Reader, I Left Him — Now What?
September 16, 2020 5:32 AM   Subscribe

Several years ago, I discovered my husband’s infidelity for the first time and received some excellent advice here, which I unfortunately completely disregarded. Many affairs later, I finally came to my senses and left. Now what?

We are sorting out the divorce in a (this far) surprisingly civil fashion through mediation. Once all is said and done I will be financially independent. We are living separately and I am permanently moving to a new place in a few weeks.

I am deliriously happy to be free from what became a truly toxic relationship, but I am also deeply hurt. I know intellectually that his behavior was his behavior, but I also feel deeply worthless and undesirable on many levels. I have very supportive family and friends, but I feel adrift and alone without the familiar security of a relationship. I have jumped into app dating which is probably not helping— I am already recognizing attachment issues and unfortunate patterns of approval-seeking. Tinder is not a coping mechanism. Before anyone suggests it, I have set up therapy and start this week.

If you have been in a similar situation— divorce after a long and bruising relationship— what did you do in the immediate aftermath that helped? Looking for concrete as well as abstract suggestions. I just want to feel whole again.
posted by sockaroniandcheese to Human Relations (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Although the circumstances of my marriage’s dissolution were different, I think what helped me most after being married for many years was being on my own. I did not date. I lived alone for the first time in my life. I figured out what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, and I did those things without answering to anyone else. I also went to therapy. After a year, I felt grounded and satisfied with living alone. I truly believe that’s a necessary step before you can have a healthy relationship with someone new.
posted by little mouth at 5:45 AM on September 16, 2020 [29 favorites]

The bad news is that when it comes to this kind of pain, the only way out is through.

The good news is - you are doing all the best possible things to help you get through this smoothly and efficiently - you've figured out that you've got some behavior patterns that exacerbated things, you've realized that "Oh, hey, this isn't because I miss him, it's because I feel weird not being in a relationship," you've got a squad of friends around you, you're starting therapy. I'm seriously impressed.

So while you are going to be going through this for a little while, the good news is that you're already on a good path towards getting through it fast.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:48 AM on September 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Therapy was hugely important for me. In between sessions, journalling was useful to end the thought spirals and process feelings.

Telling friends and family what is happening. They will more likely than not be incredibly supportive, and at least in my situation, it helped lift a lot of the shame and secrecy I felt like I was burdening myself with. I also ranted on Metatalk threads, a lot. It helped me tremendously. I maybe should have been journalling all that instead, but whatever. People here are generally kind, and I've made some friends by laying it all out there.

Listening to your inner voice, and doing what you want when you want. It can be a LOT of fun. It can also mean sitting and staring into the void sometimes.

Recognizing that there is a LOT of grief in divorce. It manifests itself in different ways, at different times. I've been separated for almost 2 years now, and I still get hit with waves of grieving when memories surface for whatever reason. It's really, really intense, especially when it's fresh. Lean on your support network.

Be gentle and kind to yourself. My best trick for that is talking to myself (sometimes out loud) and saying things that I would tell my best friend if they were in my situation.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:36 AM on September 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Completely agree with all of the above. My main takeaway is that it just takes time. After I left my ex, who had apparently never been faithful to me from the day we started dating, I was surprised at how quickly I was over him. I missed him for a while, but not very long, because of all the hurt and the long slow dissolution of our relationship.

But it took me at least a year to feel really like myself again. I was moderately depressed during much of this. You are doing all the right things, and even when it feels like it isn't helping, keep doing those. It just takes time but you will come through the other side.

The other hardest thing for me after all the lying and cheating was learning to trust myself again. In some cases my gut was too quick to react, in other cases I was so desensitized that I barely noticed things that should have set off alarm bells. This is another thing that takes time, but it is important to work through for yourself and for any future relationships. Just know that, if you feel this way, your gut and trust are miscalibrated because of your partner's taking advantage of it, but you can eventually gain this trust in yourself (and other people) back. I have a few lasting scars, I think, but I know what they are and don't let them rule my life.

Even if you wait to date, some of this mis-trust in yourself and others will probably come back when you do start dating. Be patient and kind with yourself, and find someone who is patient and kind with you.

Also - journalling. Getting those thoughts out of my head and onto paper was probably the most concrete thing that helped me, very often in the immediate aftermath, and less frequently, but still importantly, as time went on. I've looked back at a few of those, and wow have I come a long way, and you will too. And nthing therapy.

Good luck, you will come out of this a stronger and better person. Thinking of you.
posted by sillysally at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

It sounds like the therapy situation is under control, so I'm going to take more of a practical approach to this answer.

The first thing I did when I moved out after my divorce was go buy some new furniture, decor and plants to furnish my new place. It was a relatively small action, but it totally changed my environment and attitude in my new place. My ex and I never agreed on how to style our home, so it was very validating to myself to be able to buy the cool modern furniture and art I always wanted, as well as a bunch of plants to make the place feel alive. It felt like I was living independently being the best me - something I really needed after my split. Indulge in something that you have always wanted but life hasn't allowed for so far. It's the little things that get you through the rough parts - I still get a little burst of happiness every time I see my favorite palm plant that I bought at that time.

After a relationship ends, it is important to have some me-time to learn who you really are and what you really want to do in this new stage of life. Give yourself the permission and environment to do it.
posted by _DB_ at 7:40 AM on September 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Get thee to Chump Lady, stat. There you will find forums and resources and support for people affected by infidelity.
posted by mezzanayne at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow, so much here that's terrific. What a great place MeFi is.

I'll nth the self-expression, whether it's journaling and/or therapy and/or controlled venting with friends (try not to let it become ruminative, though). For a while I just had to tell ex stories to stop myself making myself mad about them all over again.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet: solo avenues for enjoyment. I am not of the "go to meetups! join clubs! meet people!" sort myself, but it does seem to help many people. If you are like me, though, finding things you enjoy that aren't things you did with your ex may help your brain with repatterning itself. Until rona, for me this was solo dining at a place ex and I didn't frequent, shopping for house stuff ex took with him, and movies ex would not have liked (and we weren't great moviegoers anyway). Since rona, it's been on the level of streaming services for stuff ex didn't care for but I love, computer games (which he used to twit me for playing), and the like.

Hope this helps -- and a little more hope for you: how you feel now won't be how you feel forever.
posted by humbug at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

— what did you do in the immediate aftermath that helped?

It took me a really long time but eventually I stopped dating (which I shouldn't have jumped into) and spent about a year just being me. Because I had been in a relationship with an alcoholic, I also starting going to Al-Anon meetings (which are for the friends and family of alcoholics). Plus the therapy thing. I won't pretend to be 100% whole and healthy, but learning to stop looking for approval and attention from potential partners instead of myself was a huge step forward.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Came to post pretty much what littlemouth did, which is funny because we both left 10+ year marriages , went through the year+ of living for ourselves and feeling independent, and now we are married to each other!

Embrace the fact that you can now pretty much do whatever you like. I binge watched a bunch of shows that my ex didn’t like, decorated my apartment how I wanted, and joined new social groups (scrabble club) etc. I did also do the online dating thing but it was a small part of how I spent my time. You don’t realize how much you get lost in a bad relationship till you’re out. Enjoy yourself !
posted by freecellwizard at 8:59 AM on September 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing -- getting rid of stuff that immediately brought him and/or the marriage to front and center in my mind.

That wasn't everything we co-owned; I still have one or two wedding gifts and whatnot. Some things were just so tied to him, though, that my mental state got better when they exited my house. Craigslist, Freecycle, and thrift shops were my main disposal mechanisms, but if any of the stuff has significant resale value, eBay or similar might be better.

Rona did me a subversive favor by forcing me to turn what had been "his room" into my home office. It doesn't feel like "his room" in the slightest any more.
posted by humbug at 10:22 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

My relationship wasn't bruising, exactly, and it wasn't like yours. But I definitely had lost/abandoned/forgotten about parts of myself that I love and value. Rediscovering those parts of me, especially in that first year, was incredibly healthy. I have a fine relationship with my ex, and I'm so glad I'm not in my marriage anymore.

I have jumped into app dating which is probably not helping— I am already recognizing attachment issues and unfortunate patterns of approval-seeking. Tinder is not a coping mechanism.

Well, don't be too hard on yourself. A friend of mine used the word "trampage" to describe post-long-relationship-dating. It can be fun and a good distraction. Approval seeking isn't great as a long term approach to dating, but getting a few nice zings from some positive attention and enjoying the energy of that is okay, truly. In fact, I think those zings were part of helping me rebuild my self-esteem and self-regard after a long marriage; I've heard this from others as well. I think lots of folks have this morality idea that you have to be totally over the old relationship and totally ready for a new, serious relationship in order to date, and I disagree. Casual dating--which is to say, meeting and interacting with a variety of different people--can be a great way to use your time, reflect on what you had and what you want, and distract you a bit from the pain of moving forward. It can ease the path a bit. Even the heartbreaks can help you put your marriage behind you. The pace of dating slowed down a lot for me after a year or so, but that first year was exciting and fun and overall very healthy for me physically and emotionally. I reclaimed myself.

Some other things that helped me and might help you:
-Making your new home yours. Sounds like you're already on this. Getting settled into your new place is going to make a huge difference because it's yours and will be how you want it and you get to make those decisions. Purge anything that makes you unhappy or has sad memories.

-Keeping busy/making new friends or spending more time with old friends/exploring new activities. It sounds like you already have supportive friendships, but if most of your friends are married couples, or if you haven't made any new friends in a while, perhaps this is a time to explore new things. This is tough with Covid, but there are ways to make this work. Zoom with old friends, maybe? Zoom with a new friend? Find single folks, too, who aren't in your dating demographic, so you can chat about dating.

-Revisiting some old, pre-marriage memories and hobbies. I didn't really decide to stop doing some of my old hobbies; it just happened. Picking up a few things like that again was a lovely way to re-connect with myself from before I felt beaten down by years of a lackluster marriage.

-Physical activity/exercise. This one is a classic. Being physically active, and taking care of my body with renewed energy, was also very good for my mental health.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

This is hard in COVID times, but after a terrible breakup I went and stayed with a friend in a different city who needed help recovering from surgery. It was great because it was a change of scenery, I had to put on a somewhat good face to take care of my friend (fake it till you make it), I had an excuse to just like, sit around watching VH1 with her since she was recovering and I wasn't capable of all that much. Obviously you can't create this exact setup, but maybe there are aspects you can borrow?

Congratulations. This was a huge, hard decision - but you did it!
posted by latkes at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I had one more thought, in case it's helpful. First, a bit of negativity: I'm thinking of folks I know who didn't seem to be able to move on, who didn't seem to be able to get past that hurt, even years later. I am thinking of a woman I know who referred to her kids' stepmom as "the mistress" so sincerely and casually in an otherwise relaxed setting with her lovely new partner nearby; a man who was still ruminating obsessively over what happened in his marriage even as he acknowledged he hadn't been happy in it either; and another woman who, decades later, still tells her adult kids about what a huge mistake their now-dead father made in leaving the marriage when they were in elementary school. I think these are folks who felt such hurt and betrayal at the end of their marriages and never really were able to or let themselves move past it. In some cases the betrayal was infidelity, but in others, more like emotional abandonment. I think these folks got a lot of attention and support, maybe, from that public sense of being wronged, of being the victim, and maybe they just leaned into too much? I also think focusing on the betrayal is a coping mechanism to avoid considering their own behavior and contributions to the end of the marriage.

Having said all that ... I don't think you sound like this, at all! And I think hurt is a completely understandable and reasonable and honest. So I don't mean to suggest at all that hurt is bad and you shouldn't work through that real betrayal and pain.

But I also think there's a framing here that you presented to us that's helpful in the bigger picture:
I am deliriously happy to be free from what became a truly toxic relationship, but I am also deeply hurt.

It matters how it all happened, of course, and it matters that you are hurt, and you are working through that. But in the long run, what really matters is that the relationship wasn't good and now it is over... and you are happy. Yes, there's a lot to muck through in the middle of all this, and you will get there. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself for not leaving sooner (it can take a while, you know? That's not necessarily a bad thing, to keep trying) if you need to. Muck through it all, but keep in mind the bigger picture: it is better that it is over.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:03 PM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

I rearranged and redecorated, changed the color scheme to one that was perfect for me. Completely new beautiful bedding, so I always had a cozy place to feel bundled up and safe. I made over my whole wardrobe. I stocked the fridge with all my favorite things to eat and it was so relaxing to not have to think about someone else's food preferences. I made huge batches of my favorite recipes and ate them for days on end, happy as a clam. I watched all my favorite movies over and over again, as many times as I wanted.

I made a rule for myself to never say no to any social invitations. No matter how crappy or mopey I was feeling, I got dressed and went out as much as possible. It was vital for me to get out of the house and be around other people. It prevented me from doing too much wallowing and gave me things to look forward to. It definitely helped my self esteem to be regularly showered, made up, and dressed up, instead of bumming around in the same sweats for days on end. This had the additional benefit of bonding even deeper with my friends. To this day I am so thankful that I had this time to become that much closer to all of them.

I thought about the hobbies and sports that I'd always wanted to do, but my ex would've criticized and ridiculed me for trying. He would've scoffed at the extra expenses. I signed myself up for golf lessons and bought a set of used clubs. That went so well that not long after, I signed myself up for ice hockey classes and bought a full set of hockey gear. Best investments ever. I golf and play hockey at least once a week. Golfing has brought me closer to my dad, who is an avid golfer, and I've made so many great new friends playing hockey.

I did also go on Tinder and Bumble, but mostly because I needed the reminder that there are other fish in the sea. I was very picky about who I swiped right on. Went on a few dates, but put zero pressure on myself to find anything serious. As it turns out, women who golf and play hockey are guy magnets. It was nice to easily find lots in common to talk about, and to have that interest and attention. Definitely helped to stop feeling so sorry for myself.

The one thing I really wish I had done and didn't manage to do - was getting a dog. But alas, I was working too many long hours and my office was not dog-friendly. It wouldn't have been fair to leave the dog alone for that long every day. Luckily, the Tinder match who I am now years later engaged to came as a package deal with the most adorable, silly pup in the world.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:17 AM on September 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think you've already gotten a lot of great advice. I think one thing to have is patience and gentle ness with yourself. It makes sense that you want to feel better now that this relationships, but there's truth to the truism that time heals all wounds and sometimes it does just take time. It's also not necessarily a linear process, don't beat yourself up if you think you're getting better, but then wham, stuff comes back again.

I think part of what hard with the end of a marriage, that you alluded to with not having the security of a relationship, is that part of what you're grieving is your dreams for the future, of how you thought your life would play out, of having someone to grow old with. And that can feel very suddenly scary and alone to not have that anymore, even if the former security was an illusion.

In terms of practical advice, I agree with all the comments above to really lean in to doing what you want to do, rediscovering neglected interests, spending time with people you love. I think it's also really useful to do some form of strenuous physical exercise, something that really tires you out, this can help so much with sleep if that is challenging. Also try to get outside in nature regularly, as much as that is possible for you.
posted by orchidee at 1:06 AM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

In the simplest sense, I would not engage in things that make you feel tired or insecure right now. Your tank is running low, and you need to fill it up. If something feels off and draining, take it as a sign that it's not serving you at it this moment. Dating specifically may be one of those things temporarily, because it takes energy and has no guaranteed returns. Once you're feeling full, you'll have more energy to give to exploring new prospects.
posted by amycup at 3:51 PM on September 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

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