We had been married for 20 years and together for 29, when our marriage ended. Teens to forty somethings, we had journeyed together from REM to Coldplay and through lots more debatable ‘good’ music choices in between.
A marriage is a complex affair. It is a melting pot of history, dreams, intimacy, finances, sometimes children, and of course love. It’s also a melting pot of values, decisions, customs, stages, achievements and challenges, developed, lived through and up to the point of separation, survived together. And it’s a melting pot of emotions, joy, excitement, love, laughs and too, anger, bitterness, disappointments, that can grow over the years and lead two people to become either very happy together, or very unhappy.
For me, family life was the single biggest investment of my time, effort and energy, over the past twenty years. Despite earning the bigger salary on the birth of our first child, we jointly decided that it would be better for us, if I was a stay-at-home mom. I was very happy to do so. It was of course tough, my professional talents left sitting on the shelf for a while, until I could come up with ideas of how to use them around family life.
Years later when I got sick and was diagnosed with heart failure after it all, getting well enough to go home to my family became the thing I was most anxious to do, that, and to help my heart survive for as long as my family would need me. Family became the giant carrot that got me doing all the things I had to, to get well and try to live as long as I could. For me, it was all family, family, family.
You can imagine therefore, that when the marriage ended, it was truly a devastation in my life, bigger and wider than anything I had faced to that point, (and that from one who has faced cardiac arrest and life support!).
The melting pot that had been our lives had been shattered and its contents now looked like fish out of water, gasping and choking all over the floor. I didn’t know how to keep all that was within that pot alive and well, especially as I too felt like I was one of the ones gasping and choking on the floor.
I didn’t stop loving my husband when he drove out the gate. Perhaps it would have been easier if I had, but the truth is, whatever the pleather of books written and read about ‘conscious uncoupling’, we can’t order our emotions to feel something we don’t, even if it would be much more convenient for all involved. I had loved him for 29 years, 20 of which were for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, so I was never going to suddenly stop loving him and be all honkey dory on sight of his taillights disappearing down the drive.
But loving someone who no longer wants to be in the melting pot with you, is what makes it extremely painful to positively, ‘consciously uncouple’.
Like exposed nerve endings, the rawness of the pain is so intense and so ever present at the beginning that it literally feels like there is no where in your life to retreat to escape it. My home was full of him. A family photo of us on holiday, squeezed hard at my heart. His clothes in the laundry basket, or shoes under the bed, brought fresh stabs of pain to my chest. And my head was full of him too. Fresh waves of shock greeted me every morning when I woke up, realising that ‘we’ were no more. Thoughts of a future dream or plan, to be ventured into without him, made my insides plummet. Even my dreams seemed invaded by loss and confusion, sometimes revealing him smiling and cooking dinner in the kitchen, sometimes him lost, with me searching for him in a mist.
When Gwyneth Paltrow talked about ‘consciously uncoupling’, it sounded so sensible and practical. With only two chiming words needed to describe it, what could be the problem?
Love after separation is the problem, especially when it’s for the person whose actions are bringing you pain, all be it unconsciously. Love makes ‘conscious uncoupling’ with intent of keeping all things positive, while being hurt by that same person you are being asked to be positive to, seem as impossible to bear as an amputation without an anaesthetic.
Love after separation can exist even if you both want the separation, but most especially if one didn’t want it. It’s not that that one might have felt it was all so rosy and didn’t have many reasons to walk away themselves over the years, but the fact is, sometimes, their love might feel too big to ever allow them to. And that big love, doesn’t just disappear, when the other partner decides to go.
That big love was why the ‘x’ now blatantly absent at the end of his texts to me, hurt like hell, and why our new consciousness to not lean over to kiss each other as a greeting seemed to cut like a knife. That big love was why, when he collected the kids and drove out the gate without saying hello, I’d often spend the next hour crying with the dog, my companion in heartbreak, who loved and missed him too.
And that was what made separation so difficult for me at the beginning. It wasn’t just the challenge of moving on to live a new life, it was trying to carry the pain of that hurt big love, while doing so. Anger, sadness, and the pain of rejection proved weighty, especially after a night of crying on my pillow, the hangover from grief next morning, challenging to making the school lunches with a smile.
But things have improved a lot in the nine months since it all happened. Time does make a difference to the intensity of it all. And those months have allowed me time to reflect, heal and let go more, while at the same time developing and doing lots that nourish my own soul. I have diversified usage of my big love if you like, to helping us both move on without as much baggage to carry.
I’m not ‘over it’, nor likely ever will be truly over the breakdown of my marriage, but after a very raw and bumpy start, things are beginning to feel like they might work out OK for both him and me and with this whole ‘conscious uncoupling’ thing… eventually!
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