I spent 29 years and 7 months creating our perfect family. I was determined from the very beginning that my marriage would not be the war zone that my parents’ marriage had been, it wouldn’t be the passionless relationship I saw in so many mid-life couple, and it wouldn’t be mediocre. No, it would be halcyon days of picnics and sunshine, long nights of making love, and practically perfect parenting as we created a family around a set of values that Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver would have been quite comfortable with.
We attended church, we home schooled, home birthed, and were a one income family. We bought a house that was straight out of a 1950s sit-com. We prayed together, played together, and crafted a deception so perfect that even our children were unaware that things were not the way that they were portrayed. I was careful to do everything by the book. I was submitted to my husband’s leadership no matter what he was leading us into, I put aside my needs, wants, and goals to be his helpmeet, his number one fan. I worked hard to stay slim despite the birth of eight children and the removal of my thyroid.
I wanted more than anything to be the embodiment of the Proverbs 31 woman.
It became clear pretty early on that his need for sex and affection was much lower key than mine. I went to the pastor’s wife for counsel and was told to just get some cute nighties, to be more available, and to make sure that I stayed slender and attractive. Over the next 20 years or so I can’t tell you how much money I spent on outfits and sexy lingerie, or how much time I spent on websites seeking the key to his heart.
It Was Never Perfect
Five months before our 30th anniversary I came across numerous emails between him and his high school girlfriend. They had reconnected on Facebook and apparently she did have the key to both his heart and his libido.
It wasn’t the first time he had lied and cheated and I finally understood that it wasn’t going to be the last. In the space of six short hours the couple that we should have been died an intensely painful death.
Letting go of the perfect little family fantasy is equivalent to losing a family member.
Let yourself grieve for what should have been.
I Was Angry at God
I was frightened. At age 49 I had six children still at home and hadn’t worked outside the home since I had been married. I had no clue how I was going to put food on the table, keep the house, or pay the bills. The house, a 4300 square foot historic home that was only partially restored, frightened me with its century old creaks, snaps, and groans in the middle of the night.
I was no longer welcome at my church and I lost longtime friends.
Maybe I was depressed, I don’t know. I didn’t really have time to think about it. What I do know is that one night I realized that I was angry, really angry with God. I had done everything right. I had sacrificed, given up, put aside my needs – I had ground my own whole wheat flour and baked my own bread for goodness sakes! I did everything that everyone told me to do in order to be a godly, overcoming woman with a perfect little family and it didn’t work.
God did not come through for me. I screamed at Him, “I did everything You wanted and look how it turned out! It’s not supposed to be this way!”
Jumping into Grief Kick-started My Healing
That began my grief process for real. I had to let go of the woman, wife, and mother I thought I was. I had to say goodbye to my fantasy relationship and the future that seemed guaranteed. I had no more control over this event than I did over the death of my parents – and it felt very much the same.
Since that time I have accepted what happened. I understand more about how the counsel I had been given for years did little more than give me empty promises and a false sense of who I was and what I really believed. I am attending a different church and relying less on what I am told and more on what I find out for myself, which is as it should be.
Most of all, instead of feeling deceived I now feel released. I no longer feel I have to be perfect to ensure that my life is blessed.
Whether or not you go to church, whether or not you believe in God, and no matter how long you have been married you will find that you go through a similar grief process as you bury the corpses of the fantasy couple and the future that they should have had.
Accept that You Will Grieve over the Loss of Your Relationship
There are seven stages of grief and you are going to go through each one of them. It doesn’t matter how much you hate your ex, it doesn’t matter how much better off you are. Grief is part of the healing process so let it happen.
Some things that you may feel are:
- Loss of identity
Don’t deny these feelings but accept them, allow yourself to acknowledge them and give yourself permission to work through them.
Focus on the Truth of How It Was
Consider the possibility that a lot of what you have believed has been a lie. Maybe it’s your lie, maybe it’s your ex-husband’s lie, or maybe it is your lie together but you need to let it go and admit that it wasn’t truth.
Every time you feel those niggling accusations beginning in your mind hit them with a blast of the truth. Guilt and self-criticism are common to all of us but they serve no good purpose. You did your best and there really isn’t anything more that anyone could have asked of you.
Re-establish Your Identity
This was the most intimidating part of my recovery. I had been half of that particular couple for so long I really didn’t know who I was outside of it. Having to leave my church was actually a very good thing because it caused me to question what I had been believing. I was forced to rethink who I was because I couldn’t just keep being the same person I had always been, which would have been a real temptation had I stayed where I was.
Think about the things that you like to do, that you used to like to do, and begin to try them to see if they still fit. The biggest change for me was just allowing myself to relax. My ex-husband would get angry when things weren’t just right so I was in a state of tension all the time without even realizing it. When he was gone I visibly relaxed. People I had known for years would walk up to me and ask if I had gotten a little “work” done, saying I looked 10 years younger.
I had been told I didn’t look good in pink. Once he was gone I began to wear pink again and as people complimented me I gained confidence. Now I can’t remember why I even listened. I look great in pink!
Take Steps to Divorce Recovery
- Once you have accepted that you will grieve, focused on the truth, and started to re-establish your identity you can begin to do the things that will aid you in a healthy recovery at your own pace. Here are some suggestions.
- If your support network has dropped out because of the divorce take the steps to create another one. Seeking new friendships is probably the last thing you want to do but it is very important.
- Find a divorce recovery group and attend meetings. It will not only help you to walk through your grief, it is a great place to find new friends.
- Journaling can help you identify your feelings, an important step in recovery.
- Don’t neglect your spiritual self. Renew your relationship, whether it is with God, a higher power, meditation, or whatever makes your feel positive and builds your faith.
- Don’t put off getting good legal advice.
- Give yourself as much time as you need.
There Is a Future
My divorce was final in February 2010. The ex moved out of state and has seen the kids maybe three times. Honestly, this may be a bad attitude on my part but it does make things much easier on them emotionally. I have since remarried a man who has the ability to make me feel cherished and who treats my children – our children – better than they have ever been treated. For the most part I am happy, although I have to admit that sometimes I miss homeschooling, being a stay at home mom, and that feeling of accomplishment and spiritual superiority you get when your marriage looks perfect to everyone else.
It’s OK because I am still recovering and I probably always will be to an extent.
How about you? What part of the grief process are you struggling with right now? How are you overcoming? Leave a comment and let us know!