a middle aged teenager?

I separated from my husband in Jan 06 after 24 years of marriage. I can only describe it as like a bereavement. I have 3 children, 15,18 and 20. What a shock to me when my husband came home and announced he didn’t want to be married anymore to me. Husband had been promoted on several occasions with his job, but had started at the bottom with my support. I thought finally we’ve made it we should now start to enjoy life a bit with 3 growing kids, he mixed with lots of other intellectuals, (no harm in that) but he changed. My Dr said let him go and find himself, he’s having a mid life crises, he’ll get rid of everything then wander one day? I see husband at least once a week now, he is very friendly to me. I just wonder now about him, can he be lonely living alone after 24yrs, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I was the one that took the end very bad, crying but now try to get on with life for myself and family. My parents and only sister died over the last 8 years so its nice to talk to you Suzie, your book on separation was brill and helped me great. Thank you

It IS a bereavement, losing a partner after all that time and no wonder you felt so devastated. In fact, it’s worse; when someone dies, there’s a specific end point and a specific reason. They die on a particular day and you know they have gone because of cancer, an accident, liver failure… Your friends and family can gather round and support you in mourning and you can pass through the natural stages that accompany grief – numbness, denial, anger, guilt, bargaining – to eventually reach acceptance.

With a separation you feel exactly the same range of emotions – all that confusion, rage, pain and shame, but in a vacuum. You don’t know why it happened, you may not realize when it began to happen. It’s as if solid ground becomes quicksand. Happy memories – your last summer holiday, Christmas, birthday – suddenly seem suspect as you look back for clues as to whether it was all a lie. And through it al, the person at the centre of the bereavement keeps popping up and walking around, making putting the whole thing to rest and moving on so hard. We tend to say that it takes around two years to recover from a death. I’d say it can take even longer sometimes to process and recover from a separation.

There’s a contract in a marriage. Part of it is explicit – you both promise to love, honour and cherish each other in sickness and in health. Part of it is unwritten. You took the role of the supporter, backing him up and looking after your shared children while he went out and bettered himself, for all of you. Now he’s got to the time when you might profit from both your hard work, he’s thrown in a bombshell. You’d have every right to feel cheated and let down.

I wonder how he feels. I vividly remember one client I counselled talking about the fact that at 55 he woke up one morning realising he’d never, ever had time for himself. He’d gone from school to university to a job and marriage. He bitterly felt he’d spent a life looking after other people, doing the right thing and neglecting his own needs. In effect, he wanted his adolescence back and was behaving like a truculent, selfish, demanding teenager. His behaviour was outrageous and almost inexcusable in an adult but I could feel enormous sympathy for him because while it was childish, you had to feel for the fact that he’d never had the opportunity to get such behaviour out of his system at the time of life when it would have been appropriate.

It feels to me that your husband is doing the same – bursting out saying “What about meeeeeeeeeee?!” That is, in fact, what a mid-life crisis is about – realising there may be fewer years in front of you than behind you and wanting to get back the bits you may have lost or never had. But in having his truculent, selfish, demanding teenage time, he is not only hurting you and his children but himself and at some point he may realise that. I hope he hasn’t boxed himself into such a corner he can’t get out of it.

You are doing exactly the right thing – dusting yourself off and getting on with things for yourself and your family. I do hope that in being the adult and looking after your children and their needs, you also doing a little bit of what he is doing so badly, which is caring for yourself. I’m going to upload something in the articles section of this site under the title ‘Care For The Carer’ which I think you might benefit from – go look!

What of course should happen in a relationship at this point is for the couple to get some freedom after years of looking after everyone else, for them to help and support and care for each other in enjoying the fruits of all those labours. You should be able to get some carefree, teenage joy in having the time and the money to tiptoe through the tulips and treat yourself. You could suggest the two of you might benefit from time with a counsellor to look at what both of you feel is missing, what both of you might have wanted to do and now want to do and how you could do it together. Tell him that even if he’s adamant he’s not coming back, such an opportunity might help him move on better. If he won’t, that’s his loss; you do it anyway, and sort yourself through the negative, and positive, feelings around this situation, and make a plan for the future. You can find a counsellor through your own GP or via the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy who can suggest a counsellor in your area. You can ring them on 0870 443 5219 or write to BACP, BACP House, 35-37 Albert Street, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 2SG or go to www.bacp.co.uk. T

I’m so sorry you have lost your parents and your sister whom you might have talked this over with and had to bear you up. But I would hope you have a support network in friends and if not, go out and find some. You deserve them, and would be a good friend to others – if you can be a friend, you will find some! I’m glad one of my books has been of some help – it should at least have shown you that your situation and your feelings are by no means unusual and thus not your fault. I do wish you the best of luck!

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