Because I'm the Mom

How mothering pervades all relationships in life.

When Bad Marriages Happen to Good Women

When bad things happen to good marriages. What then? What now?

Status: Am despondent and have waves of despair pulling me under. I don't want to be alone and believe that we each have the right to be loved. How does >30 years of nurturing lead to a relationship black hole or void?

A woman I knew a long time ago, a wise, compassionate woman who guided me through a challenging time in my life, just got some news that her more than 30-year marriage – and life – was not what she thought it was. In despair, as folks often do these days, she sent her shock and grief out into the ether in the form of a Facebook status update.

The details of the derailment don’t matter. Women of a certain age get news like this with varying storylines and plot twists but in the end, the ultimate feeling is the same: the groundless truth of the rug-being-pulled-out-from what you thought was solid, hardwood flooring but isn’t and never was.

That is not to say that much of what was felt true wasn’t true. It was. Still is. But so were other hard truths and realities that demanded attention and thus, got it. Doesn't matter how or why. Just that at a moment in her life when she was preparing for the next phase to begin with a man she belived she knew and loved inside out, was shattered.

Another midlife wife, shocked, despondent, come undone.

I felt compelled to respond to her cry in the internet wind because long ago and far, far away she burst into my life with such confidence and clarity it took my breath away. She got the lay of the land immediately and without further ado, swatted away all insignificant details, dismissed the useless distractions and got right to just what I needed to know and discover in the most loving and wise way possible. And I was healed.

I had never seen or felt anything like it. She simply understood exactly what was necessary and with some ancient, prescient wisdom -- she made things all better. 

If only I could do the same for her, so many years later. But her calamity has no simple answer, no clear way out or back in or toward. And no one outside her own heart-self knows what she must do. Or not do. And both.

But I know from calamity. So many of us do, right? And I wanted to tell her she is not alone. The details don't matter. Rugs get pulled out from us - whole worlds come crashing down upon us with shocking regularity. And we stare up from the rubble with wide eyes and open hearts. It is in that moment where we are most available, closer to whateve it is we need to know.

So I wrote this to her:

You will get a lot of advice and hear a lot of opinions and folks will share their stories with you. Be aware that those experiences are just experiences, anecdotes from entirely different worlds. Stay attentive to YOUR center, to YOUR voice. It's all a black hole now but somewhere in there is still YOU and your ability to feel your way through anything. Let yourself sink. We're all free falling anyway. Ground is an illusion always. Who knows what's true - if anything. When we get the rug pulled out - it's only a reminder there never was a rug. There was a certain kind of love and life and now it's different.

Take what you feel and know and want and sit with it all. Ride the waves. We ARE the waves, really, so thinking that way reminds us to stay in our center. No decisions. No big policy changes. Just you being still and sad and listening to your own voice. I can tell you that being liberated from my old life was the key to allowing me to find my true life and a deep, satisfying, soulful love that I never, ever would have found had all not come undone.

And I know many folks live through all kinds of horrors and find each other again. Those are just stories. You will find your own. You have given such solace and wisdom to so many people. Let yourself be. You are finding your way. This is not how it will always be. That's all I know.

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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