Marriage and Divorce: Making Meaning of a Senseless Situation

Man packing suitcase while woman talks in backgroundWhen my ex-husband announced he was leaving the marriage, it made no sense to me. We had two amazing children, a beautiful house, a 19-year marriage, and enough amazing memories to fill a giant time capsule. So when his words hit my ears, it was as if he was speaking another language. I spent the next nine months trying to understand the whats, hows, and whys of the situation, but the harder I tried to comprehend it, the more confused I became. I read books, consulted experts, prayed for answers, and grilled him until we both went up in flames.

When your partner told you he or she was done with the marriage, your likely response was one of astonishment. You were probably dumbfounded by his or her seemingly illogical decision to leave. This kind of “hit-and-run” experience profoundly affects your mind and body by triggering parts of your brain connected to fear and stress. Your nervous system becomes imbalanced, sending you into a state of high anxiety and lowered ability to function. Ultimately, your life becomes a blur of senseless days and sleepless nights.

As human beings, we want to “know” and understand what is happening to us at any given time, and when we are unable to figure it out, we do something crazy—we keep trying. We obsess and focus on getting the one answer that we illusively believe will bring some form of comfort or sanity. Sometimes we get the answer, but more often than not we are left to make our own meaning of what happened.

If you are sitting in the eye of the storm that has become your life and you are trying to make some sense of a surreal situation you didn’t ask to be in, here is some advice that will help you stay sane:

  1. Look for the good: If you try to maintain a sense of balance while standing on one foot, it helps to focus on one particular spot with your eyes to avoid falling over. Focusing on the good in your life serves the same purpose. Overwhelm is your constant companion but not your best friend, so directing your attention to the positive elements in your life will give you grounding. If it feels like there is nothing to appreciate in your world right now, think about your children, your pet, your health, or a good friend.
  2. Accept the unacceptable: It’s very hard to accept the end of a marriage and all the horrible events that may coincide with it being over. As you resist accepting the truth of your situation, you create more and more suffering for yourself. Everything that is happening may seem unfathomable to you. Even if the behaviors are so bad that you feel you could never accept the reality, try simply accepting the fact you can’t accept. Acceptance is not about condoning or pardoning the offensive acts. It’s about relinquishing control and the need to understand the inexplicable.
  3. Look at the facts: When your head is spinning, it can be hard to remember what you know to be true. The tendency is to focus on what you can’t figure out, but real information is what will ground you. Ask yourself what you know about your situation, and reduce the amount of wondering about what you don’t know. Pretend you are writing a research paper and you need to gather the concrete facts that back up your hypothesis. As with science, theory is only as good as the proof that supports it.
  4. Become enlightened: When trauma strikes, our brains narrow in focus. It’s very difficult to make space for new information as the mind becomes obsessive in thought about the incident. Learning, reading, and surrounding yourself with positive and affirming ideas will help you expand your thinking to incorporate helpful thoughts that promote healing. Broadening your perspective on your situation will add meaning to your experience, and will allow you to make sense of it on your own terms.
  5. Continue to live: The loss of great love is like death without the body. It’s hard to go on, and it can feel like your life is over. The tendency is to stop living, and as a result your world becomes smaller and smaller. If this becomes your long-term path, over time the meaning of your life will slip, and your whole existence will become about your loss. Continuing to be out in the world doing the activities you love, and exploring new ways of enjoying yourself, will ensure that you continue to thrive and grow.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in Pasadena, California

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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  • Tabitha.L

    Tabitha.L

    March 21st, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Thank you for this. I know just how useful a few words of advice can help when you are in a rut. Having been there done that, I think divorce has to be one of the most painful events in a person’s life. And it is even more painful when you have been together for a long time.

    My ten year marriage ended about three years ago and I was almost incapable of doing absolutely anything for about a year following my divorce. It felt like my world had ended and nothing was left for me. That is when my family support,after all their efforts and patience, started to show results. I slowly moved out of the shell I had created around me (around my life in fact) and things started to improve.

    Today when I look back I often wonder what would happen had I stayed that way. Scary but a potential reality to a lot of people out there. Stay strong and you can overcome it. Do not lose heart or hope, there is always something good right around the corner.
    Thanks.

  • Ernest

    Ernest

    August 28th, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    Yes I have been hit straight in the face after 17 years marriage This got to be very painful and still can’t figure out how people can be so heartless I gave this woman all my love and she treating me like shit when I trying to save our marriage.

  • Maxine

    Maxine

    March 21st, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    Thank you Andra for your self-disclosure. What you offer in this article are words of first-hand wisdom!

  • Natalie R

    Natalie R

    March 22nd, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    But why if I am not the one making the decision to end the marriage should I be made to feel like I have no control, and that I should just sit back and accept that decision that I had no part in?

  • EJ

    EJ

    March 23rd, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    many of us have had to struggle thru a divorce that may not have been of our own choosing. But such is life.
    Why would I want to stay with someone and have them stay with me if they are not fully invested in continuing to make this a meaningful relationship? I think that all of us know that we deserve something better then that.
    So if this happens, you move on. You take one day at a time, but you continue to live because really what other choice do you have but to give up, and that was just not a choice for me.

  • Kathy

    Kathy

    December 26th, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    I left my husband seven months ago after 27 years of marriage – I should have left 25 years ago. For the last ten years I repeatedly asked him to stop trying to control me, to stop yelling at me, to stop saying horrible things about me, my family and my friends, to treat me like I mattered. He made it clear that he didn’t care about what I thought, felt or needed. During the six months before I left I asked him several times to go to counseling with me because I wouldn’t stay if things didn’t change. He only agreed to go so I would find out how f**ked up I was – he ended up going twice by himself but saw no point in continuing because there was nothing about him that needed to change. When I finally found the strength to leave, he told me I’d blindsided him. Told me he had no idea I was unhappy and that he had always treated me like a queen. No matter how many times I explained why I’d left, he always responded by telling me he didn’t understand – as usual, he was just ignoring everything I was saying to him.

    Some people refuse to believe what’s happening right in front of them and there’s nothing “hit-and-run” about it. They will never accept that they are largely responsible for the problems that led to the divorce. I’m sure this is surreal for him and that for the rest of his life, he’ll probably wonder why I did this to him because he thinks he was a perfect husband.

  • PV

    PV

    December 27th, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    The relationship I was in ended recently (not my doing – it was the desire of the other person). How would you define acceptance? What does it look like? This has always seemed like a nebulous term to me. I can’t figure out how to accept my current situation. I’m conflicted – I want to move on, but I don’t want to let go of him. I feel stuck.

  • Dr. Brosh

    Dr. Brosh

    December 28th, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    PV: As I wrote…”Accept the unacceptable: It’s very hard to accept the end of a marriage and all the horrible events that may coincide with it being over. As you resist accepting the truth of your situation, you create more and more suffering for yourself. Everything that is happening may seem unfathomable to you. Even if the behaviors are so bad that you feel you could never accept the reality, try simply accepting the fact you can’t accept. Acceptance is not about condoning or pardoning the offensive acts. It’s about relinquishing control and the need to understand the inexplicable.” Acceptance is a personal choice just like any other life path. You will know when you’re ready, sometimes it’s just not the right time to put this into practice.

  • Dr. Brosh

    Dr. Brosh

    December 28th, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Natalie R: You don’t have to do anything. You can choose to resist the idea and fight it, or choose to accept the circumstances you have been forced to deal with the circumstances being forced on you. This doesn’t equate with forgiveness, forgetting or condoning the behavior. It’s only about your own health and wellbeing.

  • Dawn semple

    Dawn semple

    October 14th, 2016 at 9:56 AM

    My husband has been cheating on off for four years I still love my husband and we have a child but hurting so much his selfish behaviour has jepodised our marriage

  • Sw

    Sw

    January 14th, 2017 at 7:39 PM

    Hi my husband has just left me after 35 years we met when we were just 16 and I can not see me getting over this, I am heartbroken scared and lonely ..

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