The Leaver and the Left

A vast emotional gap separates the spouse who leaves the marriage for someone else, or for the hope of finding someone else, and the one who has been left – the leaver and the left.

The leaver should not expect the rejected spouse to understand or agree. The leaver must be patient with the person rejected because he or she is hurt and anger. The person left needs time to catch up emotionally and assimilate the breakup of the marriage. When the leaver and the left are at the same emotional temperature, they can move forward much more easily.

Woman now initiate well more than half of all divorce. In a divorce, the leaver has emotionally taken the first steps to leave the marriage. She has already started working the process. She is emotionally detached at times, angry at times, nostalgic at times. She has probably been lonely and emotionally starved and dying for the intimacy for a long time. When she contacts an attorney or tells her partner that she wants to end the marriage, she feels relief (that often becomes a measure of regret). The rejected spouse reels because he never saw this coming. So often the rejected spouse is blindsided (although years later he will see clearly what happened and why).

Unlike death that has finality, however, divorce continues to have the chance of reconciliation. The grief cycle can extend as the couple hesitate in the good times and bad that encamp every failing relationship.

The type and intensity of feelings are different for each person. The leaver has less intensity and the person left has more. When the initiator leaves the marriage for another person, he or she is further numbed by the feelings of infatuation, making the divorce seem easier and more doable.

“What’s the big deal?” he may ask.

“It happens all the time,” she may think.

“My kids want to see me happy. They will understand, won’t they?” (No, not necessarily.)

The initiator justifies his or her departure by finding fault and seeing only the negative in the spouse. This confuses the rejected spouse since it seems he or she can’t, or never could, do anything right. Conversation may become tumultuous. In his or her mind, the initiating person compares the spouse of ten, twenty or thirty years with their new partner, who appears in the pink cloud of infatuation. The rejected spouse cannot measure up to the illusion of perfection and compatibility.

The person left endures a seemingly tougher time, and without emotional support, the pain feels more intense. He or she can’t understand the matter-of-fact and casual attitude of the leaver about ending a very significant relationship, often with children in the balance. It takes months and often years to pull oneself out of the emotional trauma, rebuild and become grounded again.

The emotions often follow along these lines: the hurt that comes when someone says he or she says he or she never really loved me the way he or she should have, the shattered sense of self. “My spouse is leaving me. I did not expect this. I am told that it’s mostly my fault I am being replaced. I am told that this other person had nothing to do with my spouse wanting a divorce. The marriage was over a long time ago. Of course, I don’t believe it. Now this outsider has met my in-laws and some of my friends.

Each of these steps is a setback for the spouse. The initiator feels this is a natural progression and moves too slowly. The spouse, however, feels like he or she faces one shock after another. Just as he or she may be adapting to the current situation, a new challenge on the list arises.

The initiator and his or her attorney may have little patience for the raw state of the one who has been left, who may be seen as weak, emotionally immature or dramatic. The longer the marriage, the longer it usually takes to come back up to normal functioning. The solution to the two widely different perspectives is time.

Eventually, the rejected spouse realizes that the past is gone and nothing can make it go back to the way it was. The most important focus is on life and the children now.

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