Welcome back to a Huffpost original: a series in words and videos about surviving separation. It will arrive in 12 segments over the coming weeks. If you want to read the first installment, there's a link at the bottom of this post.
My goals are straight-forward:
- Offer hope (and humor) to men who are disconsolate after a relationship has hit the rocks
- Offer a resource to women who care about such men.
I wrote For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart because I would have liked a book like this when my first marriage nose-dived.
I offer it in a spirit of brotherhood and with a strong faith that once our broken hearts mend, we have the capacity to be more compassionate, wiser, more resilient and stronger than we were before.
I'm 51 years old. I have one daughter and three sons. Born and raised in America, I lived in New Zealand for 15 years. My main passions are: writing, fathering and life.
Yes, that's right. I love being alive.
But I sure didn't feel that way when I separated from my first wife.
I felt gutted - like a fish skinned and filleted, ready to be battered and fried. I felt I'd failed at what was most important in life. After nine years of marriage, and 13 years of partnership, I felt I'd let down my children and their mother.
This is what I wrote in my journal six months after I moved out. It was Sunday, after a weekend where I had the boys. I had just dropped them back to their mother's house (which once upon a time was the one I shared with them all).
It starts with a sound: the click of our front gate behind me. A short sound, meaning goodbye. But the finality and the brevity of the click contrast with what I feel: the intense sadness of leaving my wife and my two children on Sunday afternoon. The sadness I feel is not short or contained .. it floods in my chest and makes my stomach queasy .. and there is no cure, nothing to do about it ...
I still feel that sadness sometimes. I recognize it now as my grief, my loss, my emptiness. I know it will always be with me. As much me, as my smile or my childhood. I've learned I can't fight loss and I can't hide from sadness. The best move for me was just to accept it.
Like gravity, grief is always there.
Grieving is Healing
Losing a partnership -- even if you're the one walking away -- usually brings an avalanche of sadness.
But in the hurt and the loss, there lies renewal.
I know in our pleasure-orientated society, such an idea seems cracked. Most people avoid hurt and loss, and when it strikes them, they try to escape, to distract themselves, to do something else that will take their mind off it.
But the feelings of sadness and loss and pain add up to grief. And to me, grief is what is natural and appropriate to feel if your partnership has split and your shared love is lost.
A friend of mine experienced it this way. After being married for twenty years, she and her husband separated. She moved to a new house. It was unfurnished. For a whole week, she lived in her bathrobe and slept on the floor. Her mother told her to perk up, but she told her mother she wanted to be miserable, to mourn. So she did. Then one day she woke from sleeping on the floor, and decided she needed a bed. And from there, she began her recovery.
Now, the sadness I feel about my marriage failing is almost like an old friend. Yes, it reminds me of what I've lost. But it also reminds me that I have survived. The loss has deepened me. I feel stronger and more aware and more compassionate.
And I have learned an amazing thing -- that by accepting my grief, I freed myself for new experiences; by taking time to feel the loss, I learned from it; by letting the sadness have a place in my heart, I also make room for happiness and present love and connection.
So in the first years after my separation, I grieved if I felt like it. I wore black. I told people I felt sad. And in so doing, I healed myself.
Learn to Wait
I said goodbye to the boys after their soccer matches one Saturday morning two years after the separation. Saturday's such a family time to me -- the rest of the weekend yawning out in front of us like an invitation. But it was my wife's weekend with the boys. And therefore my day with them ended at 10 AM. Another goodbye. Not extraordinary. In fact, the norm. Sometimes my life felt like a series of goodbyes. The legacy of our separation.
That day my sadness wasn't intense, though. I missed my sons when they're away. But I did enjoy my time alone.
Yet even the luxury of having all day to myself had its traps.
When I was alone I sometimes felt there were a number of things I wanted to do. But I wasn't sure which to choose. As time passed, I found myself feeling anxious. I could also feel lonely. I could seize on an option and pursue it just so I didn't "waste" time deliberating.
I felt like that after the boys' soccer that day. More than an hour of alone time passed, and I still didn't know what I really wanted to do. And I was starting to feel a bit antsy. Not stressed, but not settled either. Then the obvious dawned on me like a brilliant insight.
If I don't know what to do, it's ok to do nothing.
It may even be the best option
So I did nothing for a while. I relaxed. And like magic, I soon realized what I really wanted to do.
Doing nothing sounds like heresy in a world where men take action, fix things, lead nations. We men are brought up to make decisions, to get on with it, to be logical and productive. We pride ourselves on our proficiency -- our skills in action.
But here's what I've learned:
Waiting is one of the best actions a man can take.
When I act from anxiety, I often complicate matters and compound problems. When I wait, I often understand myself better which leads to better decisions and better action.
Obviously, there are moments when waiting is not a good option -- like in an emergency. In such urgent situations, though, I don't usually suffer much doubt. I just go for it. And fortunately, for most things in life, urgent action is not required.
Here are three things I try to remember in tough situations:
When confused, ask questions.
When in pain, face it and try to understand.
When uncertain of what to do, consider waiting
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There's more blogging and vlogging and to come. I promise it will be personal and positive. Watch the Divorce vertical for the next installment of For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart. Or simply sign up for email alerts and each time a new segment is posted, you'll be informed. As I mentioned before a link to the first installment is below. Thanks.