Raw Pain: When a Marriage Ends that You Don’t Want to End

I am fascinated by the words and metaphors poets and writers use to describe human emotion. Since college I have been a huge Bob Dylan fan, mainly because I love to get lost in the images he paints in his ballads, which so often are about sad characters telling tales of raw pain and regret. One of my favorites is found in the song, “You’re a Big Girl Now,” from the 1975 Blood on the Tracks album.  To me, no words better describe a person’s feelings of helplessness, despair and yes, I’ll say it again, raw pain, of when a spouse of many years decides to pull the plug on a marriage.

When Bob sings, “I’m going out of mind, oh, oh, with a pain that stops and starts, like a corkscrew to my heart,” I can say that I know what he’s talking about, and many of the men and women who come into my office facing similar situations do, too.
As a therapist, I often sit with these people as they feel that corkscrew through their heart, and wish that somehow I could reach over and surgically remove that pain, although I know I can’t. What I know is that people who are feeling like that are passing through a doorway that will take them to the five stages of grief, and over the next (at least) two years they will randomly pass through denial, bargaining, sadness and depression, anger and acceptance. And acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t feel the pain and hurt anymore, it just means you accept that the person is out of your life and isn’t coming back, so it’s going to be a tough road.

The only good thing I know about going through that process is that this sort of grief is what creates empathy and compassion. There is no way any of us can go through that sort of situation and not come out the other side a deeper, wiser, and more caring individual. I know in my case, after having gone through it, when I hear that anyone I know is getting a divorce, I always call the person frequently and invite him or her to get together – let’s go out, hang out, do something – even if it is just an acquaintance. I offer a safe place where they can talk about what they’re going through, and will never tell them to shut up, change the subject, let it go, or get over it.  I do that because no one knows like someone who has been there that a person whose spouse has left the marriage is experiencing loneliness to the 10th degree, and would be the first to let it go and get over it if only he or she could. These people need angels to reach out to them, and who don’t judge them for the sad state in which they find themselves.

Although I believe Bob Dylan is the master of describing the phenomenon we go through when a spouse leaves, I am wondering how those of you who have been through it would describe it. I also wonder how you got through it, and what words of wisdom you would say to those who will be entering through that doorway in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Here are the lyrics to Dylan’s song … what would be your lyrics?

You’re a Big Girl Now
by Bob Dylan

Our conversation was short and sweet.
It nearly swept me off-a my feet.
And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh,
And you are on dry land.
You made it there somehow
You’re a big girl now.

Bird on the horizon, sittin’ on a fence,
He’s singin’ his song for me at his own expense.
And I’m just like that bird, oh, oh,
Singin’ just for you.
I hope that you can hear,
Hear me singin’ through these tears.

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last.
I can change, I swear, oh, oh,
See what you can do.
I can make it through,
You can make it too.

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase,
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days.
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh,
In somebody’s room.
It’s a price I have to pay
You’re a big girl all the way.

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh,
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart.

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