|The boys and I in 2009 (our first post-divorce holiday card )|
How do you know when you marriage is over?
I stared at the text for a few minutes -- my finger poised to type back an answer.
Is this your marriage we’re talking about, I type back finally? Or someone else’s?
This is such a tender, personal subject. Anything that smacks of advice as a response feels wrong to me. I have learned to try not to give out my opinion when it comes to anyone’s relationship — even when it’s asked for (sometimes ESPECIALLY when its asked for). There is no triumph in this kind of counsel. If they take your advice and leave their marriage/situation — you’ve had a hand in helping to end someone’s relationship. If they don’t take your advice and stay the marriage, then they know how you really feel about their relationship and it could drive a wedge between you and your friend (and possibly their significant other).
Even still, every time I am asked this question I’m bursting with all of the things that I’ve been thinking, but never fixed my mouth to say.
Girl, he’s not trying to change! But if he were to ever change, it certainly wouldn’t be because of you.
No, it's not normal that he’s stopped being affectionate after ten years of marriage. Don’t let anybody tell you that sh$# is okay.
What?!? And you believed him?? Girl, please stop painting your red flags green! There is NO WAY that man isn’t seeing someone else.
I could go on and on. I watch my friends enter and endure really brutal relationships where no one ever seems happy for more than a few days or weeks at a time. And yet, during those “happy” times, they all seem to conveniently forget all of the excruciating the pain and discomfort that they’ve JUST suffered through. I find that these otherwise, strong, powerful, independent women are suddenly clinging to their marriage like the drowning clings to a life raft.
NO! I will NEVER let go of it (him)!
These women use "banking words" like investment and failure when the subject of divorce comes up. And if they are anywhere near my age they’ll tearfully ponder the challenges (and humiliations) of being single again:
I’ll have to start DATING?!?! Oh my God! What if no one else ever wants me?!
No one else has seen me naked in years! I might need a whole body lift!
I’ll have to learn how to use those dating apps. What if no one swipes right for me?
And if there are children, the conversation takes a more serious, desperate tone.
Two houses?! Two Thanksgivings?! No way. I Will NOT do that to my kids!
Statistically, divorce rates are dropping. As recently as ten years ago, it was widely reported that half of all US marriages ended in divorce. But as of 2016, Time Magazine reported that divorce rates DROPPED for the third year in a row, reaching its lowest point in nearly 40 years. Breitbart News (yes, I know, I know) announced this year, that marriages are on the uptick — reporting the “good news!” that 2015s marriage rate of 32.3 (per 1000 unmarried women) is the highest rate since 2009.
But this “good news” hasn’t really spread here to my corner of the world. In fact, I would venture to say that I had more friends get divorced in the last five years than married. But in 2008, when we told our friends (quietly and one at a time) that we were getting divorced, I was a taken aback when someone gasped while placing her hand over her heart, shaking her head woefully:
"NO! Not you two! But he's such a good guy, Laura. What happened??"
and then another I told, (no gasp, but instant, tear-filled eyes)
"Laura, what about your kids?! Are you thinking about them?"
Of course I was thinking about my kids. Toward the end of my marriage, I realized that I had been enduring my way through most days instead of living them. I was getting by, but just. I hated the idea that I was modeling this for my children. I was showing them what marriage looked like. What LOVE looked like.
They deserve better than that.
He deserves better than that.
I deserve better than that.
And yes it was true (what my well-intentioned but also kind of insensitive friends said): I was in fact married to a good man (and a great father). But the other fact was that we had grown apart. And still another fact was this: I just wasn't happy.
But so what?!? Isn't this part of marriage too? Isn't this why you take vows? Because rough waters lie ahead and you'll never make it through them if there is no real obligation to stay? Shouldn't I just keep my mouth shut and make the best of it?
What's that expression? Women SHOULD all over themselves?
Okay then, SHOULD I "power through" what might be a "rough patch" and stay until... (When? Death parts us? Do we really need to go that far?)
See, it was just that our "rough patch" had lasted for almost five years. He was directing movie after movie and I was "boots on the ground" for our two sons who I shuttled back and forth between basketball, fencing, ed-therapy appointments, tutors and play-dates. He and I would arrive home at different times, thoroughly exhausted (him starving for a dinner that I forgot to prepare and me full from the Koo Koo Roo Chicken that I had scarfed down between soccer and after-school-enrichment-pick up). Each of us were wound tight with a desperate need to be seen and heard. Both of us self-righteously-seeking solace and sympathy from the other. Eventually, even the telling of the goings on in our respective days became a kind of not-so-subtle competition.
"Oh, you think your day was long? Let me tell you what I had to sit through today..."
After a while, my pills had become my preferred source of comfort. I just felt so helpless as he and drifted further and further apart. There were so many times when I wanted to walk in to whatever room he was sitting in/sleeping in and just SHOUT:
"What are we doing?!"
"Where did this huge space between us come from?"
"How do we stop it from getting bigger? Do we even want to anymore?!"
The persistent thought of leaving my marriage was like a knife jammed in between my ribs. My pills and alcohol dulled the pain for a while, but eventually they just made everything worse. I was at an impasse. I felt myself slipping into quicksand.
A voice in my head cried out -- “Divorce? How can you even think about divorce? You’re pathetically SELFISH and WEAK. Think about your kids."
Okay then, how can I know if I’m doing the right thing? I mean, how do you know when your marriage is over?
But here’s the thing; Divorce is really hard and heartbreaking. Divorce brings out the absolute worst in people. Divorce divides families and severs friendships. And just the idea of my kids packing their stuff in a backpack to go from my house to their dad’s brought easy tears my eyes.
So yes, divorce is something to be afraid of.
But that’s it, isn’t it? Is it okay to stay in a marriage simply because you are afraid of getting divorced?
For me, that was question asked and answered.
If I am staying in my marriage mainly because I am just too afraid of what happens when I leave it, then I am making maybe the biggest decision of my life based on FEAR.
Fu#% Everything And Run
False Evidence Appearing Real
Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality
Face Everything And Rise...
So I admitted to myself that I was stuck — paralyzed with fear. And once more, I was in this state primarily because I was too scared of not having a guarantee of "comfort" if I left my marriage.
Am I really still in this just because I’m too scared to be:
Old and alone
And am I really still in this because I’m too afraid of the pain of missing my kids on the weekends?
And then the answer kept coming back “YES”
* * *
So that, my friend, is and was the answer to your question.
I knew my marriage was over when I admitted to myself that I was staying in it out of fear.
But I don't know what your marriage looks behind closed doors. I don't know how you feel when you hear him come home after work. I don't know how you feel when he leaves for the day (or night). I don't want give you cause to blame him or yourself. Sometimes no one is to blame. Sometimes time just erodes the marriage away, like waves pushing a rock-cliff further from the shore.
I hope you can ask yourself, "Am I staying with this man because I am happy with him? Because I can be my authentic self with him? Because I love and accept him just as he is right now?"
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then my opinion is that you have something too valuable to throw away because of a few petty arguments, a suspicious mind or a bruised ego.
That's right, I'm rooting for your marriage, my friend. Just because mine ended, that doesn't mean I'm the "Divorce Cheerleader" now, waving my pompoms at everyone who comes across the "divorce finish line."
Whoo girl! You MADE it! Hooray!!! D. I. V. O. R. C. E. !!!
And I'm not only rooting for your marriage, I'm rooting for you — I want you to be able to choose the possibility of happiness — whatever that looks like. And if you aren't happy, if my story can spare you even one or two of the years of pain that I endured before I could come to the truth about myself, then I am happy to have shared it with you.
If anyone you know is struggling with this painful question, please share this blog with them. Sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is to say, "You're not alone."