Private lives

Friday October 25, 2002
The Guardian

My brother's wife left him after 33 years. She asked for a divorce but wants to wait a year before selling the house, etc. He found the split hard to accept and has suffered bouts of depression, feeling suicidal at times. He has had counselling and medication. His two adult children are indifferent and his only two supports, me (his sister) and another sibling, both live abroad. He devoted his life to his family and is desperately lonely. How can I encourage him to accept the situation, go forward and learn to enjoy life again?

He will feel better
It is so difficult to convince someone in this situation that it will get better; I know how hard it was to accept the same drastic change in my life. I went through much the same thing. I had planned suicide down to the last detail. I argued that people with very limited physical lives were sympathised with when they wished to die, so why couldn't I? Now, nearly a year later, I don't recognise the person I was then.

It gets better. It feels better and the one thing that helped was knowing that I was performing to a script that so many had followed before me. What I was doing and thinking was a "normal" reaction. The following is an extract from Men Behaving Sadly on the the Royal College of Psychiatrists website, which you cand find at

"Men are around three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Suicide is commonest amongst men who are separated, widowed or divorced and is more likely if someone is a heavy drinker. Over the last few years, men have become more likely to kill themselves, particularly those aged between 16 and 24 years and those between 39 and 54 years. We don't yet know why this should be so, but it is very worrying.

"We do know that two out of three people who kill themselves have seen their GP in the previous four weeks and nearly one in every two will have done so in the week before they kill themselves. We also know that about two out of three people who kill themselves will have talked about it to friends or family."

Your brother needs to believe that it gets better. There is nothing else to offer beyond that. This last year has been awful for me, but I am through it and I never believed I could ever feel any different. There is no learning process, it is simply realising that you can come out of it and become a better person. The moods pass and days not only become easier to handle, but actaully become enjoyable.
Name and address withheld

Cut the cord quickly
My husband left me earlier this year for another woman with whom he had been having an affair. We had been married for 10 years and I was devastated - I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing a marriage that had lasted 33 years.

I soon realised that if I was going to get over him, I should institute divorce proceedings as soon as possible. Your brother's wife may want to delay things, but why should he? I realised that I had to rebuild my life and move on, and getting the divorce out of the way would help that. I did say to my husband during the divorce that he could come back at any time and I would stop the proceedings. However, he did not and we are now divorced. I regret the divorce, but I am pleased it is over and I can move on to new challenges and enjoy life again. I also found that keeping busy was essential in order to begin getting over what had happened - and good friends and family were crucial to that.

I do not know if I will ever completely get over my divorce, but to use the old cliche, time is a healer - there is a life out there for your brother - and maybe someone waiting to share it with him again.
Name and address withheld

Be bold
You do not say how recently your brother's wife left him, but I suspect it has not been long. Time definitely brings changes where counselling and medication have possibly failed. I have been alone for 20 years since my wife left, taking three youngish children. It was almost too painful to bear, and for some time after. But there is life after divorce.

Friends, and some relationships, have been my lifeline, but must be sought out and worked at. I am not a "joiner", so clubs, dating agencies etc were uncomfortable sources of support, but they may appeal to your brother. The workplace can be a good strength. Above all though, I needed contact with, and love from, my family.

Though my daughter rejected me, my two sons have been the source of my strength to carry on, together with loving support from my wider family.

Encourage your brother to like himself again; go boldly into friendships and relationships, get out, laugh, cry, hug, travel, and enjoy time with his children. Perhaps he can stay some time in a loving home abroad with you or your other sibling.

One life, carpe diem. Love is the only engine of survival.
Name and address withheld

Turn to the web
After my husband died, I found that email was a great way to communicate with people all over the world (especially when I couldn't sleep). There are newsgroups for every imaginable interest. Saga has an excellent website with members' interest lists for finding like-minded people to correspond with. There's no need to meet anyone if you don't want to.
Name and address withheld

Next week

I am happily married with a young family. Over the past few months I have formed a strong friendship with a colleague, who is also married with children. Our feelings for one another are growing, but our relationhip is not sexual. I am not sure what to do. I don't want to split up two families or be unfaithful to my husband, but I love this man and want him to remain in my life. How can this be possible?

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