The Right to Fall Down
By Becky Joyce Reed
Perhaps the greatest quest of this lifetime exists to be true to ourselves. Joining another in marriage should not precipitate giving away oneself and yet, compromise and respect for the values of the entity of the union must mesh with those of both individuals.
This state of having something in common with shared efforts and interests should entail a mutual "glue" and loyalty. The couple's association is to bolster both individuals as well as the life force of the marriage. Betrayal in one form or another is always a shock for one of the party's to discover. It might even be a surprise to the one committing offense that the bond was not so strong that such a change in choice might occur.
Dr. Roberta Temes and Geoffrey Gorer discuss three stages of grief for people left behind. Their model finds a base with the loss in the death of another, but it seems most applicable to the displaced spouse, as well. They posit that grief is not a disease and there is no magic pill for a cure, but it does have an end. "Numbness, disorganization and reorganization are these stages and they bring about emotional, physical and behavioral changes in all of us."
The works of Temes and Gorer list numbness as the first stage - a place for the automatic pilot which also includes genuine sorrow, moments of anger, and even guilt.
In disorganization, the next phase, a constant and acute loneliness accompanies the loss along with physical symptoms such as tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, and anxiety with panic. This second phase may be wrenching and we are advised to feel all the emotions and not keep them bottled. Eventually, the promise is that (1) we will complete the emotional process and (2) we will begin to focus our energy toward a future.
In the final stage of reorganization, the sadness and weeping subside and the one left behind begins to trust again in himself to provide a security on his own.
Although the authors intended to assist in the experience of the death of a loved one, this message and sense of hope proves valuable to the spouse who found him/herself to be so easily discarded. The advice for obtaining a support system should be underscored.
Looking at life from the perspective of the disposable spouse, the self-esteem and trust in ability to fill certain roles finds a difficult pathIntimacies and openness of thoughts, joys, and upsets may have been turned inward trying to comprehend what actually transpired in the decision of the other partner to end the union. As one who was so quickly left behind, I found myself suffering anxiety over thoughts of "what if" and "were there unspoken boundaries and topics upon which I was not to communicate."
Betrayal is as personal as we are as individuals. Mine included a primary loyalty to parents, an ex-wife with her extended family, and the depletion of my funds brought into the marriage. Marriage counseling seemed a one-time interest for the departing spouse. My sadness and deep hurts came from the rites of passage over infatuations with other women, a lack of interest in me as a woman, and the absence of meaningful communication. Having felt that I had "paid my dues" and was allowed to voice opposing ideas, I erred for the facade my spouse needed to perpetuate as well as his need to play the single entity.
In my own capturing of knowledge and practical wisdom, I can see that I was so enthralled by the vision of what life would be as the future moved into focus that I failed to fully evaluate the discrepancies of acceptability in the joint venture.
Ideas of honor and commitment must be shared. Expecting maturity in responsibilities may not be accessible if the partner finds that his role no longer serves the purpose for which it was created. Life often brings cycles and should one be unprepared for the bumps along the path, that proverbial "grass is greener" elsewhere mentality may be ever so enticing.
Is hope just beyond the next night-fall? Yes, but there is work on self and handling grief to be accomplished first. We will find that we don't look toward that departed spouse for aid or compassion...or answers and when that day arrives, it will be comforting that we can be fine just as a lone person. There will come a time when thoughts will not automatically drift toward the deceased union and the "what if's" of one's choices in behavior and response.
We have a right to fumble, err, and fall down. We also have the right to see that our best efforts could not manifest the joint vision without both giving to that manifestation. Helen Rowland summarizes the subject well in "A Guide" to Men": "When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn't a sign that they "don't understand" one another, but a sign that they have, at last, begun to."