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’.