It’s like your marriage has been in a shipwreck and you’re all alone, bobbing in the sea, perched atop a rickety raft. You can see the shore and you know you can swim, but something stops you from diving in, kicking the raft away and going for it. What keeps you hanging on when you know you’re just drifting?

Forest Woodward/iStock Photo
Source: Forest Woodward/iStock Photo

Many a woman whose husband left finds herself in this predicament. Years later, she still has that pain inside. She thinks of him every day, misses him, and hates to be alone. She is tormented and angry with herself for still being attached but she can’t break free.

Although he is not giving her a second thought, she has not successfully detached from the man and the marriage. When he left, he took her identity and sense of security with him. How can she rebuild her life, create a new identity and become strong enough to depend on herself, when throughout her whole adult life, she had felt secure because she depended on him?

When a man walks away from a marriage, particularly when the wife didn’t see it coming, it is often a profound emotional injury, which leaves her feeling abandoned. What does abandonment mean? When someone you depend on for your physical or emotional well-being leaves you without providing for your ongoing care.

A woman who feels abandoned sub-consciously keeps yearning for that person who used to care for her. Even after he has turned his back, moved on, or even re-married, there is a profound wish that he will wake up, come back and take care of her again. Until she can successfully disconnect from the fantasy that he might step back in and come back to her, the hurt will remain.

Some women don’t feel capable of taking their lives and their futures into they own hands. They don’t know how to make decisions with conviction and they second-guess themselves. They fear making mistakes and having to face negative consequences and that awful feeling of regret. They cringe when called upon to take full responsibility. Some women feel they are not smart enough to make the right choices.

And then, there’s the other reason why it is so hard to let go – if you do, aren’t you letting him off the hook? Giving him what he wants? Most ex-husbands profoundly wish that their ex-wives would just get on with it. By continuing to grieve, aren’t you declaring to the world what a horrible thing he did to you that has caused you so much harm? Aren’t you demonstrating how cruel and uncaring he is? If you let yourself be happy again, wouldn’t he feel relieved?

Fear is a lousy reason not to do what you know you need to do. To get your life back, you need to become a fighter for your happiness! You need to feel the fear but put your head down and keep going until you locate your new life as a single woman; keep fighting until you can feel proud of yourself.

How do you do this? One step at a time. Every time you feel tempted to check his Facebook page and you don’t, you can put a check in the “win” column. Every time you force yourself out of the house to go to a movie with a friend on a Saturday night, another check. Every time you sign up for a course, every time you go to lunch with your sister and talk about something other than him, check, check! Little by little, these things add up until you suddenly realize that you didn’t think of him at all yesterday and the flicker of hope for your future grows stronger and brings you into the light.

You know the things you need to do to take care of yourself. Don’t expect your new life is going to happen all at once. But you can make it happen with every choice you make from now on. Now kick yourself off that raft and start swimming.

I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal; The Divorce Talk: How to Tell the Kids – A Parent’s Guide to Breaking the News without Breaking Their Hearts; and My Sister, My Self: The Surprising Ways that Being an Older, Middle, Younger or Twin Shaped Your Life and the editor of Planet Heartbreak: Abandoned Wives Tell Their Stories. I can be found online at www.vikkistark.com.

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