“What’s happening?” You went through the ceremony, said all those words, made promises and went on a honeymoon. Those were real events… physical, real experiences and you took to heart the vows coming out of your mouth. Years passed, there were the routines, children, friends. What you had was the comfort, familiarity, love, partnership. And then one day, it was over and you went into crisis mode. You discovered the drugs, the girlfriends, his things packed, the locks changed. She left with the kids. You begin what feels like the worst moments of your life…
The crisis mode you get into when a marriage ends is such a fragile, frightening place. At first, you’re simply spinning, tethered to this immense fear and anxiety. Instinct takes over as you start to search for answers to something you’ve no idea how to figure out. When you begin to see the marriage you’ve been living, it feels nearly impossible to look at this time as good. This is good old-fashioned, “I’m freaking out!” time. You’re going to be in a crisis mode for some time before you’re ready to see the big picture.
Understand that your behavior in this crisis moment is quite normal.
- You’ve been the fish in the fishbowl unaware of what your life really has been for a long time. Tolerance and your rose-colored glasses have kept you feeling it’s all you, and the role of being blamed, has you convinced that you’re responsible for the breakdown or the opposite, 100% the victim.
What you don’t get is just how fragmented the agreement’s been for a really long time. How having a spouse in your bed, a mortgage, vacations or even family celebrations isn’t the same as partnership, fidelity or respect. This is when you begin to grasp the person who’s been your spouse and to take stock of your life. In the crisis mode, balancing this understanding while feeling unstable and having compassion is difficult.
- In the freak-out, it feels as if your reality, your marriage – the thing you believed in and did every day – never really existed. As you search for blame, you feel like you lived a fantasy in a house of cards. So duped, used, unbelievably naive, you will thrash about.
The feelings of being foolish or stupid, and overcome with anger can easily frighten you to your core. You grapple about looking for a reality check because you will go over and over and over the details of your marriage. Unfortunately, in the crisis mode, you will review every conversation, every moment, every voice message, and every email until you figure out the lies. Then you will catalog the disrespect, the lack of love all in order to become steady on your feet.
In the crisis mode, understand you will search for information to blame.
- Even though you won’t want to feel the hurt, the anger, loss, panic, and the tears, you will. You really can’t deal with being this wobbly. You’re not in any shape to face the future, never mind being positive and tethered to optimism or experiencing joy. So give yourself a break.
Knowing this, you’re going to feel weak, and unable to get out of bed in the morning. However, you may also experience the opposite, determined to hold it together with a framework of work and family duties. Some people waffle between the two while throwing in a few dates, lots of sex and anything that helps to numb out. Any of these reactions are common and you’re not alone.
- Your armor will get thick. You stop trusting everyone – you’ll look around for spies, start using cash, worry that your email is being hacked. Every time you go out, you’ll wonder if there’s a PI behind you. You’ll question if your friends are still your friends. You’ll assume every professional from an attorney to your doctor to your kids’ teachers knew something you didn’t.
In the crisis mode, you’ll assume everyone is fabricating tales including me. This is the worst part of this part of the separation and breakup of your marriage. It’s a very lonely place because, in your pain and shame, you will pull in and hide from others who you think are judging, judging, judging.
Here too, in the crisis mode, you simply need an answer, anything tangible in order to piece the future together.
- Find safe ground, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just that your marriage is over. You may also have work to do, even lots of work. Or you may have to parent or learn a few skills and change some habits. But no matter how difficult this crisis mode is, your life is just beginning.
In fear and resentment, this is incredibly hard to hear. In the crisis mode after a marriage, you’re also not the only one whose life was a mirage. That’s why I’m optimistic and bold and champion your courage. This is simply a period of time and you need it.
Despite the pain, you’ll take the steps necessary to make the torment and the panic go away. In so doing, the aching goes away and you will begin to get better and grow. The heartache and dread and the awareness of the crisis mode have to come first. It’s part of what’s going on. You have to see the truth.