How do I cope with the loss of my first love after 8 months of marriage?
May 27, 2013 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I dated my first love for 2-1/2 years and then we got married. She was my first girlfriend and I was her first boyfriend. She asked for a divorce about a month ago. How do I cope? Please see the extended explanation for specific questions.

I'm having a very hard time. Yes I'm seeing a psychiatrist and therapist. Yes they are aware.

Everything around me reminds me of my soon-to-be ex-wife and our failed marriage. How do I stop thinking about her and the marriage?

How do I keep what's happening from affecting my work? I missed two days of work last week because I was too anxious and loopy-headed to think straight.

How do I build a social support network when I have a tendency to isolate and I feel depressed?
posted by speedoavenger to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Firstly; this sucks, and I'm sorry that you're going through this.

These all seem like really good questions to put to your therapist. Have you tried that already?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:39 PM on May 27, 2013

"Everything around me reminds me of (her)..."

Change your people, places and things. Move to a new place. Get rid of furniture you shared. Get new hobbies that can lead to new friends.

When my ex moved out, I moved to a new place a month later. It helps. A lot.


And take care.
posted by Michele in California at 7:42 PM on May 27, 2013

Response by poster: His thoughts were red thoughts :

I have asked my therapist various forms of this question. Her answer pretty much goes like this: "this is a normal part of the grieving process during divorce".

Michele in California:

I'll be moving to a new place in about two weeks. I'm excited about the possibility of that helping me feel a little better.

I also signed up for a ballroom dancing class at a local college.

Lastly, I'm getting a cat.
posted by speedoavenger at 8:02 PM on May 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

This person was in your life for only three years. You had a life before them and you will have a life after. Ramp up your therapy appointments, join classes and the gym, and volunteer so you can give back to the community. You know you tend to isolate and be depressed and that is not healthy for you so force yourself to reach out to friends and family.
posted by saucysault at 8:02 PM on May 27, 2013

I'm really sorry too. Way to go for signing up for dancing classes and getting a cat. That's seriously the most sane possible response to a horrible situation. So you have the right attitude.

If it was your first love, it's easy to feel that it's this unique experience in your life that will never be recreated and your life is now over. It's probably not what you want to hear, but give it some time. When my mom was in hospice, I remember the nurses kept responding to all the horrible things that were happening by saying, "Oh, this is a very normal part of the dying process. All very normal." and it was the least helpful thing anyone could possibly say because it didn't acknowledge the enormous pain of the normalcy at all. So anyway, I won't say that. Sorry everything is so painful.
posted by mermily at 8:06 PM on May 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh I'm so sorry!

I will second saucysault with volunteering. Find a regular, weekly volunteer gig in your town with an organization you like. I found in hard times, having a place to be with a group of people doing good things on a regular basis is so helpful. It is a great way to build a social group, too.

I'd also consider taking some time off work if it's too hard. A holiday around the time you move might be great. Not a loose-ends holiday, maybe...

Please take care!
posted by mamabear at 8:08 PM on May 27, 2013

I have asked my therapist various forms of this question. Her answer pretty much goes like this: "this is a normal part of the grieving process during divorce".

Hopefully they can also help you work out strategies to deal with those feelings; ask for that too.

What has worked for me before is a change of scenery; I dropped everything and went hiking for a month. It was extremely challenging, and beautiful, and scary, and - most of all - completely engrossing. No time or energy to think about anything else.

When I got back, I felt like I had more clarity of mind, distance from the breakup.

Would a trip away somewhere cool and exciting be an option? This could also keep you away from work for a while, until you could collect yourself a bit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:10 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first thing you do is say DAMMMMIT, THIS SUCKS! Say it because it's true. Say it loudly, if that helps.

The next thing you do is say I HATE THIS, BUT I'LL GET THROUGH IT. Say it because it's also true.

The NEXT thing you do is find a path toward starting over. You need a plan. I've never been married, but I've experienced failed relationships including a relationship where we both moved out of our apartments to have a new home together. Here's how I started over when that relationship ended.

I found a new apartment. I could have stayed in 'our' apartment since she'd already moved out, but starting over in a new place is wise. It means I wouldn't be seeing our place minus her every time I came home.

I got new bedding. Seriously? ABSOLUTELY. New bedding meant waking up without seeing the same sheets minus her in them. Instead, I woke to see bright color that was different and new.

Part of the process is tricking your brain into moving on. Seeing the same old stuff makes it too easy for the brain to trick YOU into feeling stuck.

I started to rediscover old hobbies I hadn't been making time for, and I reconnected with old friends I hadn't been making enough time for either.

I dove into turning my apartment into more of a home that reflected my tastes. I got rid of the paper towels and bought cloth napkins, I bought a new lamp. I sold my couch and bought a new one. I made all sorts of changes to my home. This gave me something to focus my energy on, and it helped me turn my home into a place I felt proud of.1

Last, but not least, I bought a watch. Every time I started talking about my ex, I immediately took off the watch and put it on my other arm. I did this as an obnoxious way of telling myself to shut the fuck up. Talking about my ex wasn't helpful. Sure, it was helpful at first, but once I decided it was time to move on, I had to stop allowing myself to not move on. Switching the watch from arm to arm because a very annoying reminder to change the conversation immediately. I never explained why I was messing with my watch though. When a friend asked, I just said it was making my arm itch.

What you're going through sucks, but you need to find ways to let go of what's gone and move on with what you have. What do you have? You have a new beginning.
posted by 2oh1 at 8:24 PM on May 27, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: saucysault:

It is true this person was only in my life for 3 years, but it was the best three years of my life. I'm hoping life will get even better in the future, but it won't unless I have a positive attitude. I'm trying to cultivate a positive attitude, but I keep on running into challenges.

I am signed up for some volunteer opportunities. I was going to volunteer tonight at a soup kitchen, but I felt way too anxious.


That's seriously the most sane possible response to a horrible situation. So you have the right attitude.

I love your response. Sometimes I feel a little insane so it's good to be reminded that some of my actions are sane. ;-)

I forgot to mention I'm also attending a 10-week divorce seminar.


I'm signing up to volunteer at a food pantry on Tuesday nights. I have orientation tomorrow

His thoughts were red thoughts:

I love the idea of getting a change of scenery for a month. I don't know if I can work it in to my work schedule, but it's something I'll explore further.
posted by speedoavenger at 8:27 PM on May 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are doing all the right things, but still feeling ovewhelmed because none of them negates the pain. Because they can't. And that's ok.

You're just going to hurt, for a while. It won't actually kill you. It will probably continue to make you loopy and withdrawn and not feeling like yourself. Maybe you need to accept that you are just not going to feel good for an unforeseen amount of time, and let your mind absorb the new reality of your life. Let yourself grieve. Don't try to fend it off or deny it or expect one good miserable cry to get it out. It takes as long as it takes.

Loss is a transforming experience, but you will not lose will come out changed, but still you.

As per not missing work, that is good question for your therapist...if you are truly incapacitated, maybe medication or as someone else noted, a good coping strategy to get you through the work day. One good thing about work, it's a place that's not about your ex.

What or who were your social supports before your ex? Reach out to them. Even if they are far away, they could still talk to you on the phone, or email. As for building new ones, give yourself some time. It doesn't happen overnight and you may not be in the kind of headspace for making new connections just yet. In the meantime, do things that give you pleasure when you can. Get out for walks. Read books or watch movies or listen to music that comforts you. Travel, write, journal, create art, enjoy your dancing class, anything that focuses you on something positive, interesting, and challenging for a few hours can be healing.

But don't be afraid of your grief; feeling it means you are a normal, sensitive, human being dealing with a tough situation. You will be happy again.
posted by emjaybee at 8:54 PM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is true this person was only in my life for 3 years, but it was the best three years of my life... date. It's important to remember that other good things can and will happen to you, in the future. There will be other sources of joy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:44 PM on May 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

"I was going to volunteer tonight at a soup kitchen, but I felt way too anxious."
It seems that forcing yourself to follow through on the plans you made would be better than giving in. You were going to the soup kitchen to help them and yourself. They missed you, and you missed the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with people who are not part of your past.
posted by Cranberry at 11:58 PM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I forgot to mention I'm also attending a 10-week divorce seminar.

Man up, dude. Seriously, 10 week divorce seminar. ???

I dunno. Times may have majorly changed since my first marriage ended forty years ago, in 1973, (with 2 boys I've loved dearly since before they were born involved). But you've got no kids, a 2 and 1/2 year "relationship," and you've got a psychiatrist and a therapist?

When my first wife moved out, some motorcycle riding buddies came over the next day, bringing some persons of the opposite sex from mine and theirs, and about 100 bottles of Jack Daniels Tennessee Sippin' whisky, some Dewar's Scotch on top of that, and more beer of more brands than ever I've remembered. The good girls danced, the good ol' boys drank, music was played, howls were howled, and too many people did too many outrageous things to ever remind the Nashville/Davidson County cops had ever occurred.

And I woke up the next day, convinced, by the mere miracle of waking up after all that whisky, and all that dancing, and all those generous women, that life would go on, and that, eventually, my head might not hurt that much. Ah, hell, I still missed the boys, but I didn't miss the naggin', the in-laws, or the expectations. And I freshly appreciated good buddies, good girls, and good whisky.

Where are your buddies? Where are the good girls they might know? And where is the damn whisky?
posted by paulsc at 12:21 AM on May 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just a quick thing to think about: most people -- and I do mean most, in fact I'd say almost all -- in my neck of the woods (I'm assuming yours as well, but not sure where you live) do not marry their first loves.

And yet, those first breakups, nobody forgets them easily. They're the toughest, hardest things -- even though they might have been fleeting! -- because it's new, and the rejection feels deeper and more painful than you can imagine. And ten years on, well, you've pretty much forgotten it, or you think "wow, was I immature, but thank goodness I wasn't married to them!" and it doesn't really bother you any more...because in the time since then, you've learned that relationships come and go, even the best ones, and that you're a terrific person who deserves love and can find it with more than just that one person who was your first love.

So you're basically going through what everyone else goes through with their first love.

But then you got married! And so you're also going through the pain and turmoil that divorcing/divorced people do, because they believe they've committed their lives to someone, and suddenly that's no longer true, and even for the most jaded and experienced ex-serial dater, that's going to be devastating. Period.

So you're basically going through what every divorcing/divorced person goes through.

In short: you are getting it just as bad as a person can, without death or injury being involved. And yet, here you are, reaching out and asking for help! You're already doing so much, SO MUCH better than most people in your situation, even though it doesn't feel like it. Which means you're going to make it. You will. I promise you. And every divorced person, everyone who remembers losing their first love, and those rare people who went through both at the same time -- just like you are -- know the truth of it. You just won't see it yet.

What to do, then: spend time with friends. Keep busy. Get counseling. Most importantly, don't think that this should be easy, and that somehow you're weak for not holding up. This is going to suck, but not because you suck, and not because there's anything unloveable about you, not because you're a bad person or undeserving of happiness. Even though you can't see that now. So time is your friend, and surrounding yourself with people to distract and support you is the easiest way to make that time short.

Don't hole up. Don't hide. Just go live life, even if it feels like nonsense. You'll be able to look back on this eventually without feeling pain. Hang in there. And think about how tough you're going to be afterwards.
posted by davejay at 2:07 AM on May 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am sorry for your pain. Grief takes time. You will get through it and you will be stronger. Avoid drugs especially alcohol. Good luck.
posted by BenPens at 3:47 AM on May 28, 2013

Here's what I recommend.

1. Move if you can.

2. Get new bedding.

3. Get new cologne (you want a completely different smell.)

4. Get new clothes (if you can afford it, the idea is to not wear outfits that have memories)

5. Embark on a project that will take a year or so to complete. So an advanced degree or certification. You want to accomplish something while you're grieving and getting over this.

6. Don't worry about re-entering the dating pool, you're no where near ready.

7. Take a vacation where you can clear your mind. A road trip with friends is ideal for this. I like coastal California because there's a lot of cool, stupid stuff to do. Plus you can swim in pools.

8. Know that you're going to be blue and upset, this is no fun! But, in a while it won't hurt so much, and soon, you'll start looking forward to things.

9. At the 12 month anniversary, look back on the year. Yes it started out shitty, but look at all the neat things you've done.

One of the best nuggets of advice I ever hear was, "When you look back on your life, you don't remember how you felt, you remember what you did."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, this is meant to be wrapped in all of the kindness I have in every bone in my divorced body...a 10 week divorce seminar seems to be such overkill, and will result in you thinking more about your ex-wife and your failed marriage, which runs counter to your question #1.

Unless this is a forced mediation period required by the government where you live, I think that time would be better spent doing anything else, including napping or quiet meditation, which will help you keep yourself together for your job, helping with question #2. At the end of this seminar, you will still be divorcing/divorced.

You have a psychiatrist and a therapist. You might even have a lawyer. You have an internet full of blogs and essays from people who were/are divorced. That's your support team for now, until you heal a bit and feel like going out and being social. And you will heal from this.

Wishing you all the best, sincerely.
posted by kimberussell at 7:56 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you're trying to hard with all the institutional approaches to handling your grief. Maybe you should just let yourself be sad and mad. You should also try to think about the fact thath you should want this divorce too, not because you didn't or don't love your wife, but because noone should be stuck in a relationship with someone who is not interested in the relationship. Try just relaxing a chilling with friends, get outdoors, indulge in some do whatever teh ef you want time, because your on your own and don't need to compromise your leisure! Also, travel.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:02 AM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having gone through almost exactly what you went through (though from your wife's side, as I requested the divorce), I can assure you that in six or so years this will all feel like some weird dream and you'll be like, "wait, did that happen? dang!" I am sufficiently in contact with my ex to know that this is pretty much the case for him as well. At this point both of us have had subsequent breakups --with other people, I mean-- that hurt a thousand billion times worse than our divorce, honestly.

Like davejay said above, this is basically The First Big Breakup, it happens to almost everyone, and it always sucks. But I would argue that rather than thinking of it as being so much worse because of the divorce aspect, it's possible to think of it simply as that more-or-less universal First Big Breakup-- yours just has an extra administrative layer.

In the meantime, ditch the seminars and replace them with happy hours or brunch or SOMEthing social and happy and sunlit and a little tiring. Or if you're nowhere near that, replace them with a long, excellent, readily available tv series on dvd or streaming or whatever. And pizza. Lots of pizza.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:31 AM on May 28, 2013

There's nothing wrong with the divorce seminar and, who knows, you might "meet someone" there!
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:50 PM on May 28, 2013

I spent way more than 10 weeks boring my friends with complaints about my protracted divorce. If you're getting something out of the seminar, then by all means keep it up, exhortations to "man up" notwithstanding.

How do I keep what's happening from affecting my work?

A big favor I did myself during my divorce was accept that my work would be affected. I told my boss what was going on (without oversharing), put in about 2/3 the effort I had before, and was completely prepared when my performance evaluation came in lower than usual. I recovered the next year. If I had not temporarily lowered my standards I think I would have come apart. I realize this may not be an option for everyone, but do consider whether it may be an option for you.

How do I stop thinking about her and the marriage?

As others have indicated, the passage of time is part of this. And you probably will not stop thinking about these things soon, but you will think about them differently over time. What has helped me personally is accepting that some events will forever evade our desire for understanding and closure, and that letting things simply be can be the greatest kindness we can do ourselves and those we have loved.
posted by scatter gather at 7:57 PM on May 28, 2013

Positive attitude is literally overrated. Sometimes things are hard and it's okay to be upset, sad, and angry, and it doesn't mean that those feelings are permanent or that you're dooming yourself to a lifetime of sadness and anger because you 'failed' some make believe emotional 'test.' In fact many people think that actually accepting and letting yourself feel your feelings is the healthier way.

I suggest doing things to take care of your body, mind, and heart, and don't even worry about your feelings. They will take care of themselves. People here have offered great suggestions. They are much more practical than worrying about your feelings, which are pretty much out of your control, and about your 'attitude.'

Psychiatrist, therapist, and seminar, does not sound like overkill to me if it feels helpful to you. Yes, lots of people go through awful things without those resources but if they are available to then it is smart and practical to use them. If they stop being helpful, reconsider (or if they cause more stress, financially or time-wise then they are worth).

Anxiety is a killer. I guess that some combination of sick leave/flex time/vacation time + therapy + meds could be the best practical solution. Depending on how precarious your job is, you may have to sacrifice some mental health for financial stability in the short time (more meds, less time off) but hopefully your doctor can help you use the meds in a way that complements the other strategies and builds your confidence.

On some level "positive attitude" worship is about the idea/hope that the force of human will us stronger than the negative things that afflict us and it is a half truth. Will us stronger in that it can help us survive bad things, but it's not strong enough to completely obliterate their power over us as though they never happened even in the very moment in which they are happening!
posted by Salamandrous at 5:35 PM on June 2, 2013

« Older Huge misunderstanding with casual friend now an...   |   How to say thanks Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.