Finding shock messages on her husband’s phone was the start of months of hell for Rosie Green. She reveals how, as their relationship fell apart, she found her way back from desperation to hope.
This is the story of heartbreak. Of how my marriage collapsed and life as I knew it ended. It is also the story of how I pieced my life and my heart back together. It is not about scoring points with my ex; there’s no spite or desire for revenge. The route from rock bottom to redemption is about the broken-hearted, not the breaker of hearts.
My husband and I met when we were 18 years old. In an attempt to create the security and nuclear family I craved as a child after my own parents’ separation,
I went for the strongest, steadiest, most moral man I could find. A man that loved me a little more than I did him. I thought that would keep us safe. I was wrong.
We’d had two children and been married for 15 years when I found the messages on his phone that caused my world to implode. Our break-up was not straightforward. It began in August and unravelled over nearly five months.
During those months, my husband (I’ll refer to him as X) oscillated between telling me he was committed to making it work and then telling me it was broken. There were reconciliations, and we went to counselling, where X told me, more than once, that he wasn’t leaving for anyone else. He said he just didn’t love me in ‘that way’ any more. Some days I didn’t want to go on. By the time he finally left, I was a desperate woman who was prepared to sacrifice anything to keep my family together.
Heartbreak happens every day, but it doesn’t happen to you every day. It manifests itself physically. It can trigger muscle weakness, exhaustion and insomnia. And sometimes make you feel like you are going to die. I hope by sharing my story, talking honestly about the stages of heartbreak and about being dumped, rejected, left, abandoned and my subsequent road to recovery, I can help others see there is a path through the pain. One that, believe it or not, will make you a stronger person.
It’s 7.30am, 2 August 2018. Our 15th wedding anniversary. X’s new work phone is charging. It sits on the kitchen work surface, its green light flashing malevolently.
I’ve never, ever looked at his phone without his knowledge, not once. But I’ve had an unfamiliar unease in the past month, so I type in X’s code. It’s the code he uses
for everything and has done for all of the 26 years we’ve been together. It doesn’t work. I feel a knot of dread.
‘Can I look at your phone?’ I ask X.
I see panic flash across his face.
‘I’d like to see how a Galaxy phone works,’ I say with faux nonchalance. ‘What’s the code?’
As he tells me and I type it in, I notice he is shaking.
I see he has WhatsApp. I didn’t know he had WhatsApp.
I click on to the messages and read them. I feel stunned, sick, desperate. I run into the garden. I shout for him to follow me.
I punch him in the chest. Hard.
I had no idea my husband was unhappy – and the revelation came as a shock to my family and friends, too.
The pain is indescribable and yet to the outside world you bear no scars. It is almost inconceivable that others can’t see your misery because it feels physical. It feels more debilitating than any other emotion I have ever experienced.
I knew that I should end it, but I couldn’t bear to. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted.
Rejection and irrationality
At the core of my break-up pain was rejection. He didn’t want me. It was rejection that made me sob in the shower, turning up the pressure so the kids couldn’t hear my desperate gasps.
I couldn’t believe the way I was behaving, but I was floored by this stranger I’d known for decades. Like when X arrived back from three nights sleeping at the office and I met him at the station. He was irritated by this and looked at me so coldly, I couldn’t believe this was the same man.
Suddenly I irritated him. Repulsed him. He wouldn’t kiss me on the lips and he didn’t want to sleep in our bed. He seemed to have zero empathy for my pain. Only irritation. He stayed out for nights on end and those nights were the worst
of my life. He said his main reason for leaving was that I was controlling, but I hadn’t heard him use that word before. Was I controlling?
I felt like he’d been body-snatched. When the person you trust implicitly, the person who is the emergency contact number in your passport, the person who held your hand as your babies were being delivered, refuses to be straight with you, it fractures everything you believe in. It makes you feel like you are going crazy. I went to bed thinking about him. Woke up thinking about him. Craved his reassurances desperately.
In the early stages, your brain seems to actively sabotage your recovery. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, whose TED talks on love get millions of views, says that the irony of being dumped is that you want to forget the person, but the rejection makes you love them harder than ever.
I know this to be 100 per cent true.
When it comes to rock bottom, this is it. This is the stage when the flame of hope isn’t wholly extinguished. The truth became distorted by my desperation to believe what he was telling me.
There was one story that played over and over in my mind in the denial phase of my break-up: he needs to work late and to stay at the office overnight. The power balance in our relationship has tipped so completely in his favour, I no longer feel I can risk voicing my angst. I can’t sleep and it’s torture. I want to reach out for reassurance, but I know it will irritate him. At 6am, I try to call him. His phone is off. He had said he would leave it on. I remembered hearing about a friend who had tracked their husband’s phone. I’m shaking. I have never, ever done anything like this before.
The arrow drops down with offensive ease and clarity. It seems to indicate that his phone is not at his office but instead across London.
At 7am, he answers. He says he is at his office. I try desperately to believe him. I check again but it stays the same. I finally get through to him again. I feel so deranged I ask X to take pictures of his office. He sends through pictures that to me could or could not be his office. His face is grey and grim. I say that I am sorry.
Phones can tell untruths. But so can people. I was a ball of paranoia and doubt. You want to tear at your skin, pull at your hair and claw at your face. ‘Could he lie?’ I asked my friends, incessantly. ‘Could he?’
X told me it was controlling of me to question him. He told me that tracking his phone was unforgivable. And that I betrayed his trust. Some of this was true, obviously. Maybe all of it was true? The tracking of your husband’s iPhone is not acceptable behaviour.
But, at the same time, somewhere I knew that it was the understandable behaviour of a woman whose trust in her husband had been nuked. We lose our rational self, don’t we? I knew somewhere, in the grand scheme of things, that the betrayal of tracking someone’s whereabouts would be a petty offence in comparison to some betrayals. But I was so entrenched in denial and my conviction that I could make our relationship work that I found myself begging for his forgiveness.
Trying to keep someone in a relationship when they want out is a desperation like no other. You find yourself scrabbling to create some kind of connection – even an argument is better than being ignored.
I even begged. I came back from a friend’s house, where I’d been for a birthday dinner. I didn’t want to go because the only time I felt OK was when I was close to him, but he didn’t want me close to him. When I got home, he had gone to bed in the spare room. We had never, ever slept in separate beds in the 26 years we had been together. I pleaded with him to come back. He was cold and angry. He wanted space, but I couldn’t deal with that, so I climbed in with him. He went downstairs to the sofa and I followed him there, like a dog.
‘Please tell me you love me,’ I begged him, any game face dissolved in an acid bath of desperation. He turned his back on me. I tried to act like I was cool with the fact that he was at best indifferent and at worst 100 per cent over our marriage.
Desperation affects you physically. I had heart palpitations, headaches, shaking. My hair came out in clumps and I lost weight, dramatically. The medics call it trauma-accelerated weight loss. One morning, a few months in, I decided to get on the scales. The old me would only ever have done this in the morning, having not eaten anything for 12 hours and having been to the bathroom first. I looked down at the dial: 8st 2lb. This is 26lb below my usual weight of 10st.
It is not politically correct to say so but a part of me liked my new body. My frail state meant that people wanted to take care of me. And my skinny wrists and protruding clavicles seemed to be the only arrow that could pierce my husband’s hardening heart. But you can’t function like this. Desperation is the opposite of strong.
Faced with rejection and disrespect, I hoped I’d be fiery and resolute. Surely anger was my right and privilege as the spurned spouse? But no. He was the one who was furious: red-faced, clenched-fist furious. He was furious about everything as our relationship crumbled. Furious that, in his eyes, I’d overspent and under-contributed. Furious about my bad dishwasher stacking. I ironed his shirts (even though I’d never ironed his shirts) and he was furious I hadn’t done them properly and said it was worse than if I hadn’t tried. He shouted and swore. I hung my head and couldn’t understand how I’d become this woman. How he’d become this man.
Even the counselling became about what I’d done wrong and how I was going to correct my mistakes. How I was going to change. I was constantly apologising for my errors. Of course, I accept my behaviour hadn’t been perfect, but I should have battled my corner. I couldn’t. Instead I accepted each criticism, absorbing it like a punchbag. The more angry he got, the more submissive and pleading I became. My anger never matching his, I gave up trying.
Acceptance and strength
You don’t want to accept this is the end. You don’t want to accept that they can be happy without you. But you need to find your strength. I had all but lost my strength in the fear and bargaining and magical thinking. But a flash of it came back at Christmas. It had been four months and I was still hoping for a miracle. Hoping that we would get the tree together. That we could be a family. Then, on 22 December, X told me it was over for good. But he said we should still have Christmas at home for the kids and his parents. I can’t do it, I told him. He told me I was selfish. This was a major turning point for me. Finally my anger kicked in. He was leaving me, blowing up our lives, yet I was to blame?
Before, when he said outrageous things, I didn’t challenge him because I thought if I did he’d walk out. Well, I realised that day, he was going to walk out anyway. In that moment something clicked. Up until that point, I was invested in making it work. Now I was set on survival. For myself. For my children. I decided to take the kids to my cousin’s in Devon, throwing everything into the car as fast as I could before I could change my mind. X didn’t try to change my mind. He watched as we pulled away. We sobbed. Me and the children. I won’t ever know if he sobbed. If your heart is broken, hear this: you will find your strength. And you will be stronger and more beautiful for having been broken apart.
Rosie’s six steps to recovery:
On one of my lowest days, I drove to divorce coach Sara Davison’s house and told her my tale, in between sobs. Here’s how her practical advice helped me…
- Create a mental stop sign and pull it out when you are about to go down that rabbit hole of stalking.
- Exercise. Why? Because it’s hard to focus on murderous/agonising thoughts when your lungs feel like the GB weightlifting team is sitting on your chest.
- Distract yourself with whatever works. For me this is listening to The Archers (did I just admit that publicly?), watching a romcom or sharing a bottle of medicinal rosé with mates.
- Stop romanticising. Take off the rose-tinted glasses – which your brain really wants you to keep on – and list all the things you really don’t like about your ex. The way they shovelled in their food like a half-starved boar at a trough or left their toenail clippings on the side of the bath.
- Steer clear of avoidance tactics. Partying, overexercising, working 24/7 or drinking won’t help with recovery. In fact, lack of sleep, or using alcohol and drugs, can lead to depression and actually worsen negative feelings.
- And don’t sleep with the gardener/ school dad who has always had the hots for you, however tempting!
This is an edited extract from Rosie’s book How to Heal a Broken Heart (Orion, £14.99*)