Dear Rosie & Sherry,
A little over a year ago, I met a woman who seemed to be the love of my life. Everything was rosy, and we were both very excited for our future. At some point in our dating, her mother began to get involved, to make sure I had the "right intentions."
To make a long story short, we got engaged, and were both happy. Then, seven months after we became engaged, our engagement was broken off… due in large part to the influence of her mother.
This break-up came seemingly overnight, three weeks before the wedding. I wasn't even given the decency of a face-to-face meeting to try and work it out. Needless to say, I have gone through my steps of grief, and still feel very down and depressed. I had it all, and it disappeared instantly. I am in shambles. I don't know how I can move forward.
How can I move forward when I'm still hurting?
The anger I carry with me is unhealthy. I am the type of person who wouldn't hurt a fly, but I walk around with this anger toward her and her mother which I feel is holding me back from moving forward.
Already, people are already starting to try and introduce me to other women, and I went on a few dates, but it was a mistake. I am not ready for it, although deep down, my goal is to replace what I had with my fiancée.
It's almost as if I feel I am in a race with my ex to see who can find happiness first. I want her to regret her decision and the idea that she may not hurts me even more. How can I move forward when I'm still hurting?
We are genuinely sorry to hear that your engagement has been broken off, and we understand what you are going through right now. But contrary to your belief that you've gone through the grief process, it seems to us that you are still in the midst of it. Each person's mourning process is different, and many people need a longer time to overcome the intense feelings of loss. We'd like you to give yourself more time to grieve, and we have suggestions about how you can function better while doing so.
In 1969, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross identified five stages that people experience when they deal with a life-threatening illness or catastrophic loss. Actually, "stages" is a misleading word, because they don't occur in any particular order and someone who has passed through one stage can experience it again. We prefer to call them "aspects of grief." Although each person suffers from loss in a unique way, it can be helpful to know that what they are going through is a normal reaction, and in time most grief-stricken people are able to function "normally" again.
The stages Kubler Ross identified are:
- Denial – This didn't happen… she didn't want to break up… where is this coming from… I thought we were happy.
- Anger – I hate her mother for ruining our relationship. I hate her for not having the decency to meet with me one last time.
- Bargaining – If I can only have some private time with her, I can convince her that she should be with me.
- Depression – I'm in a shambles… I can't resume my normal life… I'm sad all the time.
- Acceptance – I know I can't change her decision… I will work toward moving on.
It seems that you've either experienced or are currently experiencing all of these aspects of grief.
Of course, you didn't expect your fiancée to break up with you just a few weeks before the wedding. When that happened, your feelings instantly changed from eager anticipation and joy, to disbelief and disappointment. Now you feel betrayed and you are probably wary about trusting again. These are also normal reactions to what happened, and at the same time they can complicate your healing process.
That's why we believe that there is nothing "wrong" with the way you're feeling right now, or with the fact that even though you would like to move forward, you feel stuck. We'd like you to understand that it will simply take more time for you to heal.
Four Steps to Moving On
We have the following suggestions that can help you function better while you are moving from grieving to healing:
(1) Even if you don't feel like dressing nicely, shaving, getting a haircut, and eating healthy meals, force yourself follow a regular personal care routine. People who neglect their personal care when they are feeling sad or depressed can actually feel worse. On the other hand, someone who dresses neatly and eats properly will feel there is some order to his life.
(2) Engage in some kind of regular exercise 4 or 5 times a week. This can be a 30-minute walk during lunch hour, a work-out at the gym, swimming, or even a dance class. Exercise releases endorphins, which help improve your mood, and has many obvious health benefits.
(3) Select two hobbies or activities you've enjoyed in the past and start doing them again. Singing in a choir; reading mysteries; delivering Meals on Wheels; going to a weekly Torah class; painting or drawing; joining a Scrabble club. Take your pick. You may have to force yourself to participate at first, but after a while you'll start to feel some benefits.
We have one caveat – don't use this as an opportunity to start some new hobby or project. It may be hard enough to get back into something you used to enjoy, but starting something new may be much more difficult and you may get discouraged.
(4) Work on minimizing the anger you feel. On one hand, anger is a normal emotion that many people experience after a major loss. At the same time, as you have suggested, excessive or prolonged anger gets in the way of healing and moving forward. Try to follow some of these suggestions to help you get over the anger you feel toward your former fiancée and her mother:
Express all of your angry feelings in a letter.
• Express all of your hurt and angry feelings in a letter to your former fiancée and in a letter to her mother. Don't hold back on the intensity of your emotions or your language - you don't have to be polite or politically correct. That's because these letters will never be sent - and you will probably destroy them once they have served their purpose of helping you vent the negative feelings you have been bottling up inside.
• Stop ruminating. Repetitive thoughts about the hurt they've caused and how you can get revenge by being the first to find a new love only feed your anger. We suggest allowing yourself 15 minutes a day to experience angry feelings and thoughts of revenge (e.g. between 3 and 3:15 in the afternoon). When you feel anger welling up at other times, push it away and tell yourself to wait until the designated time. Then, substitute a more neutral or positive thought in its place. This exercise really works and will help you feel much better during the course of a day.
• Change your angry thoughts. This may be the hardest suggestion to follow, because it encourages you to let go of angry feelings that may be serving a purpose for you. You might wonder how anger could serve a purpose, but it can. If you stay angry at your fiancée and her mother, you don't have to admit that there might have been some signs of problems before the break-up, or that even though you loved her dearly she may not have felt the same about you.
In the long term, looking at the situation from a different perspective can help you feel less angry and come to terms with it. For example, one way to look at your situation might be, "My fiancée couldn't move out of her mother's sphere of influence, and this is something that only became apparent to both of us when we started to plan a life together. Our marriage couldn't have survived her mother's over-involvement, even if I could have persuaded her to go through with the wedding. Perhaps it's a good thing this all blew up now.”
For most people, time does heal the painful aftermath of a loss. If you follow our advice, in a matter of weeks or months you will hopefully be feeling sad and depressed less often, and are able to function better in your everyday life. A time will come that, while you don't feel fully healed, you'll know that you are moving in that direction and you can see that the light at the end of the tunnel is not far away. When you get to the point, you can consider dating again. You don't have to be “fully healed" to start going out, but you should feel that most of the hard work is behind you. When you begin to date, please find a happily married person you trust to be your sounding board and mentor.
Most people whose engagement has been broken by the person they loved are able to heal over time and go on to have a happy life. We believe that you, too, will be able to work through this grief over time. Grief counselors can help those individuals who are stuck for an extended period, but right now, we believe that you don't need to go that route.
Rosie & Sherry