When I look back over my life and the past 70 years I realise how young I was when I married for the first time. I was just 20 years old and had no experienced of the world whatsoever. My traditional marriage was in 1959 and I was a virgin bride. The pill, which was to change courting and relationships completely and forever, had yet to make it’s appearance. I don’t regret my marriage for an instant, but like many young wives who married in 1960 I became restless and felt constricted by the confines of conventional marriage. During the early years of my marriage I observed other women, just a few years younger than myself, who encouraged by the 60’s Feminist movement, were cutting and thrusting in what had previously been male domains. They were carving out satisfying careers for themselves and were financially independent.
I was envious of their achievements and longed to be part of it, but realised that with my family restrictions and conventions I couldn’t be. I did do some part time work during my marriage, but my career eventually took off when I was 40 years old, and my boys had grown and flown. Although my 25-year-old marriage to the delightful father of my two sons had been a good marriage, by that time it was nearing it’s end. We had drifted apart as so many long married couples do, partly because I didn’t communicate my feelings well. Feeling guilty about having failed in my marriage I broke loose and began a 5-year affair. The affair eventually culminated in my second marriage. However, after 5 years the second marriage ended painfully and abruptly whilst I was undergoing health problems, when my second husband betrayed me to have an affair with a younger woman. I have always been encouraged by other’s words of wisdom, and at that difficult time took strength from the following St. Barton’s Ode;
“I am hurt
But I am not slain
I will lay me down and bleed a while
Then I will rise and fight again.”
That was 17 years ago and today I’m fighting fit and fancy free. I have my romantic flings and enjoy every minute of them, but it will take a very special man to make me give up my career and my new-found independence! Nowadays instead of being at home as might be expected of an older person I can travel, socialise and have fun like a teenager. I sometimes wonder if I have led my life the wrong way around!
Some women are not content to spend the rest of their lives in a safe, but boring relationship, making compromises and regretting what their life might have been. They decide to risk the comparative security of their married life and make a change. Following the confines of a poor marriage with bad or little sex, life can become a ball for some women, leading her into unknown and often exciting situations. Many women rediscover their sexuality in the process. After rediscovering herself, some will go on to find a partner who has undergone his own midlife metamorphous. They may spend the rest of their days together happily relishing their luck in at last finding a compatible partner. Many women go through a messy, confused period immediately after they split from their partner, particularly after a very long relationship or marriage. Women who are unhappy about being single need to ensure that any new friendship is for the right reason and not just to fill a gap because they fear being alone. Wildly grasping at relationship after relationship in an attempt to couple again only puts unfair expectations on a new partner.
Other women behave like promiscuous men, moving from one relationship to another, with no view to commitment, sometimes using their male partners as a meal ticket, or a means to satisfy their re-awakened sexual appetite. But many newly single women don’t find single life all it’s cracked up to be. Some live to regret making the change for change sake, without having thought the decision and consequences through sufficiently. Other more fortunate women find their new found freedom liberating, and appreciate at last being able to “do their own thing”. Alone they can indulge themselves by focusing on things they consider to be important, without fear of being criticised or called selfish. They relish being on their own and love making decisions for themselves and achieving own goals. Many learn to enjoy their own company preferring it to the risk of an unsatisfactory relationship, and rid of the frustrations and constrictions of domesticity, have no intentions of ever coupling again on a permanent basis.
Women friends, not men friends become incredibly important to women going through a marriage or partnership break up. Sisterhood support is also of great importance to women when their partners have died. Women who have been in marriage and heterosexual relationships for many years report that they find it difficult to keep up regular contact with their single girlfriends. Family lifestyle is of great contrast to a single girl’s way of life. For a family woman time is precious, but it can also be very restricted with her home, partner and children to care for. When a women suddenly and maybe unexpectedly finds herself on her own again for the first time since her youth, her life changes dramatically and the sisterly bond between women friends becomes incredibly strong. Women will support each other emotionally through the difficult period of re-adjustment following the separation, divorce, or death of a beloved partner. The single “sister” has all too often “been there, done that and has the T shirt to prove it!” herself. She knows from first hand experience the pitfalls of living alone, and can skilfully guide the new, recently singled sister, through the trauma and loneliness, which can be felt. Her sisterly support is paramount at this crucial time and a true girlfriend becomes a lifeline, a trusted confidant and is always there for the hurting sister in times of crisis. Learning to be happy independently takes time and finding yourself alone after years of marriage or partnership can be a pretty scary for all but the strongest of women. Sadly many vulnerable and emotionally disturbed women are vulnerable and easy prey for the wrong sort of man at this time.
Divorce is horrid for all concerned, but it is a sad fact of life that in the second millennium, one in three of newly married couples in the UK are likely to end up in the divorce courts. To be in control of the marriage break up, in other words to be the partner who wants to leave, or to mutually agree with your partner to a separation and a future alone, is one thing. Unpleasant and upsetting as it may be, another and worse still, is to be the victim who is unceremoniously “dumped”, especially after a long and eventful marriage. The experience is truly traumatic and emotions run very high at this time. After the break a grieving process has to be gone through, before any kind of normality can return to life. It takes an unbelievably long time to acknowledge to oneself that the partner you loved has gone, and to accept they have gone forever. As one comes to terms with the situation, the trauma and accompanying disturbing emotions can be likened to dealing with the tragic and abrupt death of a loved one. The length of time taken to heal depends on the emotional strength of the individual concerned. Circumstances surrounding the separation or divorce will contribute to the duration. Support from close family and friends during this unhappy period is vital for maintenance of the victims self worth. Self-esteem can so easily plummet in the struggle to cope with the collapse of a relationship, the end of a marriage, a divorce or the death of a partner.
Many times desertion comes as a complete shock to the other partner. They search often in vain, to find an explanation as to why it happened. Some recall warning signs and wonder why on earth they didn’t heed them. If the departure was sudden the partner left will often look into themselves to see where they themselves went wrong. All too often they take the blame for the break up of the relationship onto themselves. Many women who have been left by their husbands continue to love their husbands for a long period of time delaying the healing process. These women are dismayed and feel that they wasted their love, but wonder how they can just “switch off” their emotions overnight? They can’t. Confused they continue to blame themselves for the failure. Guilt and self-loathing compound their total lack of self-confidence and self esteem. Overnight their world has shattered and understandably they can feel worthless. The process of coming to terms with what has happened can take months, or many years before final acceptance of the finished relationship. Eventually a woman will accept the facts, and get on with her life, but emotionally she never completely forgets and the scars remain. These scars can impinge on and make future relationships difficult.
Losing a partner to somebody else is extremely painful. Women find it difficult to believe that the partner she trusted and gave her love to has abused that love, and deserted her for another woman. She questions whether her partner ever really loved her, and can be excused from feeling that the relationship was just a sham. She may challenge her lack of judgement in picking the wrong mate. It’s hard to accept that the partner she trusted with her innermost feelings could abuse her love. How could he lie to her, how could he turn his back on all they had built up together, how could he disappear never return? Understandably she feels betrayed.
I’m reminded of the extract from the “The Magus” by John Fowler.
“How shall I explain to you?
If Maurice were here he would tell you that sex is perhaps a greater but in no way a different pleasure from any other. He would tell you that it is only one part – not the essential part – in the relationship we call love. He would tell you that the essential part is truth, the trust two people build between their minds, their souls, what you will. That the real infidelity is the one that hides the sexual infidelity. Because the one thing that must never come between two people who have offered each other love is a lie…”
Gradually the hurt partner attempts to pick up the shreds of their shattered life. but the pain continues, it’s always there, day in day out, and it can seriously affect a person’s health. Some people may find it impossible to do anything to get out of the downward spiral they find themselves in. Extremely painful feelings colour everyday thoughts and actions, and they feel totally out of control. Intense anger and vengeance eventually replaces the devastation, but loneliness and emptiness follow quickly in their wake. Friends, however supportive at the beginning, begin to tire of continuous propping up. Insensitive people can think it’s time the person concerned “pulled up their socks” and got on with life. But it can take an extremely long time to emotionally let go, to say goodbye to a past in which one had invested so much time and effort. The disappointed felt by betrayal is the hardest thing of all is to accept. But one day the grieving does lessen, the feelings of guilt and failure leave, and the death of the relationship is finally more or less accepted. It may be over, but it is not forgotten, and many women are never able to fully trust again.
From our failures we learn more about ourselves and after a betrayal of friendship we question how we could have ever trusted people who didn’t deserve it. We all remember regrets in life, but we must learn not to dwell on them. If after bad times we can pretend to ourselves, and tell ourselves we are strong enough to cope again – we will cope. Life does eventually go on in a similar or familiar way, but most partners who have been left will have been changed by the experience, and hopefully become stronger. Loneliness can be a very real emotion to come to terms with, often as a result of death or divorce, and it has to be hoped that family and friends will come to forward to offer their support. But human nature can be very strange. All too often people shy away from those who are grieving, just at the very moment when their support is most needed. This avoidance by people or family, who were regarded as being close, causes unnecessary upset and the person concerned will feel further rejection and grief. In a divorce situation hitherto friends sometimes take sides, they reject one of the former partners in favour of the other, causing added loneliness and isolation. Who needs enemies with friends like that! Divorce seems to bring out the worst in human nature. Money, or more likely, the shortage of it, following death or divorce, can cause unbelievable financial problems, mental and emotional stress.