Dear Uncoupling Person,
Here’s something you need to know: when you have been in a long-term, intimate relationship with a person for many years (and you may even have thought of this person as “your person”) you will have grown accustomed to many intimacies—physical, emotional, intellectual. Even when you were lonely in the relationship, even when your partnership was stretching and cracking, even when you acutely felt the distance, there were casual, assumed intimacies you were so used to that you didn’t even notice them.
Then, the relationship ends (perhaps unexpectedly), and this person you decided to trust above all others, who became your family, who you have many years of shared memories with, who you may have children with—this cornerstone of your life is simply gone.
All the rules have changed.
Vulnerabilities that were once second nature (seeing your person naked or them see you naked, crying with them, eating breakfast with them, paying bills together) have become so inappropriate and dangerous as to become unthinkable. You are shellshocked and betrayed, maybe by your partner, but also maybe by yourself.
You also may have been blindsided, or done the blindsiding.
You and your person may have started out with a mutual decision to separate and stay on good terms, only to realize partway through the process that this was impossible. You have either begrudgingly or maybe gleefully (depending on the depth of your mutual resentment) become opponents in a game where there can never be a winner.
You may be required to see your former person on a regular basis, or you may never see them again, and both of these options are equally painful and problematic.
But regardless of who left whom, your body is still accustomed to a thousand tiny intimacies with your person. You have gone from having varying levels of access to a second body that was, more or less, yours—ongoing and always available—to no-one at all. There will be days when you do not notice this body-shaped vacuum, other days when you will feel it acutely.
You may take the space your muscle memory created for this other body and simply replace it with a different body. Sometimes temporarily, sometimes long term.
Or, even though the space in your body aches like a phantom limb, just thinking about inviting another body into the vacuum causes you intense fear and pain (because of the betrayal).
Both options come with their own set of troubles.
You try to work through the reasons for the betrayal in order to protect yourself from it ever happening again, but really you aren’t sure if you can ever experience intimacy with another person again and also be safe at the same time.
So you ache, and hope it will pass.
The best advice I can give you is this: you will feel every emotion on the spectrum. You will go from intense hate to desperate longing, from deep sorrow to nostalgic reimaginings of your love, sometimes swinging wildly between these disparate emotions within a matter of moments.
You will be presented with an ongoing series of opposing feelings and illogical conundrums and you’ll need to hold them all lovingly until they are spent, even though it will be hard.
Some days you may even feel like you are dying. This is because your body is changing—growing to fill the space you created for the person who was never really your person. Growing and creating enough to fill a whole person-shaped space takes energy and it hurts.
Plant two feet, firmly rooted, in the gray area of your feelings and let the extremes of all emotions wash over you. Both feet on the ground. Breathe. This will not come naturally, but you will practice.
And you will get better.
One of the uncoupled