Heartbreak: how long does it take to heal?

I started writing this Blog in November 2017, just after my husband and I split up. How long will the pain last? I remember asking a friend who had been through a similar break-up.

“Eighteen months,” was her answer.

I remember sucking in my breath. At the time I could barely get through a single day without gargantuan effort; how was I supposed to manage eighteen months? She might as well have said “forever”.

But apparently that’s the average length of time it takes to get over the break-up of a marriage or long-term relationship. (Eighteen months, not forever.) Several other people have confirmed this.

As a reminder of how much I’ve come on since then, and how I truly believe that anyone else can also do, here’s a glimpse of what I poured into my very first blog post, almost one and a half years ago.  

THE SPICE OF DECEIT

What do you do when you find out you husband is having an affair?

I guess there are several options.

  1. Harbour thoughts of easeful death: ‘to cease upon the midnight with no pain.’
  2. Don’t tell anyone about it. Not a living soul.
  3. Tell everyone about it. Every soul in the universe, living or dead.
  4. Write a novel about it. Make it a Gothic horror story, with Hubby as the villain, and you as Damsel in Distress. To get your own back.
  5. Have an affair yourself. To get your own back.
  6. Tell yourself that you’re better off without him.
  7. Believe in future love, even though his own love, after 21 bitter-sweet years, has metamorphosed into an insidious, agonising mockery. But hey, there are plenty more fish in the sea. (Oh, for fuck’s sake…)
  8. Take a deep breath.

Deeeeeeep breath … Right. I’ve taken one. Five, actually. Can I go on now?

  1. Kindly ask Hubby to move his things and himself out of the house. (Done.)
  2. Take sleeping tablets. (Done.)
  3. Try not to get addicted to the above, despite sleep being so much nicer than wakefulness.
  4. Cling on to the hope that Hubby will beg to come back home, regret his foolishness, proclaim his renewed love, swear upon oath that he doesn’t want our marriage to end.
  5. Stop asking the question, which has become your mantra every morning when you wake up: ‘what do you do when you find out your husband is having an affair?’

So that’s what I wrote in the immediate aftermath of my marital break-up, when the pain was so immense there were times I simply thought I would die. You know, from a broken heart. Burst aorta. My own hand. Whatever. Writing the above blog post really did help, fleetingly, but there was still a very long road ahead.

Sometimes it takes a betrayal to remind you of feelings you thought had gone with the wind. By then, it’s usually too late. The damage has been done; the action taken. In my case, ordering Hubby out of my home and life.

But the damage never need be irrevocable. Time really does heal all. Effort is also required, of course. It goes without saying that publishing my novel, Once Upon a Thousand Hills, was a huge boost to my self-fulfilment, as was my trip to Rwanda. But that came a lot later.

Self-analysis was crucial in the healing process: looking at the full picture rather than just blaming the other party and wallowing in self-pity. Trying to understand why the break-up happened. Reading old diaries was very helpful with that. I was hardly the wounded, innocent party in some of those entries! My God, the things I got up to … After refreshing my memory of those encapsulated times gone by, I actually started to feel sorry for my spouse. Was he really the accused, or was he the victim?

And now, eighteen months on, the pain has almost gone. Hubby Number Two, alias The Philosopher, is still very much a part of my life. He comes round occasionally to mow the lawn – a job I loathe doing. We meet up to go to the cinema or a Philharmonic concert, followed by dinner. The same things we used to do when we were together. And it’s nice. We enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes we have drinks on the vibrant Kraków Market Square and watch life go by, exchanging the fleeting rueful look at each other.

There are inevitably some taboo subjects that we wouldn’t dream of broaching – romance and sex being the obvious ones in our new, separated lives. But that’s okay. On the whole, things could be a lot worse compared to eighteen months ago, when I thought my world had ended.

There have been the occasional set-backs. The equivalent of failed exams that have to be retaken. Random resurgences of self-pity, regret, anger, sorrow. Last Christmas was a case in point. I missed my old love and his physical presence with an intensity that hurt so much, it was as if my stitched-up wounds had been ripped open all over again, and an invisible torturer poured salt into them. Be warned – Christmas is a dangerous time of year for anyone still recovering from any kind of grief. Too full of memories.

So, eighteen months on, what have I learned? What invaluable hints and tips can I pass on to other post-break-up victims who can’t possibly imagine ever getting over their current state of rock-bottom, heart-ripping despair?

My advice would be the following.

  • Accept the fact that the healing process will take time. You have to be patient.
  • At the same time, be reassured in the knowledge that eventually the pain will heal. Nothing, absolutely nothing, lasts forever.
  • Bear the above point in mind before you reach for the razor or stash of sleeping tablets that you’ve secretly been hoarding.
  • Try to have at least a little time each day when you can be transported to another dimension. In my case, it was writing blogs, reading a good book, and playing the piano. It could also be yoga, jogging, taking the dog on longer walks than usual and listening to the birds who are singing for you. Whatever works.
  • Make new friends or refresh old friendships which somehow seem to have evaporated along life’s meandering road. But this takes effort. You won’t meet anyone by staying at home and moping in your free time.
  • Don’t panic about never being loved again. It’s true that the younger you are after a split-up, the more likely you are to meet someone else. But it can happen at any time. Doesn’t necessarily have to be your next life’s partner; it could just be someone special who will bring a little joy back into your life, without the threat of vows that risk yet again being broken.
  • Don’t make meeting someone else your goal. Instead, seize this unexpected chance for renewed independence, freedom, time by yourself, being able to do what you like. Let’s face it, marriage does not allow for a great deal of independence. Try and remember what the real you was like, before marriage and long-term commitment with your other half kidnapped your original identity.
  • Every morning when you wake up, remind yourself that a lot worse things could happen. They do to other poor sods, all around the world, all the time. Just watch the news. And there you are, safely tucked up under your warm quilt, with a roof over your head. Never mind if it’s an aching head. It’s still there, isn’t it? 

Worse things in life could happen than being deprived of your partner. If you depend on another human being for all your happiness and fulfilment, then you’re losing your own identity, bit by bit, year by year. You’re eroding yourself.

Conclusion?

We were all born alone and we will all die alone. So we should not have the audacity to expect to be part of a two-piece jigsaw throughout our adult lives. We owe it to ourselves to be who we are, and embrace that self-identity which no one, but no one, should be entitled to take away from us.

 

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