on a friend’s sofa.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get irreversibly committed to anything before you see your way forward. So be cautious about major decisions like buying houses, moving cities, changing jobs, or getting heavily involved in a new relationship.
If you have kids, your role as a father can come sharply into focus when you loose your role as a partner. You don’t stop being Dad and how you choose to act about parenting arrangements will have a huge impact on your kids. The more you keep it civil and cooperative, the gentler the separation will be on your kids. They want to love both their parents. You can make that easy or difficult depending on what you do.
Staying with the things you can control applies here too. Concentrate on what life is like for them when they’re with you. Spend time with them, talk with them, enjoy their company, and set limits for them. If they get love, stability and a good example from you, they will be getting what they need.
Putting the pieces together after your partner ends the relationship is usually painful and often slow. You don’t have to do it all alone. You may not be used to asking for help, but there will be people who can offer some support. Friends, family and colleagues often want to help but don’t know what you will accept.
If you need someone to talk to you can always try a counsellor. At Relationships Aotearoa we work with many couples who separate. It helps us to be familiar with the impact separation can have. We are likely to recognise what you’re talking about so you can expect to be understood.