7 Steps to Overcome the Pain of Rejection When a Partner Leaves

Person with long hair has head bent over knees, holding up wedding ring and cryingOur first therapy session began …

The day I found her text on my husband’s phone is a day I will never forget. My whole life changed in an instant. I was stunned and in disbelief. I thought, “Is this really happening to me?”

I read it again. She wrote, “I love you more than ever. Can’t wait until we are together again.”

My heart began pounding like it was going to explode. I felt like someone punched me in the gut. My mind began racing: “Who is this woman? Why is she texting my husband that she loves him? Would he really cheat? We’ve been together for 17 years. I thought we were happy.” 

I called him. He immediately came home from work. He’d accidentally left his phone at home that morning. When he arrived, he couldn’t look me in the eye. He said, “I didn’t mean for you to find out like this.”

I responded, “You didn’t mean for me to find out what?”

He said, “That I’m leaving. I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore.”

My thoughts started reeling. His words got stuck in my head: “I’m not in love with you anymore.” They went around and around and wouldn’t stop.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“I haven’t been happy for a few years,” he replied. “You were so focused on the kids. I felt alone.”

“I was so focused on the kids?” I snapped back in exasperation. “Yes, I was! Isn’t that what I was supposed to be doing?”

“I just don’t have those feelings for you anymore,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

The rejection people feel when a partner leaves for someone else can be daunting. Not only do they feel the loss, the hurt, and the emptiness, they have to deal with the knowledge they have been “replaced.” No matter how you slice it, the message is: “You are no longer good enough. I’ve found someone better.”

I burst into tears. The pain pierced my heart. I could hardly breathe. The pain was excruciating. I felt shattered into a million pieces. My life would never be the same.

Over the next few weeks, we talked and we cried. I went from feeling anger and hatred toward him to feeling like I couldn’t live without him. I asked him to stay and get counseling. No matter what I said, his mind was made up.

I asked about the other woman. She was someone he worked with, of course. They took business trips together. He said she was in an “unhappy marriage” too. They had been having an affair for almost a year.

The day he moved out was horrendous. The kids were a mess. He promised he’d still be there for them.

It’s been a year, yet it feels like it happened yesterday. I still feel so rejected.

The only time my mind rests is when I’m busy with the kids or at work. I’ve asked myself a thousand times, “Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I do wrong? What could I have done to make him stay? What does she have that I don’t have? What’s wrong with me?”

“Is she prettier, sexier, more interesting, more fun? Of course she is. She’s new. She hasn’t had kids. They don’t live together. She doesn’t do his laundry. They don’t have to deal with children and carpools. He’s known her for one year. We were married for 17 years. Maybe he just got tired of me and our life together.”

The rejection people feel when a partner leaves for someone else can be daunting. Not only do they feel the loss, the hurt, and the emptiness, they have to deal with the knowledge they have been “replaced.” No matter how you slice it, the message is: “You are no longer good enough. I’ve found someone better.”

When a partner leaves, the first few weeks can be extremely painful. People respond by not eating, not sleeping, crying, withdrawing, and generally feeling like the bottom has dropped out. They may have a sense of unreality, like they are a character in a play. There is denial and disbelief.

Often, the worst part is going to bed. The mind wanders to the place where the pain of rejection dwells. It’s hard to escape. The thoughts keep coming. When sleep finally arrives, it is fitful. Waking up in the morning is no better. It’s a new day and the pain starts all over again.

How does a person recover from and overcome the enormous pain of being rejected in one of the most important areas of life? Here are seven steps that may help you heal from the devastation of being rejected by a partner.

  1. Feel the feelings. Allow yourself to experience them. Don’t try to hide from them or push them away. Let them come. Feel them. Let them out. You may worry they will never stop, but remind yourself it will get better. No matter how hard we cry, at some point we stop.
  2. Understand you will go through the stages of grief. The loss of a relationship is like a death. Feelings of disbelief, shock, anger, hurt, bargaining, sadness, fear, and depression are normal. When a partner leaves for someone else, the grief can become even more complicated. The loss occurs, but the person is still there. They made a purposeful decision to leave. Acknowledge your feelings, journal about them, and soothe them.
  3. Think of your pain like a wave. There will be times where, for a brief period, you may “forget” about it—and then it will hit you all over again. If you fight the feeling and try to push it away, it will grip you harder. Imagine yourself diving into the emotional wave. Let it come, observe it, and allow it to wash over you. Let it go.
  4. Gather your support system around you. You may feel like withdrawing. You may have little energy for others. You may want to stay in bed. Reach out to others anyway. Allow people to be there for you. Let them listen. One day, you may have the opportunity to give that back. Let them provide comfort.
  5. Stop the self-blame. It’s natural to turn the blame on yourself and ask what you did wrong, why you weren’t good enough. Remember it is not your fault. It takes two people to make a relationship work and only one to end it. You can invite a partner to go to therapy with you, but they have to make the choice to participate. Partners leave for many reasons. It may have more to do with their baggage than what happened in your relationship.
  6. Practice self-care. Try to eat well and get enough rest. Take a walk. Do things that help you relax—meditation, relaxation techniques, changing negative thoughts, prayer. It’s a time to find your “self” again. Be kind to yourself. Spend time around people who love you.
  7. Find a therapist who can help. The journey of recovery after a partner leaves takes time, support, and patience. If you are struggling with the loss of a partner, consider contacting a therapist. We are here to support you through crises like this and will help you overcome the pain of rejection.

“The loss of love is not nearly as painful as our resistance to accepting it is.” —Tigress Luv

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 11 comments
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  • Daryl

    Daryl

    April 16th, 2018 at 6:21 PM

    I agree with these steps accept when mentioning ‘prayer’. Really? Which imaginary god should we be praying to? That’s a terrible a piece of advise

  • Diane

    Diane

    April 17th, 2018 at 11:07 AM

    Daryl- I am sickened by your obvious lack of focus on the subjec. But rather choose to pick out ONE word “PRAYER” (which many find great strength in) to seemingly discredit the article, the writer, our higher power (whichever beliefs we follow). I hope you aren’t looking for 👍 from anyone reading this. As this may be when they need something stronger than themselves to believe in somewhere to channel their energy. I wish you luck and I’ll pray for you

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:29 PM

    Hi Diane, I can see that the comment about religion struck a nerve for you. Hope the article was helpful. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:27 PM

    Daryl, I hear you, that religion is not one of your “go to’s” in times of crisis. For others, it is the very thing they rely upon to get support. Glad the other parts of the article were helpful. Lori

  • Judith3

    Judith3

    April 18th, 2018 at 11:45 AM

    Why is it so hard to feel the feelings? :(

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:34 PM

    Judith, I don’t know your specific circumstance; but generally it’s hard to “feel the feelings” because we become locked up inside ourselves, experience a sense of disconnection and isolation from the world. We are wired as humans to feel best when we are “connected,” with a partner, and/or other family and friends that care about us. When people feel deep emotional pain, they often withdraw and that makes it worse. Lori

  • akisha t.

    akisha t.

    April 19th, 2018 at 8:35 PM

    Prayer helps. Giving yourself daily affirmations help as well. Abandonment is a real issue that is triggered in many circumstances. I noticed that when I’m in a certain place, I’m triggered. When I leave, I fine. It’s not my place of employment so I really don’t have to be there. Should i continue to go; what about flight/fight response? I feel it’s best to avoid this place but I don’t wanna run away.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 11th, 2018 at 3:51 PM

    Hi Akisha, If you don’t need to go to the place that triggers you, I wouldn’t go. Your job is to heal and if you keep ripping the scab off at this point, it just stays open. You aren’t “running” from this. You are choosing to give yourself time and space to keep your fight/flight as calm as possible. Best wishes, Lori

  • Stef

    Stef

    June 9th, 2018 at 4:46 AM

    This is almost the same exact experience I’m going thru. It is very difficult for me to get out of bed and function. I have two young children and I try my best to hide my pain from them.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 11th, 2018 at 4:55 PM

    Hi Stef, So sorry for your pain. In the beginning, it is extremely hard to function. Many people describe feeling like they were “punched in the gut,” “had the wind knocked out of them.” A lot of my clients say they feel a heaviness, as if they are carrying 1000 pounds of weight around. It is very difficult to keep functioning, yet having the kids gives you a reason to get out of bed and keep on. At times when you can’t hide the pain from them, explain to them that just like them, moms get sad sometimes and cry too. That it’s ok to cry when you are sad. And that you will feel happier again. I hope that is helpful. It takes time to grieve the loss. I would recommend seeing a therapist if the sadness doesn’t seem to be decreasing in it’s frequency/intensity over the course of a couple weeks. Take care, Lori

  • Lukas

    Lukas

    October 10th, 2018 at 3:38 AM

    This was very helpful to read. Some humans are able to cope with the loss better than others. I was not married to my partner or have children with them yet in my heart it is still hurting very badly and it has been over two years. Thanks for the well written advice, I’m sure many people out there are in the same boat and could really use the advice. Danke schön again.

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