Dear Sara: In 2015, my husband of 25 years and I ended our marriage. We got married after only knowing each other for a few days, … and it was rocky due to the fact that he drank alcohol daily for self-medication. He was abusive on several occasions, but I felt that until I had tried in every way to make it work. I would not give up on the vows I took. This was my second marriage. His mother did not care for me. She moved up here, she told me, with the intent to break up our marriage. She was successful, and he lives with her now, even though he is 59 years old.
Other than the drinking, I loved him very much and am having trust issues now with any other man I meet. I just want to be happy, but after all those years, soon as the judge said we were divorced, he has not spoken to me at all. Why cant a friendship be salvaged from a lifetime of being a couple? It scares me that he is acting so cold and shows no concern for me in any way. Other than drinking, he was good about everything else. He was a hard worker, contributing to the home and all. How can love turn to hate? Do some people turn feelings off like a faucet? It makes me feel like I wasted my life, my youth and my love on someone who can just turn me off. I can’t help wondering if he ever thinks of me at all.
I want closure, and I did not get it from him. I cannot understand how such a change can occur in someone considering the volume of time we spent together. Any advice would be appreciated because I remain confused and do not trust men now. I have lived alone for two years now. Why am I still having feelings for someone who could treat me in such a cruel manner? I am in counseling but have only gone twice now. I have other interests but keep coming back to that question: WHY?? I think I have a right to know what I did to make him change, so I can move on.
I do not like living alone, but am maintaining except for that nagging question that, until answered, will not let me experience closure of that portion of my life. He left me right after my father passed away and my mom had died four years earlier. I needed him more at that time than ever and he let me down. He cheated on me during our marriage a few times. I never did because I made a promise not only to him but also to God, society and to myself that I would do my best to make the marriage work. I still feel love for him. I wonder if something is wrong with me because I still care for someone who now views me as yesterday’s garbage. I am an attractive, educated woman in good health. What could be so bad that would make him turn on me with no explanation whatsoever? I just do not get it and if I can’t get it, how can I get over it? — J
Dear J: I’m so sorry to hear you are going through all this. This is a tough and painful situation, so I think it might be useful to separate what you know from what you don’t know. You know that you had a difficult marriage and that your ex-husband had a lot of problems, like alcoholism, that have nothing to do with you. You know that he has cut off contact with you, but you don’t actually know how he is feeling right now. You’re assuming that his silence means that he no longer has any feelings for you, that your 25 years together meant nothing to him. But you don’t really know that. His silence could also be an indication that he is in a lot of pain too and that cutting off contact with you is his way of dealing with it. Maybe it’s just too painful for him to be friends with you. I’m not condoning his behavior—drinking is another way that people deal with painful emotions, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I’m just saying that the two of you might have different ways of managing the trauma of your divorce.
But hopefully, your marriage taught you that you can’t change him, so I suggest focusing how you can work with your own feelings of loss. First, forgive yourself if you aren’t over him yet. 25 years is a very long time, and it makes complete sense that you wouldn’t be able to, in your words, “shut off feelings like a faucet.” You’re still grieving and that’s okay, that’s to be expected. You are going to have good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours, good minutes and bad minutes. So I think the challenge is not to “shut off” your feelings, but to work on making the periods of peace and calm longer, and the periods of distress shorter. I have found that mediation is a good way to work with this, and I’ve also found some helpful tools in a book called The Happiness Trap.
Your ex might not be able to give you the closure that you’re seeking. So I suggest finding ways to give that to yourself. As you have said you did your very best. You tried hard, and you were faithful. So please honor all the things you did right in your last relationship and know that they will serve you well in the next one.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.