Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Selfishness Of Grief, AKA: Fits & Starts

Recently, a GOW on The Official GOW/WOW Message Board (at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com) posed the following problem regarding her W's 'fits & starts' behaviour:


“When my W told me he needed space, one of the questions I asked him was if his true intention was to break up with me completely. I understand logically that the grief has overtaken him, but anxiety kicks in and I start questioning whether or not I've done something to ruin the relationship. Is this anxiety and insecurity normal?”


I understand what my GOW “sister” is saying. It's hard NOT to take it personally when a W needs to create a self-imposed exile to go hide in his "man cave" for awhile and lick his grief wounds - especially a W who does not know how to communicate his feelings very well. Feels like rejection.


When you've invested your time, energies, and love into a relationship in which the other person seems to be rejecting you (even if it's temporarily, as per ‘fits and starts’ behaviour), then yes, your GOW insecurities are bound to flare up.


Wouldn't it be GREAT if, during periods of 'fits and starts', Ws could say, "I need some time/space to figure some things out re: my grief feelings. Thanks for asking, but no - there isn't anything you can do to help me. Rest assured, I'm not interested in any other woman - I just need some "me time". During this time, I will still be loving you, and my goal is to return to you on ____(date/time), at which point I will have it allllll figured out. Please be patient with me, don't contact me, and above all else - don't worry."


But noooooooo! Instead, they just leave a GOW dangling!


However, take heart - somewhere deep inside, most Ws know that their ‘fits and starts’ hurt their GOWs. There is a huge difference between a W who knows (that his actions are hurtful to the GOW) and cares, and a W who knows he’s being hurtful and DOESN'T care. With the latter, it’s more of a character flaw than a W issue. But with the former, grief is soooo overwhelmingly selfish (because it HAS to be), and selfish emotions can sooo cloud a person's sensitivity to others, that it would appear as if he doesn’t care when, in reality, he does.


The thing is, grief is such a monster that it takes control of a W's usual "good man" self, and turns him into a person you barely recognize: a selfish, self-centered, insensitive, cranky, guilt-ridden, self-pitying, oftentimes self-flagellating - - - - caterpillar. Yep - there goes the ugly insect into his cocoon! So when you think about it, do you really WANT to be with a W when he's like that? I'd rather wait until he emerges as a butterfly. And...he will. It just takes time. How MUCH time? Depends on the caterpillar!


I was chatting the other day with a dear friend of mine about her experiences as a parent who lost a child to cancer. She was talking about how her grief and her husband's grief were sooo damaging to their marriage that they almost divorced. (The divorce rate is very high among couples who lose a child by any means of death). When I mentioned how Ws tend to go through 'fits and starts' when dating, she assured me that this was a GOOD thing...that she wished she and her husband could have spent a year apart to lick their wounds before coming back together in a more "healing" state of mind. As it was, she said, they were each too close to the pain, and to each other, to be of much help. The selfishness of grief was, to them, like poison. She resented his grief, and he resented hers. She needed him, but he was too overcome...and vice versa.


Granted, GOWs are NOT "too close to the pain" since, after all, the GOW didn't lose LW. But it would appear that, based on my friend's experience, no one can really be of much help to someone who grieves, even someone who loves a W. Grief is a solitary journey. Thinking of it this way, we can understand how ‘fits and starts’, though difficult and hurtful to the GOW, are perhaps just blessings in disguise.


It's always a good idea during times of separation to keep your focus on yourself: find ways to pass the excruciatingly slooow and hard time with things and people that will make you feel good about yourself.


Some GOWs find it cathartic to start a journal and detail their feelings. A few even share this journal with their Ws once he emerges from his “cave” in order to show him exactly how she felt so he can be more aware of her feelings if he ever again finds the need to again impose his ‘fits and starts’ exile. This is a great way to communicate your needs to your W as you work together to endure the difficult yet oftentimes necessary ‘fits and starts’.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Putting your GOW/WOW Needs On The Back Burner

GOWs walk a fine line between getting their issues addressed and not wanting to burden their poor grief-weary Ws. On one hand, you want to be compassionate, respectful, and caring. On the other hand, doing so means your GOW needs take a back burner, and you start to wonder where YOU fit in with all this grief. Then you begin to lose patience, which breeds resentment, which stunts a relationship's growth...not a healthy path for ANY relationship, but an absolute "couple killer" for GOW/W relationships!


Tiptoeing around W's grief, though compassionate, is never really a good idea. But neither is ignoring his grief, wishing it away, and/or pretending like it doesn't exist, all in the name of pushing him towards recovery faster than he needs to go, or just so you can get your needs met.

The balance you need to achieve can be accomplished by following these steps:


1.) Never assume...Communicate!!


Dating is a "getting to know you" time in every relationship. Having been with your W for awhile, you start to become very adept at recognizing your partner's moods. But which moods are grief-related, and which moods are simply the ordinary, run-of-the-mill blues we all experience from time to time? We can almost pinpoint when a W bad mood is grief-related if an LW-related anniversary is near...but what about those times when he is quiet and pensive, mopey, or just down in the dumps? Can we assume ALL of his bad moods have something to do with grief?


Of course not! Ws are human, after all, and ALL humans have bad days. Drawing "Grumpy" out is key to getting him to communicate about his negative moods. There's no beating around the bush allowed when dealing with a W! - you have to use direct language, but in a compassionate, gentle way: "Dear, you seem very down lately, and while I know you struggle with your grief feelings, I'm wondering if your mood isn't based on something that has [i]recently[/i] happened. Either way, I'd like to talk to you about it because I care, and I hope you wil trust me with whatever your reasons for being so depressed/quiet/grumpy.ansious/etc."


2.) Acknowledge - and accept - his pain, but don't "sacrifice in the name of love" unless you are prepared to focus ALL of your relationship's time and energies on grief alone!


While noble in its compassion, putting your needs aside to devote 100% of your energies on W's grief is never a good idea. Many GOWs believe that "Since W is already hurting an dealing with sooo much, why should I dump my GOW issues and everyday life problems on top of his already burdensome pile?" The answer is simple: because YOU matter! YOU are 50% of your relationship, and as such, you are an intregral part of its growth. That being the case, let me ask you: How much growth will there really be if you continue to withhold your feelings/issues to tend to his, all the while suffering in silence and breeding resentment and impatience slowly? Thus, putting your needs on the back burner isn't so noble after all...it's downright destructive, both to your relationship and to yourself.


However, timing is everything. I know that when my husband comes home upset about something that went wrong at work, that is NOT the time for me to complain about our high electric bill. The same discernment is required of a GOW when W is in a grief-related bad mood. Therefore, choose your discussion times wisely, and approach them in a spirit of cooperation. Acknoweldge his pain when he seems to be hurting...but when you are hurting with GOW issues, the same rules apply. All in love is fair...so allow him to be YOUR support when needed, too. When you seek to withhold your issues "for the good of the relationship", you effectively deny your W the immense pleasure he derives from reassuring you. Stop being so selfish in your nobility! ;)


3.) Communication kills The Insecurity Monster...so itemize your needs and deal them out, one at a time.


Without proper communication, we assume waaay too much negativity. Humans are funny beings, and GOWs are stranger still: instead of assuming the simplistic reasons behind a W's quiet mood - that perhaps he is silent simply because he's just got gas (lol) - we negatively assume that he MUST be thinking about ending our relationship...or he's thinking that he couldn't possibly love me as much as he loved LW...or he's thinking I'm fat...or...or..or...etc....etc...ARRRGH!! All that insecurity makes you feel like you're losing your mind, doesn't it?


The GOW list of insecurities can be quite a long one, so the problem becomes dealing with one at a time instead of the whole kit & kaboodle at once. Itemizing your list of GOW issues in order of importance to you, then communicating them to your W, effectively kills The Insecurity Monster...and when the beast is dead, you acquire newfound strength for your GOW journey, add groweth potential to your relationship, and become more of a positive influence and support to your W when his own journey becomes problematic.