How To Survive a Marriage Apocalypse

From a safe vantage point of The Other Side Of The Planet, I am beginning to take some time to process what I have been through. “Always Forward” has gotten me through the immediate aftermath of my marriage apocalypse, but the intention was never to ignore the past forever. In order to truly move forward, I need to face my fears and look back, to learn what I can from the wreckage.

When I do look back, the thing that stands out most is simply awe that I have survived.

I’ve had a lot of people telling me I’m “strong” or “brave” over the last few months since I shared my story. The truth is I don’t feel either of these things most moments of most days. But I am still alive. And so, in the hopes that my survival strategies might be of help to someone else, here is my idea (so far) of How To Survive a Marriage Apocalypse…

1. Get yourself to safety

The first step in any apocalypse scenario is to get away from imminent danger – whether from zombies or otherwise. In the relationship scenario this doesn’t necessarily or only mean if there is some kind of physical abuse/danger/altercation. In my case there thankfully was not, it was for the most part an “amicable” breakup, and due to certain circumstances (I was recovering from laser eye surgery and couldn’t go outside or look at screens or CRY, great timing eh) we continued living in the same apartment for a couple of weeks. And it was okay. Uncomfortable, awkward, painful, but okay. However, things changed rather abruptly and it became emotionally unsafe for me to be there, or to be really anywhere near him. I called a friend to rescue me in the middle of the night and got myself to safety. 

Step One: Get out of the burning building. Image credit: Dawn Armfield via Unsplash.


2. Find a mantra, or several mantras, to repeat when the shock / panic / pain / grief becomes unbearable.

A few of mine:

“Always Forward. Forward Always.” Every time I am tempted to look back, play the “if only” game, and drown in a sea of tears I repeat this.

“Even in a zombie apocalypse, there’s hope.” Every time I feel like there is no way out or I will be completely crushed and never recover I repeat this.

“I can only choose my choices. But I can choose my choices.” Every time I feel regret at the choices he has made to bring us to this point, or worried about what will happen to him, or wonder if there is anything more I could do for him, I repeat this. I can only choose my choices. Every time I feel helpless, or like there is nothing I can do, or like I have no control, I repeat this. I can choose my choices.


3. Give yourself (and others) something to look forward to.

Especially in the literal darkness of post-eye-surgery recovery, my mind was very quick to go to dark places. I had to give myself something to look forward to, something to focus on. So I decided to go to New Zealand and Australia. This ended up being dual purpose: it gave me something to look forward to, and it gave me something to talk about with other people that isn’t my shattered soul. Also, of course, it means I get to go on an adventure! Check out my new blog, Journey Towards The New, to see how my adventure is going (hint: awesomely).


4. Find a soundtrack that will help you through the hardest of times.

Once I could see my screen at least well enough to search YouTube and click on things, I began listening to several songs on repeat. For probably the first several weeks, I could not fall asleep without listening to this song several times in a row. I now have a playlist on my computer and on my phone that has become my soundtrack of survival.


5. Develop a Communications Strategy

This is not a joke! When and how you share this life-altering information with the people in your life is hugely important. If you change your Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated” or worse, be prepared, because your life is immediately going to get more complicated.

In my case I decided to wait until the initial laser eye surgery recovery was over and I was able to look at screens to share my story outside my immediate circle of support. I then shared with my parents, my coworkers (dear friends who were quite obviously worried about me but wise enough to know I would talk when I was ready), and a few other friends that I needed to rely on for immediate support, before writing and sharing my story with the wider world.

Writing and publishing this story was itself a huge part of the healing process for me, and it was important to me to share it in a way that was compassionate towards him but also honest. Having the story out in the open also allowed me to move on from it, and not fear repeating the same uncomfortable conversation every time I saw someone who hadn’t heard the news yet.

Get this in card form from Emily McDowell, she makes beautiful things!

6. Let people carry you.

One of my very first reactions when he broke up with me was one of intense fear: I don’t have any friends in Ottawa. There is no one to help me. But of course I did, and there was. I reached out – to a few people at first – and they scraped me up off the ground. Then I reached out to a few more, and eventually to everyone by publishing my story.

I am a pretty independent person, and at each step I have been tempted to say “I can do this myself. I don’t need to bother anyone to help me.” But people wanted to help. So I let them. And to be honest I couldn’t have done it myself. I needed them. I needed you.

And the outpouring of support I received from people in person, through phone and Skype conversations, in private messages, in blog comments and on social media has carried me through. You have carried me through – whether you helped me move boxes, had me over for dinner, spent time with me, offered me a place to stay, or simply left a supportive comment on my blog – you carried me.


7. Go to your happy places

I no longer had a place to call home, not really. So I went snowboarding. I went to a Christmas market. I went for a walk in the snow. I went to Uniqlo, my favourite store. I went to some awesome Japanese restaurants. I went to BC for a month to visit families I love in places I love. I went mini golfing.

All of these experiences brought so much healing. And I found the feeling of “home” again.

8. Take care of the crappy details as quickly as you can. Ask for help or moral support if needed.

You know the details I mean: Finances. Separating possessions. Insurance. Paperwork. Moving. And so on. The sooner you can get these things taken care of, the better.

It’s not easy. I sorted my clothes out of the dirty laundry basket. I had a friend walk with me to return my key to my landlord because… I just couldn’t do it alone. I had a whole bunch of friends help me pack up and move my life.

I can’t even imagine having to do this with kids… and I was one of those kids. But there’s really no point comparing hardships. This is my experience, and in my world, this was the hardest part:

Everything else pales in comparison to the pain of losing my bestest fur-buddy. Despite all his attempts to climb in my boxes… alas.

9. Find something that will help you keep your body and mind in check.

When I got back from my Christmas trip to BC and arrived at my new temporary home, I felt like I had just escaped a burning building. I was still coasting on the adrenaline of survival. I needed something to ground me, to make me focus, to help me take control of my self and my life. And also, counter-intuitively, to let go.

So I joined yoga.

Asides from a few one-offs, I’ve never really done yoga. I also have never been a morning person. But since joining Pure Yoga, up until leaving for my New Zealand trip, I went every single weekday at 6:30 in the morning. And sometimes even again later in the day. And the craziest part? I actually looked forward to it. I woke up before my alarm and ask “is it time for yoga yet?” And you better believe I brought my yoga mat with me to Down Under.

How did I transform into this crazy early-rising yoga addict? Yoga has given me a new kind of self-discipline. It has given me a way to be active. A way to be mindful of every thought. A way to take control of my body, and my mind. A way to balance. A way to let go.

Image credit: Dave Contreras via Unsplash

10. Begin the long process of rebuilding.

My counselor recommended a book called Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends. I got my own copy because the library had a super long wait list for their copies (sidenote: I am not alone). I’ve only just begun the journey, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a long, difficult, and completely worthwhile climb.


What survival strategies have gotten you through difficult times? What song or songs would be on your survival soundtrack? If you could escape to anywhere in the world, where would you go?

11 thoughts on “How To Survive a Marriage Apocalypse

  1. Great battles aren’t for great men, but great men are products of great battles. You are strong. Make it your daily mantra , “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

  2. Hey, sorry for what you went through. I’m praying for you. For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11.

  3. I’m full of respect and admiration for you, Janelle, for the grace with which you’ve responded to all that’s transpired in your life. There’s great wisdom here, and honesty, and vulnerability… and I believe you’re giving light and hope to others in a very dark place. I’m so thankful for the people who have walked with you. Sending you love. B&C

  4. Sometimes I am scared of what my future holds when I such realities as this. I love my wife and even when things seem heading south I sit back and I leave it whatever place fate takes us. But we have been together for a while and still soldiering on

  5. Well written and beautiful in its simplicity and directness. It is very touching and I can relate. I am working on my testimony too. It is my prayer that you will be sustained through this storm and come out victorious. I prayed for your healing. (((Hugs))) back!

  6. My mantra was count to 10. You can get through 10 seconds. Then if you’re still feeling helpless, count to 10 again. Repeat until it passes. And, I wanted to escape, but my situation was such that I couldn’t leave. So I escaped into making our house my home. It was hard. But the actions of remaking in part gave me the confidence to remake myself. Thank you for sharing. 😘

  7. Hi you don’t know me, but I experienced a divorce in 2011 that sounds like it had a lot of similarities, after one long, slow, soul-crushing, losing battle. Reading your words brings memories and all the feelings back, so my heart goes out to you. I do know how you’re feeling and have some idea what you’re going through. That said, I know everyone’s experience will be different, but for me the couple of years following the divorce were the best of my entire life. It was a like my own personal Renaissance and gave me new appreciation for life. In my current relationship, I’d be lying if I said I never get scared that history will repeat itself, but that’s the next step in the healing process I suppose – learning to trust both him and myself. Anyway I don’t mean to ramble, but just wanted to say that even though it still feels bad sometimes, it does get better and you’re off to an amazing start. Here’s to countless lovely, amazing and life-affirming adventures for you. 🙂

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