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Struggling with my marriage and the loss of my father


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I stumbled across this forum and have read several of the posts. Mari’s story and struggle particularly resonated with me and I hope she eventually found some closure. Although I haven’t left my husband, I definitely identify with the “dumper” in this equation and if some of my muddled thoughts can help others, I am happy to share although my perspective being that of a woman (and it seems like a majority of the “dumpers” are men), I may still be able to offer some insight. Please bear with me as I know this is long.

Firstly, when a bereaved person says “I have nothing more to give” or “I can’t give you what you want,” that has to be taken at absolute face value. They honestly don’t have anything and sometimes they feel like they never will. When they say they love you, they do mean it — but it feels like something abstract and they’re in so much pain they can’t express that love to you. In every sense of the word, the grieving person is broken. You can try to be supportive. You can try to listen and offer comfort. But you can NOT fix what’s broken inside them. And I think many of those grieving know their significant other can’t fix them and they don’t want to feel the added guilt of causing them pain so they dump that person — to protect the other person and to spare themselves. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do. I just think that’s what some people do.

And grieving people are often very good at hiding it - whether they're normally private people, people who feel it's a sign of weakness, trying to avoid the feelings and pretend everything is ok or sick of hearing/seeing someone's pity. So just because a person "seems fine" or "acts normal" doesn't mean they actually are. Besides my husband, my daughter (she's perceptive) and two close friends, no one realizes how much I have been struggling.

I met my husband 25 years ago when we worked together and we started dating a few months after his father died and after he’d been with another woman for 6 years. Needless to say, it was the WORST time to start dating him. At the time, he would want to spend time with me, be affectionate and basically the perfect boyfriend. And then he would say things like “I can’t give you any more” and “I am not in love with you and don’t think I’ll ever be in love with you.” Saying those things confused me because he would flip flop. I started dating him after his dad died so it’s a little different than some of the other situations, but he said a lot of the same things I think most grieving “dumpers” say. And he did break up with me about a month later — he didn’t want to/couldn’t be responsible for another person’s feelings and being with me as boyfriend/girlfriend made him responsible, no matter how casual we tried to keep things. One thing he also said at the time, which might help supporting significant others, is that he never wanted to share his pain. He always said it was HIS pain and somehow he felt sharing it was letting it go and wrong. I can’t relate to this at all but maybe he felt by sharing he was losing something of his dad, like the pain and sorrow was all he had left of his dad now so he didn’t want to give it up.

I said he is my husband so we eventually got back together (and broke up - several times). Honestly, I was young (I was 20 and he was 30 when we started dating) and I’m a “fixer” so my trying to fix him instead of give him space (and honestly give myself space) made things worse. But we got through it and got married and have been married for 20 years.

And now we get to MY story - my father died in Feb 2020. My father had a lung condition for the past 7 years that was causing his health to deteriorate but he was still self sufficient and hiking (albeit slowly and with oxygen). When I saw my Dad for Christmas 2019, I figured that we would watch my father slowly decline over the next year or two as I had already seen some deterioration between Christmas and a few months prior. Instead, he died suddenly 2 months later. He had had bronchitis (which I only learned after he died - he didn’t want my mother to tell us and have us worry) plus some other problems and there is some speculation that perhaps he contracted Covid-19, but he died just before everything blew up so there was no autopsy or test. It doesn’t really matter, except that he died unexpectedly despite his health issues and I felt incredibly guilty as I hadn’t talked to him for a few weeks (I’d meant to, but just hadn’t gotten around to it).

I am the youngest of three children and the only girl so my relationship with my Dad is totally different from my brothers. I think of all his children, he and I are the most alike (a realization I had only in recent years). My dad left behind hordes of paper and just useless crap as well as a financial mess - and as a financial planner he knew better, but he was always helping others and neglecting his own things and honestly I’m learning that the last year of his life some of his mental faculties were failing as well.  I have been the one helping my mother through all this, although my one brother will step in on occasion to help. It’s not just overwhelming to handle all the mundane tasks surrounding a loved one’s life, it is emotionally exhausting. I find myself angry at my dad, who knew better, for letting things get so out of hand and refusing our help when we kept offering it while he was alive. If he had, I wouldn’t be struggling to get his affairs in order nearly a year later. And then there’s guilt for being angry at him.

On top of all this, my husband lost a surrogate father. He has never fully processed his own father’s death and I don’t think he’s processing my father’s either. We always joked that my husband was the favorite child. My husband won’t really talk to me about it because he doesn’t want to burden me as he knows I am grieving - and he’s right. I can’t really handle his grief with my own.

To make everything even more compounded - there have been other extreme stressors since my dad’s death, as if grieving his loss and the mess he left behind wasn’t bad enough. I’ve had to move my mother from my childhood home across country so she could live closer to us (thankfully that plan was already in place before he died). I have had a few health scares. We’ve had to live through a pandemic and trying to keep my 10 and 14 year old children somehow grounded in the midst of it. My husband was in a major accident that caused several injuries including a shattered kneecap and 7 months and 2 surgeries later he still isn’t walking normally. And that accident pushed aside my grief because I had to focus on him and his recovery; and maybe that’s why nearly a year later I feel like I haven’t come too far in the grieving process.

Our marriage wasn’t perfect before and there were some cracks so I am honestly shocked that with all this happening we are still together although again, I feel somewhat like the “dumper” that many others have described. I feel emotionally drained. I am exhausted physically and mentally. The thought of getting out of bed some days is just overwhelming and there have been some days where I did NOT get out of bed for hours. Hobbies I used to enjoy feel meaningless to me at times. I feel like a terrible mother sometimes because I know I am not as emotionally available as I should be. I feel like a terrible daughter because I love my mom but I don’t relate to her as well as I did when I was younger (a horrible realization for me) and frankly sometimes I just can’t deal with her. However, I feel guilty because I love her and I know someday she will be gone and I should really make the most of my time with her. I feel like a terrible wife because I am not a fun person to be around and my emotions are all over the place and unpredictable.

I often feel emotionally disconnected and detached from my husband but ironically (and I’m not sure if this is because I am a woman and/or I am typically an emotional giver) I lately seem to crave my husband’s attention and affection. So unlike some of the other “dumpers” I am not necessarily shutting my husband out; instead I feel like a needy mess. My husband is not overly demonstrative, which always has been a source of friction at times, but it is compounded now in the wake of my father’s death. I need him to hold me without me asking. I need him to tell me he loves me - without being prompted. I constantly want his attention and then when I don’t get it, I withdraw from him emotionally (which I’m sure makes him want to be close to me). I know logically that some of this is an unrealistic expectation, setting him up to fail and me for disappointment. And on top of that, he’s dealing with his own loss and struggling in his recovery from his accident.

But I’m also starting to realize that even if he was the most demonstrative husband, perhaps it still wouldn’t be enough. I have a huge hole in my heart and there is no way he can completely fill it. I have thought sometimes that maybe our marriage has run its course as we don’t seem to have anything in common anymore except our kids (I actually felt this way before my dad died but it feels even worse now). And those thoughts make me feel defeated. I don’t want to leave him. I love him and even though he doesn’t always show it the way I want him to, I know he loves me. But is love enough? I always thought so but I am so broken right now it is hard to be optimistic.

I have been thinking lately of seeing a therapist because it’s been almost a year since my Dad died and some days I feel so overwhelmed and I feel as if he died yesterday. I am not sure whether I should see a therapist for myself or if my husband and I should see one together to help address his and my grief and our issues as a couple.

Thank you to those who read this far. If anyone has advice for me, I'd welcome it. I do hope that my perspective might also help others supporting a grieving significant other.

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Hello Lyn,

I have read your story, and am very sorry you and your husband are going through this. I can't imagine how hard this must be for you both. In terms of advice, I don't have much to give -- I'm just a 20 year old who has experienced being the "dumpee". However, I appreciate you offering your perspective as the greiver, it's still something I want to figure out and prepare for, for future relationships. The way my family and I have grieved seems to be much different than how others seem to--I had no idea. I'm sure some of the other users here will be able to offer you some useful advice soon.

-BB

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2 hours ago, Lynn2021 said:

when a bereaved person says “I have nothing more to give” or “I can’t give you what you want,” that has to be taken at absolute face value.

Absolutely!  That's why I don't lay blame to the dumper, it is not someone's "fault" but fallout from grief.  In my situation I was the dumpee by my fiance of a year, and he did it by FedEx to my job, I faced the humiliation of getting this information at WORK instead of the privacy of my own home, which seemed passive/aggressive to me.  It's preferable to talk in person as this involves both of you but he was an Aspie and had a difficult time with confrontation/conflict.  It was hard for me to understand why he'd let his XW and neighbors, friends help him during this time, but not me.  Perhaps had he taken a break and his required space things might not have had to end, but that's not the road he chose and he never attempted to get back together in the ten years since.  It has to lead me to believe that had this never occurred, it still would have ended and his communication and dealing with things wasn't conducive to what I would need in a long term relationship.  After a period of no contact, he yanked me around emotionally until I realized he had no clue what HE wanted and was not in a place to say the things he was saying to me, so I had to let it all in one ear and out the other to protect myself.  He'd change from day to day!  Maybe that's all just part of it, but it's too much to expect from someone being the recipient.  The last few years he has his XW living with him, to keep her from being homeless and they are a family, along with their adult children, they were married 30 years.  It's like they're codependent, not in love, but in a mutually unhealthy relationship yet it seems to work for them.  I respect his choices and value him as a friend.  It's been an interesting dynamic.  Most cannot be friends with an ex, and normally I wouldn't either, there's a reason they're an ex, but in this situation I feel differently.

I also want to point out that not every situation like this is equal/the same!  

A therapist would be a great place to start, for you and for both of you as a couple.  It might help him understand better.

I hope you don't do anything rash/permanent that you will regret, being as you are married and still love him.  It might help to understand why you are feeling all that you are and learn more about the grief process.  We have a ton of articles here and @MartyT has been a great resource.

http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2014/08/grief-understanding-process.html

 

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My dear, I'm so sorry that you're feeling so overwhelmed (with good reason!) and I hope you will follow through with your willingness to find a therapist who can guide and support you through these challenges you're facing. I would suggest that you begin with individual counseling, and let the therapist help you decide if and when couples therapy is indicated. It seems to me that you need and deserve a sounding board and the safety and support that a therapeutic relationship would provide. I also agree with Kay that learining more about the normal grief process could go a long way in helping you better understand your own reactions (as well as your husband's) and in learning what you might do to manage them. See, for example, How We Mourn: Understanding Our Differences

See also Are You Reluctant to Seek Counseling for Grief? and Seeing A Specialist in Grief Counseling: Does It Matter?  ❤️

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I'm not sure how to respond to each person's response individually so I am going to do so here.

@BaxterBurg I am sorry you are a "dumpee" -- I've been on that side of the process and it is just awful. You feel confused and powerless. All I can say is try to be patient and give that person space and focus on yourself (I wish I had followed that advice 20+ years ago. It would have been less painful). I was very close to my grandmother, who died while I was pregnant with my daughter 14 years ago. I had other grandparents and an aunt die before then but she was probably my most significant loss -- until my Dad last year. I think people definitely grieve differently from each other, but also possibly from themselves. I think of my grandmother every day since she died. Same with my Dad. However, I am surprised to discover that how I've grieved for my Dad is not only totally different than when I lost her, it's different today than it was 3 months ago, than it was when I first heard about it. I knew grief could evolve over time but I did not expect such startling changes in myself. I am not a person to hold in emotion or not communicate and usually very social. I'm a talker, to put it bluntly. However, since my Dad's death I've become more of an introvert, quieter, less inclined to share my emotions (sometimes that last one is self preservation). 

@kayc I have read several of your posts and your story and just want to commend you for all your thoughtful insights and advice to others. And yes, it's not necessarily someone's fault (tragic circumstances) but I do believe that how you treat people is your responsibility (ie a dumper might feel the need to withdraw from a relationship - and that's ok - but how they do it might not be ok). After my first post, I did end up talking with my husband so I don't feel like I'm going to do anything rash. I told him some of what I wrote and some of what I was feeling (or more appropriately NOT feeling). He did everything right - held me, listened, offered some advice and ultimately told me he would do whatever I needed. If I wanted couples counseling he would go. If I wanted my own therapist, he would support me. My husband has lost both his parents (his father 25 years ago and his mother 5 years ago), so he does understand in that sense; however, he and I definitely respond differently to stress and grief. After talking with him today and thinking a lot about it, I am going to start looking for a therapist for myself. I honestly think I can't entirely work on my marriage if I feel like I am such a mess :).

And if that is something that can help others, I would say clear communication is key, although it's not always the person's fault if they can't communicate. I am not a subtle person and I usually say what I think, especially to my husband. But in this case, I couldn't really communicate properly because I didn't know entirely what was going on. It also hasn't helped that there have been other serious stressors in the mix, pulling my emotions in various directions. My husband actually said this morning, "Well of course you don't feel anything. How could you? Most of your emotional energy has been focused on your sadness and anger about your father. There is nothing left." His insight today makes me a little more hopeful and incredibly thankful. 

@MartyT Thank you for the articles. I actually saw some of them in another thread and I have started reading them. A college friend of mine recently lost her dad and talking with her has helped us both although sometimes I feel like talking to her revives too much of my own grief (or maybe it's reviving as I near the 1-year anniversary). She expressed frustration with the 5 Stages of Grief. I told her in my experience - and I believe mentioned in one of those articles - that those stages are not necessarily a linear process. I said for me the stages of grief are more like a Jackson Pollock painting: everything is scattered and seemingly random and all together. At least I still have some sense of humor.

Thank you all for your kind words and support. I am lucky to have stumbled here. I will give an update.

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3 hours ago, Lynn2021 said:

I am sorry you are a "dumpee" -- I've been on that side of the process and it is just awful. You feel confused and powerless. All I can say is try to be patient and give that person space and focus on yourself

I appreciate the advice, and I am slowly getting back into my old ways. She never asked for space, so I ended up not giving it--even though we both desperaty needed to. Things have become a bit bitter, so that chapter of my life I think is over and that's okay with me now. 

3 hours ago, Lynn2021 said:

I was very close to my grandmother, who died while I was pregnant with my daughter 14 years ago. I had other grandparents and an aunt die before then but she was probably my most significant loss -- until my Dad last year. I think people definitely grieve differently from each other, but also possibly from themselves. I think of my grandmother every day since she died. Same with my Dad. However, I am surprised to discover that how I've grieved for my Dad is not only totally different than when I lost her, it's different today than it was 3 months ago, than it was when I first heard about it. I knew grief could evolve over time but I did not expect such startling changes in myself. I am not a person to hold in emotion or not communicate and usually very social. I'm a talker, to put it bluntly. However, since my Dad's death I've become more of an introvert, quieter, less inclined to share my emotions (sometimes that last one is self preservation). 

Thanks for sharing, this gives me some insight. I've heard from people on this site that you are a new person after grief: It's something that you always carry, just in new forms than it was before--it evolves as you say. The greiving of my relationship has changed me as well, and actually in the oppisite way. I used to be quiet and reserved--I would never speak of a single emotion, nor would I let anyone know about my life, not even my own mother. I never cried in front of anyone before. Now I find myself spilling every intimate detail of myself, my feelings, and what haeppened with anyone close to me. If I feel like crying, I just do it. My Father died when I was 9, my aunt when I was 12, and my grandmother earlier this year; no tears until this experience. These experiences seem to change us quite a bit.

I wish you well.

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16 hours ago, Lynn2021 said:

I don't feel like I'm going to do anything rash.

Perhaps permanent might be a better word.  I lost my beloved 15 1/2 years ago, he'd just turned 51.  It was sudden and unexpected and the hardest thing I've ever been through.  We didn't meet until our 40s and he was definitely my soulmate, it's as if the rest of our lives were in preparation for meeting each other.  I learned then about grief fog (ie widow's brain, grief brain) and it can take quite a while to get clarity of mind when we're early in our grief.  By early I mean the first few years.  Everyone's timeline is different, and so are our coping skills, adjusting, just as unique as the people involved and our relationships.

I'm sure you will make the right decision for yourself in the long run, you seem to me to be a thinking/caring person.  I was only issuing caution as I know all too well how easy it is to make a decision during that period of time, they say wait a year, I'd lengthen it to three based on my experience, but we're all different and not everyone is afforded the luxury of time...:wub:

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@BaxterBurg My sister-in-law once told me that the end of a relationship is very much like mourning the death of someone and I believe she was right. The end of a relationship is a death in its own way and still needs to be mourned. I can definitely say that mourning the loss of a loved one is transformative, and certainly can be different depending on your relationship with the lost loved one as well as your own stage in life. I am hopeful that at some point this transformation for me will ultimately be for the better. I wish you well.

@kayc That is certainly a good distinction. I will say this weekend was a rough rollercoaster emotionally. My husband and I got into a heated argument and frankly, I really felt that maybe our marriage was not going to survive. After several hours apart we actually came back together and talked for hours - not just me sharing but him sharing his thoughts and emotions. At one point after getting very upset emotionally, he said "And this is why I don't talk about my feelings."  However, he did realize it was long overdue and while it wasn't easy for either of us, it was cathartic in a way and for the first time in several months I feel like we just might be starting to understand each other. I'm not naive enough to think this is it, we're done. And neither is he. We have actually decided to try couples' therapy first to help us communicate better with each other and perhaps help each of us with this grief for my dad as well as the other stressors that have been thrown our way this past year. I am still open to the option that I might need my own therapy but I think right now being able to communicate and work together might help us more now.

For the first time in several months, I actually felt happy and not as disconnected with my husband. So I'm going to try and carry that feeling with me as long as I can. I'm so sorry for your loss and appreciate the warning about "early on" and appreciate your faith in me :). 

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Oh Lynn, this is wonderful news!  I know it's not a "happily ever after" as there's no such thing in marriage because they DO take great effort and there's highs/lows in all of them, but it's a GREAT start and good decisions on the part of both of you.  Where both are willing, there's hope!  So happy for you and I hope you'll let us know how the therapy goes on down the road.  :wub:

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