Divorce, Chaos and Grief: Advice to Get Through?
February 1, 2018 1:23 PM   Subscribe

In the past year and a half I have moved in with my partner, lost friends in a fire, gotten married, lost more friends to diseases, an overdose and a suicide and am now ending my volatile marriage and moving once again. How do you stay sane and not fall apart in the face of so much change so quickly? How do you make sense of it all? Hyper-dramatic snowflakes inside.

I feel like I've been hit by a train emotionally. Aside from the seemingly continual deaths of last year I struggled in a very dramatic and volatile relationship with someone I loved (and still love) dearly. I had inklings early on that this was not a healthy relationship but I stayed in it because I thought I was rather clever and could talk my partner into keeping his temper and not saying nasty mean things to me or getting him to show up in an adult relationship. (We're both in our early 30s.)

Instead, I failed spectacularly and managed to start lashing out at him and being unable to keep my cool when he exploded. I can blame it on the stress on the last year or just being so worn down by living with him but my actions are my own and I'm feeling guilty and ashamed of not leaving before I got to that point. Before I get into all of this I want to provide the following caveat: this stuff did not happen all the time and often we were deeply in love, very affectionate and forming a life together and trying to make things work. He could be incredibly sweet, made me laugh, shared many of the same life goals and was a great partner when we had the same goal. He was also my first love and serious adult relationship.

On his end: he would make promises he didn't keep (things that were reassurances that kept me in the relationship), had an incredibly explosive temper, framed the relationship like it was a zero sum power game, insisted on an open relationship in which he asserted his right to sleep with others but was allowed to be incredibly jealous when I did the same, crossed boundaries repeatedly with another woman and kept her in his life despite how I felt about it, refused to acknowledge my feelings as valid at times, refusing to apologize, was incredibly hypocritical (it's ok for him to demand a photo proving where I am in that moment but asking him for reassurance that he used a condom was insulting), yelled at me, called me names and would continue being mean when he was upset no matter what I did (leaving made him angry, being calm made him angry, yelling back made him angry).

On my end: when I got upset, I threw things and this happened a few times in the three years we were together. Once was shortly after I moved in with him and found out he'd been lying to me and maintaining a relationship in secret. I threw a something in anger and hit the window by accident, breaking it. Not my proudest moment and this was the first time I thought about calling off the wedding and ending the relationship. Instead I remained and kept telling myself I could handle it. A week later several friends died in a tragic fire and I was in a bad place mentally. He went on a text rage when I was insistent about discussing how sad I felt when he didn't want to talk about it and I failed to respect that.

A second incident happened about 6 months later when a very close friend died suddenly about two weeks after our wedding. He went out drinking an didn't come home when he said he would (an ongoing struggle) and I smashed his tablet in my own drunk rage. I exploded when he came home and yelled again, screaming at him like the world was going to end saying anything I could to hurt him. I left for awhile, made what amends I could (replacing what I broke, writing apologies, seeing a therapist to deal with my stress) and moved back in after a month. The fights continued and I tried my best to just keep calm when he started having an explosion but I kept losing my cool. When I did lose my cool I lashed out at him verbally and said really shitty things.

During my breakdown period a couple of other friends died, one not that close to me but closer to other friends and then another old friend who had a pretty public suicide. (Hooray Facebook). The feeling of my world crumbling around me intensified. We came back together though he refused any couples counseling and we kept at it. I felt small and depressed being with him at times but felt like I couldn't bring any of my feelings up up without him being mad or shutting me down. Sometimes I could and it felt like we had a good conversation but then the same things kept happening. (Rage emails about how he was right and I was wrong, exploding at me in the car or over text, insulting me, etc.)

In October I went on a date and hooked up with someone. He was increasingly agitated with me after that and started picking fights (yelling that he's not my maid when I didn't run and meet him at the store despite the fact that I'd just folded his laundry; yelling at me when I didn't want him to borrow something of mine and expressed feeling uncomfortable with something he wanted to do). After going for a fight early one morning he then went into work and told me via message that he wanted to divorce me as our relationship was "bipolar". I moved out and a few days later he messaged me telling me he'd thought about our fight cycles and asking if I wanted to talk about it. We met and decided to try again against the advice of some friends.

Another old friend died in December who'd been struggling with an illness for quite some time and I didn't even tell him because I felt he'd accuse me of drama or making things about me or there would be some fight. I felt almost numb at this point and was moving in a fog at times. I remained living with a friend during this time and planned to move back home a couple of weeks ago as things had been getting better.

Instead we had an insane fight set off by me talking to a guy at a bar when we met up with some of my friends and he stormed out without a goodbye or trying to talk to me about it. When we finally met each other at home he came in through the door yelling and mocking me since I'd been anxious about his mood and texting him to the point of being annoying. I asked him once to pause and recognize he was riled up, he kept yelling at me and in my infinite wisdom I stood up and started yelling back. He then grabbed me by the throat and I completely lost it. My memory after this is choppy but I know that I slapped him in the face with my phone and after he threw my things onto the street and locked me out of the bedroom I kicked a hole in the door. He then destroyed my vibrator, poured water on the bed and spit in my face. I tore up the flowers he bought me and then he started filming me while I was in hysterics. At some point I threw a cup at the wall. Absolute unacceptable insanity. He denied grabbing me by the throat at first (he says he pushed me and later said it wasn't that hard and I triggered him by yelling at him) and demanded that I take responsibility for what I had done. He kept insisting that he tried to calm me down repeatedly, but I don't count yelling "Get out! Leave!" as a calming attempt. His version is that I play the victim and am making drama, have an anger problem and cannot control myself.

In short, we were pretty abusive to each other, especially towards the end. The relationship was untenable, overly dramatic and destined to make me (and probably him) unhappy. Instead of being reasonable and letting go I stayed and engaged in these fights. I feel so incredibly foolish and ashamed. What made matters worse is that he started trying (couples' counseling, reading relationship books) and things were getting better. I saw a happy life with him possibly happening. He was more into compromise, he was holding his temper more and things were looking good though feeling disconnected. I was failing to let things go and embrace the new change. Now I'm back to where I was 4 months ago but feeling a bit worse.

I'm in therapy and have a new place to move into this weekend, my friends are all very supportive and making sure to check in with me and spend time with me. In the meantime I feel like I'm in some kind of shock on top of the heartbreak from the past year. I keep poring over all of this in my head and trying to figure out what the hell just happened to my life and how to negotiate this bomb sized crater. Why couldn't I save my relationship? Did I just destroy something precious? What tragedy will strike next?

Clearly I have some deep-seated issues to work through that would lead me to the decisions I made and the reactions I had. Clearly my ability to stay in all of this drama means something about it was very compelling to me. I worry about finding love again, trusting people and how to find my footing after all of this loss and change. I keep also worrying that I am actually abusive or manipulative and not seeing it or making excuses for myself and that this will just happen again and I will destroy some perfectly sweet love. I have a tendency towards anxiety and obsessive thinking so this isn't all on him and I really have a hard time letting things go.

So, MeFites who have come through serious loss and heartbreak or just mindfuck times: how did you move through it? How do you move towards a really unknowable future that feels emptier and more hopeless? How do you feel happy again? Sorry for the wall of text and thanks for any wisdom or stories.
posted by JaneTheGood to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Did I just destroy something precious?

You really, REALLY didn't.

Why couldn't I save my relationship?

Because you decided you weren't willing to be choked, belittled, and screamed at anymore.

I'm so happy you're finally out of there. You are not a bad person. Reacting to the things he put you through by throwing stuff is extremely understandable.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:55 PM on February 1, 2018 [24 favorites]

Here are some things that might, along with therapy, help in the immediate term:

- Cut down on or completely eliminate alcohol
- Don’t discuss your feelings via text. Also, stay off Facebook as much as you can.
- If you want to talk about your feelings, call a friend or meet up with them in person for a chat/hug.

I also have a tendency towards anxiety and obsessive thinking and social media/phone/Internet is probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me in this regard. (Has other benefits of course, but, like booze, best avoided when in crisis)
posted by bimbam at 2:10 PM on February 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

I think you know that you have quite a ways to go before you are ready to be in a marriage again, and that is perfectly OK. You didnt destroy something precious, that was a time bomb, not a long term relationship. Put any ideas of being in a relationship on the way back burner for now and concentrate on grieving the losses of your friends as well as doing the work you need to do on yourself in therapy. Think of this time as a gift and be grateful for the chance to get know yourself and straighten your head out. If you keep searching for drama you will become addicted to it (if you are not already) and you may fuck up your future in horrible ways that you regret very much (ask me how I know this).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:10 PM on February 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: but I stayed in it because I thought I was rather clever and could talk my partner into keeping his temper and not saying nasty mean things to me or getting him to show up in an adult relationship
This was never a tenable relationship.

insisted on an open relationship in which he asserted his right to sleep with others but was allowed to be incredibly jealous when I did the same
This is so common there should be a name for it - men basically forcing their partner into an open relationship and then getting mad when what do you know, other people find their partner attractive and like a good person to hang out with. This is especially common when the guy is doing everything he can to make his partner feel small. It's another way to lash out and they've convinced themselves their partner would never actually go through with it. But, this is how it goes almost always.

and demanded that I take responsibility for what I had done.
You can't yell someone into choking you. You have to for real and forever stay away from this man. The choking, the destroying a sexual object, defiling the bed, and spitting in your face - those are the sorts of things that experts say happen right before "and then he stabbed her to death because it's a more intimate form of murder."

So what do you do now? Move into your new place. Buy something he would have hated. Listen to music or watch shows you've been avoiding because he's shamed you out of them. Buy some pampering products - bath stuff, lotions, hair masks. Take time to exhale and just live for a minute. And then, when you're ready, get ready to really grieve all the losses you've had this year. It's going to be messy and confusing and you're going to want to reach back for your memories of how he could be comforting, but it's a lie. A lot of the times through this process you're going to think you're upset or angry at one thing or situation and find out it's another. It's sometimes easier to feel the grief and anger for someone still living who you can yell at, when it's really coming from how profoundly unfair death is.

Keep breathing. Keep moving forward. Give yourself a break. Buy pre-prepped meals or at least ingredients that are easy to make a meal out of. Make sure to get out of the house at least once a day, even if it's just to stand in the sun. You will get through this. The only way out is through.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 2:43 PM on February 1, 2018 [38 favorites]

My little kid got bullied yesterday and the other kid strangled her briefly, hard enough to leave marks (I'm intervening). She said weeping, it was my fault because I told her she was mean. I should have kept quiet. This is something she is learning by being a small girl, a human child really, trying to make sense of a world of angry cruel people. I told her what I will tell you: you did not control that person's hurting hands. They decided to hurt you instead of finding a better kinder way to respond. You can think of better ways to respond (look how great you did when you broke the tablet! You stepped up like a thoughtful responsive partner!) And this is not your fault. You don't have to fix them or make them better. They have got other people for that because right now, you are hurt and you need to be safe.

Don't go back. Go to therapy and go to your friends and take all the time you need to understand yourself and feel healed and ready for a relationship, because you sound awesome and strong and someone is going to make you smile and be worth your heart some day again, but right now, this guy is just a predatory bully looking for someone to drain and furious you'd dare stand up to his games. There's no revenge or justice got now except being safe and happy and healed.

(Except make sure you have a sensible friend check stuff like bank accounts and keys and IDs and practical things.)
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:01 PM on February 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

I agree that alcohol has got to (temporarily!) go. It's early enough in the year that you can pass it off as an extended "Dryuary" or New Year's resolution if you need an excuse in social situations. Time to take up tea or seltzer or shrubs if you need something in the evening at home. You're moving so you even have a great opportunity/excuse to get rid of any alcohol in the house. It is literally a volatile agent and that's the last thing you need right now.
posted by maryr at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can't change people. You can't talk crazy into sane. You can't fix other people. A good partnership/relationship improves both parties, but they remain at the core their true selves. You can't change people. It's hubris to think so.

Letting out hurt grief anger sadness self reproach etc is hard but healthy... Let yourself feel what you feel, and deal with the difficulty it all brings. Little ceremonies of letting go are often helpful.

And of course therapy therapy therapy.

Relationships shouldn't be that hard/abusive
posted by Jacen at 8:55 AM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: [Revisiting 3 months later]

First, thanks to those who responded and sent me messages. I was in a very traumatized state and your words helped ground me.

Rereading what I wrote I see all the excuses I was giving myself for staying after each of his outbursts and incidents. I see how badly I wanted this to work and how much I was willing to wear blinders to achieve this end. Nobody, no matter how in love with them you are, is worth receiving this kind of treatment. It kills your soul over time.

I am not an abusive person. I did abusive things back to someone who terrorized me and bullied me and gaslit me. It took me two years to get to that point where I would really stand up to him and fight fire with fire. It also took some epic effort on his part to pull me into the fights (record tantrum lasted for 20 hours until I snapped). After several therapy sessions and lots of deep reflection I've come to the conclusion that my ex probably suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (black and white thinking, overcome by gigantic emotions, inconsistency, blame shifting, refusal to hold self accountable, manipulation, etc.) and I recognize how codependent I am (blaming self, putting others' needs before my own, acting against my own interests in fear of losing something, telling myself "I can handle this" and then somehow being upset when I do not receive the same self-less treatment, etc.) because no emotionally healthy person would have stayed in this. Every time he was cruel to me I ran back to him to fix it, I placated him to soothe his anger. This was never my job.

I started realizing something was wrong when I would search for threads online about "husband+temper" or "boyfriend+temper" and found threads here about it. I dove into the related discussions and the more I saw the more disconcerted I felt. I began developing a creeping fear that what was happening was abusive and started keeping notes to myself. These AskMetaFilter posts were the jump off point for gaining some clarity. So I'd like to give an update for both posterity and so someone else in a similar position can have hope if they're going through something similar.


From this experience I'm developing a three-strike rule. Three incidents that result me in being afraid of my partner or distrustful or deeply disrespected means it's time to go. No "I can handle this" excuse, just extracting myself and being honest. It's really easy when we badly want something to rationalize the pool of shit we must wade through in order to get it.

It doesn't matter how well you get along with their friends, the potential promised life ahead, the moments where the love feels so wonderful and connected, all of their great qualities... none of these matter when you consistently feel dismissed, disrespected or frightened. Those feelings matter more and should always be given voice. Take a chance that your instincts are right, don't take a chance that they are wrong.


General recommendations abound online and they're usually right: no contact, therapy, cut them out of your life if possible, be around people who love you, do shit they hate and forbid you from doing, find hobbies, etc. Here are a couple of extra things that got me through the initial darkness.

*White noise machine: sleeping is difficult for someone like me during times of stress. A white noise machine was surprisingly soothing and I'm still using it semi-frequently if I'm having a rough night or thinking about it too much.

*Weed, specifically Indica strains: I started taking 5-10mg of indica-based edibles nightly during the first couple of months. This helped me simmer down my nervous system and sleep more soundly.

*Eating: making sure I had food in the house that was already made or easy to make. Stress leads me to appetite loss so having easy food around (including bottles of Ensure) were key along with weed, though your experience may differ with the latter.

*Getting out of the house: It is so easy to curl onto a couch and never get up again and wallow in your misery and loop yourself into a painful memory infinity. Force yourself to go to that thing you were invited to, force yourself to spend time with friends force yourself outside even if it's for a short walk.

*Creative outlet: I took two things I have some proficiency in already (cooking and singing) and dove in headfirst. The singing gave me a physical component to work on that required me to be fully focused on my body and form. The cooking took form in dinner parties which let me create and share with others and have my tribe gather around me and reflect back to me who I am. Plus, food is love.

*Habit Tracking App: This was useful when I was in the most pain and biggest depressive part. Tiny goals every day: make the bed, drink water, 5 sit ups, go outside for 15 minutes. All of it adds up to bringing you back to some sense of normalcy.

Thanks again to people who responded, I get that it's probably tiring to see the same chorus of people coming out of shitty relationships in their panic. All of these comments were insightful and helpful and were soothing to some degree.

To anyone reading this and in a situation that sounds similar: you do not have to tolerate things you do not like. And no amount of love is worth being devalued and humiliated at the hands of the one you love. You can leave at any time and the sooner you leave the sooner you can start moving past it. A relationship worth being in is one that makes you bigger, not smaller.
posted by JaneTheGood at 1:30 PM on May 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Thank you so much for updating! I am so freaking happy for you!
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:38 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks @showbiz_Liz

The one last thing I would like to add to the update: these are recommendations fit for grief in general as a breakup is just another loss in the grand scheme of things. So whether it's for someone who's dead to you either literally or figuratively, these are things that can help pull you out of your pain.

Again, thanks everyone. Let this be a lesson that only takes one time to learn!
posted by JaneTheGood at 3:45 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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