Phantom Marriage Syndrome: Lingering Effects of Divorce

Love’s not a faucet you can turn off because suddenly the water is polluted.  Intellectually, especially after betrayal,  you may seek a separation or divorce; but, emotionally, you’re still connected.  It’s like phantom limb syndrome.  The leg was gangrenous, but it’s hard to see it go.  Then, for months or years, you have phantom limb syndrome.  You believe you still feel your absent leg, even to the point of sensing pain.

I think there may be phantom marriage syndrome, when you know what you have to do but it’s painful, and almost too hard to comprehend.  So, after you’ve acted, the mind hangs on, unwilling to give up or believe it’s lost something so precious.  The deeply ingrained neural pathways, burned over many years, are loath to go unused.  Until you create new ones, and they become entrenched, the old ones will predominate, producing flashes of emotion.  Love is typically the recurring feeling, and it may trigger a tsunami of grief. This would be OK, as long as you didn’t succumb to second-guessing yourself; but, accessing all those loving memories (even the worst marriages have some wonderful aspects to them, as nothing and no one is all bad) is likely to create a mother lode of cognitive dissonance and ambivalence.  I believe this happens because the new neural pathways are in their infancy and simply not yet strong enough to compete with the old ones.  But, whatever the reason, it’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without necessarily acting on it.

Once again, allowing is the key concept.  Ride your feelings like a wave, and watch them recede. In time, you will accumulate enough new experiences to override the old ones.  They’ll never be completely gone because neural pathways don’t evaporate into thin air, but they will lose much of their power.  Since they still lurk in the recesses of your mind, they can be activated with the right provocation, like an adult child’s wedding or birth of a grandchild.  On those occasions it’s important to make sure you’re acting in your best long-term interests.  This may seem like a Herculean task, but it will get easier with time because every day you’re building emotional muscle.  Whenever you practice thinking and acting differently you get a little stronger.  Eventually, what you’ve had to concentrate on becomes second nature.  That’s when phantom marriage syndrome ceases to be a problem, and true acceptance rules the day.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.