February 2011


Dear White Rabbit,

My husband and I separated a few months ago leaving me with dozens of questions as to why it happened and what went wrong. We are on good terms so can talk about the split – but every time I ask him any direct questions as to what prompted him to act he says that he does not know. I am hugely frustrated by this. Do you know why I have such a thirst for answers and is my thirst healthy or just a going to lead me to more misery? (I think I know the answer to this one already but anyway…..)

Thirsty and Frustrated

Dear Thirsty and Frustrated,

Any split from someone you love is a traumatic event. It’s like a mini-death. As with all death experiences, the person who hasn’t yet been able to process the event is left standing alone with a pile of unanswered questions. How did this happen to me? What went wrong? Why us? Why me? And so on and so forth. We experience feeling trapped in a hell of our own making until we believe that all these questions must be answered or until we can accept that they may never be answered and move on with our lives.

So now you are suffering and facing the death of your relationship and you ask your husband tell me why did it happen and what went wrong and he says I don’t know. In my opinion there are a couple of reasons why a person is reluctant to tell. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

    Guilt. He has already caused you to suffer and doesn’t want you to suffer more. This is based on a false premise that he believes that you either don’t have the capacity or courage to face what he would like to tell you and therefore will fall apart and then he will either blame himself for inflicting more pain or others will blame him. Or he believes that you will swallow what he says completely, that you haven’t the capacity to shift what is his stuff that he might be projecting onto you and what is your stuff that you need to own. You, of course, might have unwittingly encouraged this illusion by asking ‘Where did we go wrong’ and then had a good cry or a freak-out when he hinted at things.
    Cowardliness. Maybe you are a person who will try and fix what is wrong and in this instance he doesn’t want you to because he wants to split and move on. By you trying to fix things in your relationship you hamper him in his quest for release. He hasn’t got the courage to say to you – ‘Regardless of how hard you try to fix this, I still want out’.
    Passive-Aggression:  Your past relationship might have been one where you called the ‘shots’ and he ‘jumped’ – what better way of getting back at you by not revealing what you want. It now shows how angry you must have made him feel but he still hasn’t the ‘balls’ to say ‘get off my back’.
    Shame: You really are a wonderful person but somehow what you had together he has outgrown. He is ashamed to tell you this because it means there is something lacking within him.

Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning wrote about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps and his observations. He said that those who were able to not break down or give up on living were those survivors who were able to find some meaning, no matter how small within the horrors of their situation. This search for meaning was not a naïve query but went deep into the heart of their experience, that they were suffering and they were facing death. Their search did not ignore or harbour false illusions or entertain artificial optimism about suffering or dying. Rather they used the experience of suffering as a task to realise and bear witness to what their suffering was all about and to give them the courage to face it. It addressed questions such as – What does it mean to face suffering and dying? How much suffering is there to get through? If I have the courage to face my suffering and go through it, what will it mean to be alive in the future?

So my question to you is what are you hanging onto? Why is it causing you to suffer? What is it that you must know from your husband that will release you? What illusions are you hanging onto that require an answer from him? What permission do you need to give yourself so as to move on with your life and why does it still involve him?

When you can honestly face these questions you will be free to start coming to terms with the final death-throes of your relationship. You will be able to release yourself and move into a future of your own making.

In my process of healing myself from a past relationship I too had to face these questions. What helped me do this was The Serenity Prayer. If you haven’t come across it yet, here is the extract that worked for me:

‘God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference’

With best wishes
The White Rabbit