Depressed partners walk out and leave behind a lot of emotional wreckage. Whether the ending is explosive, grieving or compassionate, its impact is life-changing.
As the abandoned partner, you have to put your life back together, and it can take years to do it. There are a lot of obstacles to get around, however, before you can start. One of the worst can happen if your partner makes you responsible for the decision to separate.
Intentionally or not, they can waffle along, flipping back and forth from a fierce resolve to get away from you to tender remorse at the very thought of going. Or they might blame everything on you, claiming they’re the victims, and you’re the one who’s driving them away.
Whether passive or aggressive, they avoid making the big decisions on their own. Eventually, they wear you down until you’re forced to consider ending the relationship in order to save yourself. Having to take the step you’ve never wanted only adds to the anguish – and possibly depression – you’re already living with.
From what I’ve been through and and have found in hundreds of online postings, the intense feelings of abandonment don’t hold still. They rocket all over – confusion, hurt, anger, resignation, depression. That inner storming makes it all the harder to know what to do. Most of the time, the first impulse is to undo what’s happening by trying something – anything – to bring your partner back.
When you realize that it’s not going to happen no matter what you try, it’s time to work on your own recovery. You’ve lost a lot.
By leaving, your partner has not only knocked out a big part of your life but also taken away the sense of predictability you used to have. Adding to the hurt, likely mixed with a lot of anger, is the fact that they are still with you.
They may be physically gone, but they’re everywhere in vivid memories. Some of those bring back the worst times, some the best – the ones you long to have back.
All the memories keep the relationship alive and make it harder to think clearly about who you are, what you can do to heal and how you can put your life back together. As I found out, that can take years.
Long before I married, I had an intense relationship that ended when my partner left to live with another man. I couldn’t handle the loss at all. She was not depressed or angry but compassionate and concerned, knowing full well, however, that getting myself back on track was up to me alone.
For years, I could not let go the intensity of the feeling I knew we had shared. I held onto one groundless hope after another. It was terrible, but falling apart forced me into treatment. Then I finally recognized that I had been deeply depressed for much of my life and that my behavior had contributed to the break-up. That was the way I began to heal. Treatment was the turning point, but the rest – I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
What can you do to begin to heal? It’s never easy, and there’s no straight path to get there. But there are a lot of helpful examples of how individuals have managed to get started. Many tell a similar story about finally shifting their attention away from what’s happening to their ex to what they need for themselves.
Here are a few of the ways people have handled the loss, and how they changed their attitudes about themselves. I’m adapting words from comments posted on Storied Mind and the Depression Fallout Forum. The Forum is an important resource that’s been on line for more than ten years.
Anne Sheffield started it and later wrote a a book of the same name to summarize what she and the forum members had learned through this virtual support group. The book is a good starting point for exploring this resource. It has a vast archive on every aspect of life with a depressed partner.
I’ve changed my attitude about finalizing divorce. I stopped thinking of it as such a sad day where I was ending a beautiful, loving past. I thought about it as a beginning of an exciting future. I feel now that the best thing for me is to get this toxic person out of my life forever. This is all I can do for myself. Life is too painful otherwise.
I love the person he was but the person who abused me for years did so much damage that it has changed my view of him forever. The divorce process is very painful, but the pain ends – life with a depressive who won’t seek help is a life sentence of pain and hurt. I decided not to let divorce make me feel like a victim.
I’ve slowly come to realize that I can’t change her. After all this pain, I need to get away just as much as she does! It’s not easy, but does seem to be getting easier each day. Perhaps divorce will bring some closure.
So, I’m in the final stages of divorce. Somehow, he believes that I deserve this. He said it’s my fault he left and I should have recognized his unhappiness from signs he gave me. I’ve accepted that he’ll never see anything from my perspective. So I’ve become business-like to handle the logistics of divorce. I understand that my marriage is over and can no longer find the person I married. To honor the love we did have, I want to show compassion, but I’ve given up hoping that anything I do can change what he’s become.
I’ve gotten help from a professional. It wasn’t childhood problems. It was the shock of divorce I had to work through with the help of a therapist. This work has helped but I’ve had to find my own strategies for coping. I try to live with those strategies every day of ruminating about what I’ve lost. It’s not easy because I have my own depression to deal with, but it’s worth it.
I’m trying as best I can to get on with my own life and do things for me. while still giving him his space, staying in light casual contact, and making sure he knows I’m there if he needs to talk. I hope this is the right thing to do. I just feel so bad for never noticing, until now, what a bad state he was in mentally.
I’ve been helped so much by others who know what this is like. I still can’t bear to think that this relationship is over, but I’ve realized that I cannot help him if he does not want to help himself. As long as he fantasizes about his new life, he won’t do anything about his depression.
I hope that once the divorce is final I’ll be able to heal and move on. I feel like it’s one big tragic mistake. All that love has been torn up and thrown away. But it’s not my choice and I can not change someone who doesn’t admit to depression or want to change.
The biggest change is within, when attitudes about their ex-partners and about themselves started to change. Sometimes the change happens entirely through an inner struggle. Sometimes it’s helped or triggered by taking an action of some kind, whether divorce, getting treatment, completing a ritual of mourning and letting go, or opening up to others who are going through the same thing.
If you’ve gone through a break-up, what helped you start to heal? Or are you in the midst of it now and not sure what to do? I hope it helps to hear what others have been through.