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When Your Disaffected Ex-Husband Commits Suicide...

08 May

Hello, I'm trying to deal with the suicide of my ex-husband.  I am not sure if I should feel guilty for this, as I do not feel I handled some things very well toward the end of our marriage.

I am unsure of why he did go away, but then not long after, his brother-in-law told me he had taken his own life. 

This is a difficult situation to deal with.

Thank you for your advice.

Kind regards,

Dear Alice,

Please accept my sincere condolences. There’s nothing harder than coping with the suicide of a loved one - and that includes an ex-loved one.  Any kind of permanent, irretrievable loss through death is hard enough, but with suicide, there’s the added burden of implied (or sometimes explicit) reproach… that terrible feeling of

  • Is this my fault?
  • Should I have seen this coming?
  • How could I have not known things were this bad?
  • Why did he do it?

And there’s of course the inevitable replaying of the last few times you saw or spoke to this person, knowing what you know now, and trying to catch up cognitively on what his mental and emotional state must have truly been like. With suicide, we caste extra meaning and importance to those last interactions we had with this person - and we’re stuck with them, precisely because these were the last times.
There’s also the burden of helpless fury at the finality of the choice he made and your inability to do anything thing about it.  It feels like the ultimate, punishing kiss-off.

Between the anger and the guilt, you’re between a rock and a hard place.

And sometimes people will try to defer the pain of the self-recrimination and guilt they feel by trying to reroute the blame elsewhere - blaming the person who killed himself or another key person in the picture.  It’s why so many marriages undergo enormous strain after a kid commits suicide.  It’s only a very strong, self-aware couple that can get beyond that sand trap of a temptation.

The thing is, Alice, it’s human nature to be semi-conscious about our impact on others, to take them somewhat for granted, to be less than wonderful in our day-to-day dealings with them.  But most of the time, even when we’ve acted like a serious jerk, we get a chance to undo, renegotiate and make up for our imperfect actions and reactions.  Not so with suicide.  With suicide, we’re left holding the emotional bag.

The only good question that can come out of this is the one that asks “What could I have done differently?”  As long as you can ask it without pounding yourself into the ground, and with an eye to how you can change and grow regarding other relationships that you can actually do something about, this can be a great area of exploration.  If you can learn something useful about yourself from this sad and terrible event, then that’s something.  Certainly if you can forgive yourself for whatever your real or imagined contributions were to his misery, you can forgive him for making this choice.  Ultimately, it was his decision to do this, and he is responsible for it. But it usually takes some time to arrive at some peace about this.

What could be useful?
Well, for starters, if you can find one, there’s nothing like being with other suicide survivors in a support group formed just for that purpose.  The commonality is so strong, that the bonds forged are very strong, comforting and sustaining.

Maybe you could try our Ease Grief imagery; our Heartbreak and Abandonment imagery; or our Healing Trauma imagery.

This wouldn’t be a bad time to see a counselor, to have a neutral, compassionate sounding board to help you sort out all the feelings and reactions you have to be experiencing - about the whole relationship.

And a technique called Intensive Journaling could be very helpful for this.  It’s a method developed by a Jungian psychologist named Ira Progoff, where you write dialogues, back and forth, between you and the other person.  What’s kind of amazing about this protocol (and there are very specific steps to it, to set it up properly) is that it takes on a life of its own, and reading it over later, you really feel like you actually talked to this other person, because it sounds and feels just like them.  It’s a sense of getting very real answers.  For these unresolved, ambiguous suicide deaths, I highly recommend this process.  You can find it carefully described in his landmark book, At a Journal Workshop. And an organization called Dialogue House is carrying on his work these days.
I hope this helps.

All best wishes to you,


Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award