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SaraKay Smullens Headshot

The Complexities of Letting Go

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Ending a relationship due to lack of stimulation and desire is not neat and easy, especially when children are involved.

If you are the one who ends the relationship, and you are a decent human being, there will be pangs of guilt. Such as the 33 year old guy, who lost his attraction to his wife of 7 years, and asked the quintessential question during his first appointment, "What have I done to my family?" Or the forty-something woman who left her husband whom she described as "a good but oh so boring man," for someone she finally felt passion for.

The pain of the one abandoned is far more brutal. "I gave him the best of me for 15 years," explained my client, an attorney and mother of two. "I have worked so hard, as we needed the money, and do far more in the world of parenting than he. But he tells me I do not do "it" for him anymore. And somebody else does."

"She wants me to be more than I am," says a forty year old husband and father," talking about his wife who has told me she wants out. "She says I am not exciting or ambitious enough. Living for her and the kids isn't enough for her."

In the best case scenarios of the above examples, counseling helps the couple to find each other again, and truly appreciate qualities that may well not be easy to find again. Or they move on, and looking back are grateful that the change happened, as the quality of their lives improves.

But the best case scenario is not always the scenario. There can be regret about decisions made. "What was I thinking?" asked the accomplished physician who left a loyal and lovely wife for a gold digger. Truth was: He was not thinking, at least with his brain.

There are also a great many who, years later, long for yesterday, and just cannot get over the guy or gal who left them for another. "I hate myself for it, but every time he picks up the kids, my heart sinks, and I hurt like hell," shared my 50 year old client. Sometimes this longing for yesterday hurts so intensely that I have seen sons and daughters who are marrying insist that a married parent leave a step-parent home: "It kills all of us to see them together," I have heard again and again.

Sometimes even those who have gratefully moved forward feel an overwhelming sadness, seemingly out of no where: "When my son married," shared a very happily remarried woman, "and I saw the former husband who fell out of love with me," I had horrible flashes I could not control. I remembered the night I finally faced he had been having an affair with my closest friend, as if that horrible moment of so long ago were yesterday. And I felt a mixture of rage as well as the old longing for him I used to know so well. I hated myself for looking back."

Even those whose marriages end by mutual consent, without seeming hurt or rancor, can feel unexpected remorse: "There I was years later at the birth of my first grandchild, seemingly happily remarried" explained my client. "But in a flash, I realized that I had been foolish to not try to understand my first wife more fully and be better to her, more patient, more available. What a joy it would be to enjoy this child with an unbroken family."

Remembrances such as these are understandable flashes from the past. Life events always evoke past hopes, dreams, commitments, and deep losses. Such flashes tell us both that we are human, and that there is no better teacher than life itself.

And this is the mantra all who divorce, either by one's own choice or the choice of the other, or mutually, are wise to hold on to: We are human. Life will bring us gratitude as well as regret. Feelings can be unexpected and complicated. And if we work very hard to accept this, we can and will move forward to something fulfilling. Not perfect, for nothing ever can be perfect over the long haul. But fulfilling, none the less.