I have been married to my husband for three years, though we’ve been dating for six years. Last week we had a heart to heart where we spoke about his first marriage and I expressed to him that I wish he could realize that it wasn’t all negative and some positive elements came out of his failed marriage. He eventually shed a tear. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry.
I’ve always known that he had some hurt feelings and has felt disappointed in himself. I didn’t realize that he still had deep wounds from his failed marriage. I don’t know if he will ever be the same man he was or be able to give as much, as he still holds on to the pain so much. He was married for four years.
Is it possible for him to ever not feel pain from his loss? I know he doesn’t want to be with her, and he will not be able to be honest with me regarding how he feels about her. I’m now uncertain on whether he had sufficient time to deal with his feelings for her and the loss of her. I don’t know if that influenced how he chose to show commitment to my kids and me by waiting so long to marry me.
How do I help him? Can I help him? Does he even need help? Does anyone ever recover from being abandoned in their marriage? Can I really feel secure with someone who holds the pain from his first marriage? How do I deal with this and make sure that as a family we heal together and that he is able to trust fully and let go of the pain? Please guide me.
Your husband is lucky to have your sensitive and patient support. Yes, he’s grieving the loss of his marriage. Virtually every person who goes through the trauma of divorce experiences grief. Even if they aren’t sad about losing the person they are divorcing, they are always sad to lose the dream of the marriage. No one gets married expecting to be divorced.
Our American culture doesn’t give men permission to express vulnerable emotions. It’s not because men don’t feel vulnerable emotions. It’s because men are taught that they should hide weakness and failure. Consequently, we have millions of men pretending they aren’t feeling what they’re feeling. This creates tremendous suffering for those men and for their families.
Pat Conroy described this experience perfectly in his novel, Beach Music. He said:
I could feel the tears within me, undiscovered and untouched in their inland sea. Those tears had been with me always. I thought that, at birth, American men are allowed just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our lives eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.
Your husband needs gentle permission from you to share what happened to him as a result of the loss of his first marriage. You don’t need to feel personally threatened by his feelings of loss and grief. This isn’t a comparison between you and his first wife. It’s him releasing the feelings of failure, pain, and sadness that he lost something he hoped would work out.
You don’t need to sit him down and pressure him to get it all out in one conversation. Instead, let him know you are available to listen to his thoughts about his first marriage. You can gently bring it up on walks, drives, and other times when things aren’t hurried or stressful. This is a long conversation that will take months and years to fully resolve.
Your compassionate encouragement to share his story will be a great support and blessing to his aching heart. If he closes down and refuses to talk about it, please be patient. These things take time and are worth the wait.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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