Surviving the shock of the break-up
If your marriage or relationship has broken down because of your husband's midlife disaster (MLC), and you're in the early stages of shock, I hope this summary will help you believe things will get better. I know how difficult it is to believe, in the acutely painful stage of shock, that life will ever be peaceful or happy again. And break-up is a whole different thing when it's a result of the peculiar and apparently swift personalilty change men undergo in MLC.
X & I were together for 19 years. Fell madly in love at the start & bought a home together after 12 weeks. He was gorgeous, doting, caring, considerate & romantic. Nothing was too much trouble for him if it made me happy. And I loved making him happy too. We had masses of fun, travelled, laughed a lot, supported each other, virtually never argued. Life together was easy. He said a zillion times “You re the only girl in the world for me” even when I was well past being a girl. Never gave me a moment s doubt or jealousy. I trusted him and his integrity without question. We got on well in good times and bad. We loved, admired & respected each other.
In 2004 we moved to France to a beautiful home & area that we knew well. So for two years, he renovated the house& I earnt the money. In winter 2006, he went back to the UK to earn some cash. His mother got ill and died in early 2007. He seemed OK with the loss and came home and presented me a great plan he d made for “our next ten years.”
But unknown to me - carefully hidden from me in fact - an earthquake was in the making.
Not only had his mother died but he'd just turned 40. Two huge triggers for a midlife disaster as I was later to discover.
In July 2007, after a nice evening when we ate outside, had a couple of glasses of wine in the mid-summer heat and he told me was planning a holiday for the two of us in the Seychelles, I found him sneaking out of the house at 4am with a hastily-packed bag.
Maybe you know the feeling like being slammed on the head with a cricket bat.
He simply said ‘I m leaving you and walked out of the house. I'm not very proud of the fact that I fell on to my knees and screamed in shock for about an hour.
The Disaster rollercoaster had been unleashed.
I have never since that day had anything remotely like a normal conversation with the man I lived with for two decades. He had become a stranger overnight and the opposite of everything he used to be.
He took to returning every six weeks, staying in our adjoining apartment. There followed a year where I tried to figure out what would happen with the house. I didn t want to lose my home as well as my relationship.
The first time he returned, he announced that he wanted to bring women to our house ‘to use them for sex. He mentioned a girl who was JustaFriend. Had kept her secret but had known her for some time. Met her on a plane. Some weeks later I asked him when he called one night if he had a new partner and he said ‘Yes . Not JustaFriend, but a new one, married with three kids. Later he said two kids. He had already ‘given her a lifelong commitment .
Within weeks of discussing the next ten years with this man I trusted completely, he d run away, I had no idea of his address or phone number or where he worked and he d ‘committed for life to some other man's wife.
He was cruel and scornful, or just vacant, and didn t converse rationally. Once or twice he saw me cry and said angrily ‘nothing has happened to hurt you. He demanded that he be able to bring the new girlfriend to our house for a holiday.
During 2007 he displayed a completely new personality. It was surreal. Where he d liked chess he now liked online poker. He now liked aspects of popular culture that he d always thought cheap and vulgar. He d always liked classical music and good literature; now he liked corny pop songs & trashy romantic novels. He talked about sex in a smutty way. Practically every view he had ever held was swapped for its opposite. I wondered if these were the girlfriend s preferences or if he was, independent of her, having a personality change. He spoke about nothing at all other than himself, his life, his interests. Usually in one-liners. And often, literally, non-sense. He showed no awareness at all that I was a person with feelings or any rights in all this.
He began telling me to sell the house so he could have half the cash. He also over a period of weeks spent many thousands of pounds on himself.
Through all this I kept pretty quiet, observing astounded and thinking. I went online and found the *midlifewives club* which helped enormously. As I read the stories of other women - and some men - the parallels with my partner's behaviour were astonishing. So many of the features of MLC were presenting themselves. It was textbook.
Some of the women there guided me carefully up the Disaster cliff-face. The advice was: Detach. Observe. Don t take it personally. It s not about you; it s about him.
This was crucial advice. There's no point trying to analyse, figure out, help, influence or fix a man in midlife disaster. He'll go through it and do what he's going to do NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. So look after yourself and leave him entirely to his own devices.
For the first six months I cried pretty much every day. A lot. I became way too thin. Slept with great difficulty and woke at 3 or 4am. I felt bleak, despairing, suicidal. I was reeling. I was also alone in a house in a forest. I had no explanation from him about what he d done. My heart was broken. I simply couldn t get my head round the fact that he didn t care hadn t even tried to soften the blow. When I d finished with boyfriends in the past I d always tried to be as gentle as possible. You just do, don t you?
Then somewhere along the line, having realised the man I knew was ‘gone I became seriously worried about losing my home and half my life s investment. I felt that if he did that to me as well then I would feel so much his victim that I d never recover. I had also resigned my job when he first left because I knew I wouldn t be able to function professionally for months. So I d lost most of my income.
His midlife disaster, not yours.
He came to stay at Xmas 2007 and again demanded I move out for a few weeks so he could holiday here with his girlfriend. For the first time, I began to tell him how badly I thought he'd behaved. I started calmly then he walked away. I followed and he yelled at me and I snapped and shouted. He then beat me up pretty badly. 4 neighbours and 3 paramedics came to the rescue. He was removed to a hotel. And the next day he flat out denied what he had done.I mean, he denied it to me. In real shock, I contemplated that day whether suicide would just put an end to this chaos. I didn t want to die I just didn t want to feel such misery. I wanted to be happy again.
There followed six weeks of X-rays and treatments. He made no contact. He didn t enquire whether the injuries had left me dead or alive.
And then he turned up and cried and apologised and said he wanted me to have the house.
In June, I got possession of our home and held a party to celebrate. I felt incredible relief, like I was now free to start moving on. I was coming to terms with the fact that he had undergone a huge personality change and was to all intents and purposes a different person. I asked him why he gave me the house (ie. his half of it, we had co-owned) - thinking he might say he didn't want me to lose my home after everything else. But no - he replied breezily that he just didn t want the hassle of home-ownership. Thought it was drag.
During the year that had passed I'd given a lot of time to friendships and to making new friends. I spent a lot of time reading and thinking. Forced myself to do many things I had no idea how to do or had always done with X. I joined a chess website as my longtime chess partner had imploded. Learnt to live alone and be alone and gradually came to enjoy many aspects of that. I went from waking at 3am in despair to waking at a reasonable hour and stretching out my legs with pleasure just to feel how warm & comfortable the bed was.
In July 2008 I was invited out by someone who knew the story and knew about X's violence. This being France, quite a few other guys had invited me out - LOL - but I hadn t been interested. Hadn t wanted to even touch a guy for many months. But we went out and got on well and we still do. I m cagey though and keep reminding him I don t consider myself ‘in a couple. But he s funny and sexy and mature and ve-ry masculine and generally life-enhancing so we ll just see how things go.
X meanwhile has made contact from time to time. Just after the house transfer he turned up, cried, said he missed me, wanted to talk... (Too late.) He had invited me to lunch to celebrate our 20th anniversary… He said he thought it would ‘make things more normal. I said No thanks; things weren t normal. He invited me to a party one weekend last December. In the UK. And sent me an Xmas card of 2 cute polar bears and referred to our life together. More recently he emailed in strange stilted English to say that he 'misses many things about our way of life, and sharing good things.'
There are still aspects of all this that I turn over in my head because there was no closure in terms of explanation or real conversation where he was ‘him and we could talk things through rationally. I don t think his wanting to finish the relationship was a terrible thing to do but the way he left was truly terrible. I lost all respect for this person I used to respect a great deal. And that s disappointing.
I also feel it s odd, having seemingly had quite a lot of control of my destiny to that point, that this other person made my life take a sharp turn without my consent. But as westerners we re used to much more control than most of the world s population ever knows; it s a luxury we can t depend on. Change occurs all the time, in different ways, and naturally some of it is going to be unwelcome.
I still have hearing problems from the attack. But other than that, I have formed pretty healthy scar tissue over the broken heart. And feel in fact that it wasn t really broken, just sent into shock. I have a good circle of friends and intend to go on meeting new people - for the rest of my life. I am still thrilled by the region I live in. Have loads of interests and much I want to learn (though I m lazy…) And am generally as enthralled by (some, many) aspects of life as I always was.
Rather than feeling like an Abandoned Spouse I feel more like I had someone beside me who keeled over and fell off the track one day. I go forward; he fell down back there somewhere.
Many jilted people agonise over what they did to ‘make their partner leave. I don t think I made him leave. I remained who I was; he changed. He left not just me but his home, the country he d chosen, almost all our friends, almost all his family and a great many of his habits and preferences. Even when he finally took his stuff away he left many things in cupboards and drawers, including his “identity” file yep, virtually all his ID.
I was not central to his midlife disaster, just a casualty of it.
My mother, who's been round several blocks in her time including widowhood twice and cancer twice, said to me at the start of it all: “It s ultimately just a guy who s left you”.
I thought she was nuts. Just a guy? It was betrayal, deceit, abandonment, misery. I would NEVER recover. I could hardly breathe.
But 2 years on it turns out she was right. It was ultimately exactly that - just a guy who left me. It wasn t a life-threatening disease. I wasn t trapped in a warzone. Or starving.
So if you are in the early stages of the nightmare I hope you can believe that things will get better and you will gradually get your life back into a recognisable and cheerful shape.
You'll find that time, which drags so badly at first and stares you bleakly in the face very early every morning, is ultimately your friend. In time, and matched by your own efforts, you do start to recover.
I realise it must be an awful lot harder and messier for people who co-parent with the X - I don t have kids but even there, the raw hurt and emotion specifically with regard to your ex-partner will diminish in time. And then you ll have the rest of your life to enjoy and your kids too. Hang on and you ll get through it.
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