Dealing with a Major Personal Crisis/Parting
The personal account below is not posted in Main or Discussion directly but here because it contains personal details the author does not want to be directly trackable to himself via a trivial Google search. The author is aware that linking and Wiki functions allow to make this connection but assumes that this will more likely happen only by persons who know him and his story anyway. Please respect this wish and don't mention the authors name in a link to this page. You are free to cite parts of this as per this Wikis license. You may of course make typographical corrections or add/correct links and references.
I had read earlier about the effect of betrayal and divorce and it was a dark outlook. Sources said that it'd take years to get over it (ranging from half a year, rough numbers of years or one month for each year to possibly never for long marriage). But given that my feelings were essentially back to normal I worried that the hard part was still before me/us.
Dealing with Grief
Thus I confronted myself intentionally and in a controlled manner with situations I predicted to cause me pain. The last rose I gave her. Her bridal bouquet. My birthday. Some joint topics.
I used the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear:
- I must not fear.
- Fear is the mind-killer.
- Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
- I will face my fear.
- I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
- And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
- Where the fear has gone there will be nothing ... Only I will remain.
didn't use it literally but I prepared myself for a few such situations and accepted the sadness as a true and right emotion. I cried but it did pass quickly and each time I could better deal with it and even anticipate these situations. I could articulate the emotions and even reach her with them a few times.
I got along much better with her. I could set boundaries (which I previously couldn't; before I'd rather compromise or retreat). And the boundaries were accepted. A clear "no" worked much better than "I will try my best" before.
Telling the Children
The moderated dialogue earlier had ended with my tentative solution to move out. And she made plans to test whether her new could deal with four children to avoid sudden changes for the children and for him. This I fully supported. I didn't want to push her toward leaving the children.
We told the children. I had looked up and bought and read books on children and divorce (see refs) how to do it. We told them in simple words that their mother wanted to live with her new friend but that we'd both be there for them as before. The older ones knew of course. We hadn't kept it secret from them. We had been honest to them when they asked. We just hadn't dumped our problems on them. We both had done as much as we could during all this difficult time to care for them. Provide continuity. Be the calm stable father. Be the caring reliable mother. The older two understood. Signaled some uncertainty about their feelings about it but could deal with it. The younger two didn't understand it (they youngest just adapted as if nothing happened, the second youngest is somewhat confused and just comes to terms cognitively with it but showed no significant signs).
Then she stayed two weeks with the youngest at his place and I had the older three. It was an intense week. I can handle them no problem that wasn't it. I had support too. But I became aware of my closeness with them and how at home I felt in our, in my house. And I changed my resolution: I didn't want to also lose the children and the house for an uncertain freedom. (Obviously loss aversion in retrospect.)
I discussed this with my counsel. I knew that if I communicated this immediately it would endanger the balance found and might escalate. I needed a second moderated talk.
In the meantime I set one single clear limit: He wasn't allowed into our house. Why? Did I hate him? No. I didn't want to alienate a person that was bound to become an important care giver for my children. Actually it wasn't my idea. I was strongly urged to prohibit it by relatives. But they couldn't exactly say why. I pried and talked why that should be necessary. It looked like taking him in wouldn't hurt and might avoid conflicts and provide information. At this point I wasn't touched any more by their closeness. But no he shouldn't live here. Should I trust experience over reason? I considered it and decided to go with the advice and keep him out but I said that I wasn't convinced and might alter it later.
Did it work?
Will tell you shortly.
The moderated talk came and the truth that I had kept quiet about came out: I wouldn't move out. She couldn't believe it. She felt betrayed. Lied to. She asked whether I had to move out. No. She claimed that it'd be better for the children. But that wasn't so clear either. Now I was in the initiative and could propose a solution. That we find a house nearby for her and him and the children. Grudgingly and disappointed she agreed. She didn't want to fight.
So it did work. Very well so. I understood that him moving in would push me out. I felt it in the few exceptions I intentionally made. But more importantly not letting him in emotionally forced her to move out. Thus ensuring that I could stay with the children. She called me on it. Accusing me that I forced her out. That I kept her away from the children by it. I forced her to choose but choosing she did. I never closed the door before her. A few weeks later she left rather unspectacularly.
I later learned that moving out has potentially irreversible legal and pragmatic consequences. Moving out is a concession of guilt or retreat. And once the children are told and keys are changed coming back always requires consent from the partner.
Now I was on my own. But I also had the children and the overdue project. Would I handle it?
Much earlier I found the following advice (German). I will translate and comment it here for your convenience:
- 1. Write a diary to which you confide all your emotions and thoughts. Written notes help to bring order into emotional chaos.
This luckily I already did. Did I say that I recommend it?
- 2. Avoid unnecessary contact with the partner. Avoid places and situations where you might run into him/her.
Obviously difficult if you have four children you both want to care for. I screwed this advice and replaced it with the mentioned method to confront, adjust and deal with my emotions quickly and effectively.
- 3. Keep in touch with friends and relatives. Don't turn down invitations even if you are not in the mood. Every kind of distraction helps. You should also continue your everyday work is possible.
This advice I had already applied. A large supportive extended family makes this easy and I didn't withdraw.
- 4. Plan you day esp. evenings and weekends. Put external order on your internal confusion.
My wife had always planned our life. I worried early how I could deal with being responsible for it. Whether she would simply still plan me into child care at her liking and me loosing track of the children's events.
Hah! Digital to the rescue.
She wanted to get rid of her/our old whiteboard/pocket calendar plans and somehow got interested in a digital solution. I bought her a smartphone and configured it to use lots of calendars for each one of us (including him) quite to her satisfaction. Cost some time and effort but had the following benefits:
- I don't have to keep track of all the children's dates myself.
- Planning of necessarily joint appointments (school, lawyer) can be done by her as before.
- Planning of times where the other has the children is possible dynamically. I'm freelancer and can and have to schedule flexibly. The usual divorce approach of having a fixed child care schedule would simplify matters but also be much more inefficient and allow less contact for the children.
The disadvantage is that she can much more easily plan my child care times to her liking. So easily that I am actually forced to make my own plans and schedules. And I adapted.
- 5. Postpone big decisions. Much of what you decide on momentary emotions is overshadowed by negative emotions. You could sorry later
Doesn't look like I did, with buying a house on mortgage (as you will see is part of the current solution). But I didn't decide this irreversibly until I had made sure that sufficient preconditions were met. More about this later.
- 6. Treat your body and appearance with care and attention. Don't neglect yourself. Sport helps to reduce anger and aggressions.
I had an eye on my weight from the beginning. I controlled and adjusted my sleep pattern multiple times. I bought a book to improve my appearance. I planned a new style for me and made some progress on this but it is going slow. I never have been the superficial type. I took up sports choosing fencing after considering what might work for me. I did use running to reduce anger in the few cases where I did get angry.
- 7. Keep away from alcohol and pills. They help only temporarily to subdue the pain and cannot solve your problem but might add another: Addition and dependency.
When I got the sleeping pills I was first offered a stronger psychotropic drug which was said to have no addiction risk but would postpone the ability to handle the emotions (by months). I didn't want that. I assumed that I could deal with the emotions more quickly myself. So I took the sleeping pills read the leaflet and took them as prescribed and not any longer after that. If I had had more experience with mind altering drugs I might have chosen differently.
- 8. Store away everything that reminds you of your partner. But don't throw them away you could regret it later after all these things are part of your past. Change your rooms to your liking. Sometimes small changes suffice to feel better.
I did this very late because I didn't need it emotionally but I have to say that it nonetheless did bring some additional feelings of positive detachment and independence. And it was a clear signal of that to her. Before she sometimes still claimed that I'd still want her back. I didn't. I would agree to be a family with her and the children again should that be necessary - but only under some terms and because of the children. And I don't *want* to.
- 9. Start your own circle of acquaintances. Study again or take courses. Find a new hobby or get in touch with a self-help group for divorces or singe-parents.
Here you did play an important role. Yes, you. LessWrong played some role during the crisis. Having encountered LessWrong only shortly before the crisis I was intrigued and this entangled with my mind state. You might notice this in my posts during that time. I didn't use the community to find consolation. No. I had much support and comfort from family and friends. LessWrong calmed me. Distracted me while at the same time giving rational advice. It focused me and it provided a new perspective for my future. When I was euphoric I believed I could alter the world and I cried at hpmor chapter 45. I committed to become a recognized lesswronger as part of this advice point and organize a local Meetup as part of that end.
- 10. Make a list of tasks you want to do to take control of your life. Order by priority and start with the most important ones e.g. call lawyer or job center or doctor.
Did that. Lots of lists. With ordering and completion dates mostly.
- 11. If you can't handle your emotions or situation call a helpline or therapist. Especially if you considered suicide or took alcohol or sleeping pills or suppressants. Talking to a neutral person often help to deal with the breakup and/or get a new perspective. Especially with view on a new relationship is it necessary to look for the reasons for the failure of the past relationship.
Did this. The therapist didn't help much. The doctor helped in so far as he prescribed the pill. And I did consider the causes of our relationship failure to avoid to repeat them.
All in all I notice that I did most things recommended and mostly even before finding this advice list.
See also this german article about acceptance of separation. Yes. German again. Feel free to suggest English ones.