When 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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