“When we first broke up, there were times I heard a car outside and thought, ‘Maybe he has come back to say he’s changed his mind.’ I kept hoping that he’d realise what he was throwing away. That’s the hardest part, the loss of my family. I’ve not just lost my partner and husband, but the entire base is gone. In the beginning, I found it hard to enjoy my alone time with the kids, because I preferred parenting together. But now I feel like, ‘Okay, I can do this alone too.’ And I know that V and I are better off apart. I’ve seen such an awful side of him. I guess it goes both ways – we’ve long forgotten who we were when we were happy together.”
“As part of my studies in Italian language and literature, I spent a semester in Sienna. That’s where I met V, who was studying at the same university. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight for me, but we had common ground and being with him felt natural. When my Eramus stay ended, we did one semester of long distance dating before he joined me in Belgium. We were young and things went fast, but I never questioned the steps we took. It wasn’t a topic of discussion that he’d move. He’s from one of the poorest regions in Italy and knew he wouldn’t go back to live there. Once he was in Belgium, I noticed a shift in our pattern: while he took more care of me in Sienna, we gradually changed roles. He had a bit of a temper as well. Nobody’s perfect, so I adapted. When we got married after seven years of dating, I said ‘yes’ with all my heart.
Change on different fronts
While I was pregnant with our daughter, my father was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors said it wasn’t curable, but I don’t think I really processed that part. I’m an optimistic person and kept hoping that one of the treatments would work. V and I enjoyed the pregnancy and took care of all preparations together, but there was always this kind of shadow hovering over the experience. My dad passed away when my daughter was five weeks old. He has left a huge void – our family is no longer the same. Until that turning point, I’d had a carefree life. Everything had gone smoothly. But at that moment, so much started to change.
I struggled with my transition into motherhood. It felt like I had lost control of my life, with everything revolving around the baby. My new responsibility overwhelmed me. In hindsight, I might have taken it too seriously. Now I see you can be a mother and fulfill other roles at the same time, but back then, I felt trapped. I didn’t sleep well either. The first three months after my daughter was born, I got three hours of rest a night. I battled with insomnia for a long time. I admit I lost track of V sometimes. Working on our relationship wasn’t my priority in the midst of chaos. He felt like I took control of the way we raised our daughter, while I thought he didn’t take the initiative. After my father died, I had no desire to spend time or energy on his anger fits. The fact he’s never been a talker and hides his feelings made it more complicated. But we continued spending time together and after a year and a half, decided to go for another baby.
Keeping the faith
The last months of my second pregnancy, I started to notice more distance between us. We went to Italy on a family vacation and I almost had to force him to spend time alone with me. A week later, I asked him how he felt about our relationship. He said he thought things weren’t going well, but we’d work on it once the baby phase was over. His words didn’t sit well with me, but I never doubted his commitment. I trusted him wholeheartedly. We did argue regularly. He’d take what I said in a bad way and instigate fights. It was like he wasn’t behaving like himself. And yet, my determination to fight for our relationship and our family never wavered.
At the end of January, he came home after a week away for work. We’d had friends over that evening, our daughter was already in bed. I don’t recall what he said exactly, but he wasn’t feeling well. Eventually I asked him if he still loved me. ‘I’m not sure. Or I don’t think so, I don’t feel it anymore.’ My world came crashing down. It was an answer I hadn’t seen coming. I remember I told him the next morning, ‘I feel like I’ve lost you already.’ But even though things didn’t look good, I kept believing it was a crisis that we’d get through. I wanted to focus on our baby’s arrival and take it from there. We’d spend more time together once our son was born. And who knew, maybe we’d grow closer again.
Shaken to the core
Alexander was born at the end of February. V was with me during the delivery. The plan was for him to stay overnight in the hospital, just like he did the first time. I noticed he was absent, spending so much time on his phone. Then he told me he didn’t feel well and would go home to sleep. I’d been the one in labour all night and was much more tired – but I didn’t argue. I let him go because I wanted to give him his space.
Once I returned home, he did his best to support me with the baby. When our son was five days old, we took him out together while our daughter was at daycare. It went well, although it felt a bit uncomfortable. In the evening, my sisters came over for dinner and a baby visit. That’s when he said, ‘We need to talk.’ He took me upstairs and dropped the bomb: ‘I can’t pretend anymore. I want us to break up now.’ The shock and the pain, I can’t describe them. I remember when I’d just had my firstborn and my father was dying, I often thought, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ Again I found myself with a newborn baby in my arms, wondering, ‘How on earth am I going to manage this?’
A new reality
Despite his decision, we continued living in the house together. With two small children, I was too dependent on him to leave. He’d taken up a new hobby and went to play golf from time to time. I thought it was strange, because he’d never shown interest before, but I let it slide. Two weeks after our son was born, he went out for a colleague’s birthday party. The children and I slept at my mum’s house, because I didn’t feel comfortable being alone. The next day, he told me he had too much work and urged me to stay with my mum another night. But when I came home after two nights away, I noticed he hadn’t been there at all. I was hysterical. I immediately called him at work and demanded he explain where he’d been. He eventually came home, because I was so upset. That’s when he told me he’d had a one night stand with someone he’d met at that birthday party. Another wave of shock, anger and sadness ran through my body.
When we went to see our life coach, a habit we’d taken up after our son was born, he read me a letter. He wanted to explain what had happened with that other woman. And then he simply said it hadn’t been a one night stand. He’d been friends with this colleague, a lady in her fifties, for a while and they’d developed a bond of trust. He didn’t use those exact words, but he confessed they were in love. We’d been together for eleven years, and he closed his half-page letter off with a silly, ‘I hope we remain friends.’ It felt so impersonal and ridiculous.
Right around that time, the first lockdown started. He wanted me to stay at my mother’s during the week, while he worked from home. We arranged to live in the house together on the weekends, so he could see the kids. In the beginning, I was under the illusion he was at home, but it quickly became clear he wasn’t. I couldn’t stop him. It was the worst thing, having to be around him on the weekends while he was on the phone with his new girlfriend. The whole experience was just awful, I have no idea how I managed. That situation lasted three stressful months before we switched to a 50-50 arrangement. We each had the children half of the time, and whoever took care of them stayed in the house. Seven months later, after I’d bought his share, V officially moved out.
My grieving process is ongoing. I’m still trying to find a balance in a life I didn’t anticipate. It’s hard to give V a new place in it. If there were no kids involved, I think I wouldn’t have anything to do with him anymore. I refuse to go inside his house, because I can’t handle it. There’s a difference between knowing things and actually seeing them. But we call often. We both feel the need to talk about the children, and the only one who’s as interested in them is the other parent. We decide everything together. He tries his best, because he feels guilty. I know that for sure. When I hear his voice, it still sounds so familiar. And yet, the one person I trusted the most caused me so much pain. When I was at my weakest, bringing his child into the world, he stabbed me in the back. More than one lie eventually came to the surface. Like the receipt I found from the restaurant where he went for dinner the night Alexander was born.
When we first broke up, there were times I heard a car outside and thought, ‘Maybe he has come back to say he’s changed his mind.’ The hope that he’d realise what he was throwing away lingered. That’s the hardest part, the loss of my family. I’ve not just lost my partner and husband, but the entire base is gone. I used to travel to Italy three times a year – it was my second home. His family had become mine. And it’s not an easy or ideal situation for the kids either, having to miss one parent and moving around all the time. It’s not what I wished for them. In the beginning, I found it hard to enjoy my alone time with them. I missed them when they weren’t around, but I didn’t like parenting alone either. But I’ve to come to terms with it. I feel like, ‘Okay, I can do this alone too.’ And I know now that V and I are better off apart. I’ve seen such an awful side of him. I guess it goes both ways – we’ve long forgotten who we were when we were happy together.
Lost and found
If I could offer advice to someone in a similar situation, I’d recommend a good support system. I still visit the life coach we started seeing when things got rocky, because it helps me to look at things from a different perspective. And however hard the situation gets, remember that you can learn things about yourself and grow as a person. You’re much stronger than you think you are. As for me, I’ve learned that relationships are way more fragile than I imagined. My parents were happily married, and their connection nourished my belief that once you commit, it’s forever. I don’t take it for granted anymore.
Both times I gave birth, I lost so much. I hope I’ve had my share now, we’ll see. At the same time, this whole ordeal has opened up new perspectives. And sometimes I wonder, ‘Who knows what’s yet to come?’ Maybe in five years time, I’ll be much happier than I ever was and look differently at what happened. Honestly, as long as my kids are happy and healthy, I know I can deal with everything else. They’re my biggest blessing.”