Saturday, 6 September 2014

Anatomy of a Breakup



My ex husband and I, whom I've lately decided to call 'my first husband' as it sounds more positive all around, ended our marriage with at least one mindset in common:  It was painful, and for a long time impossible, to admit to having failed.  Other people's marriages failed, but not ours.  We had done everything right, not that there is only one right way, but sometimes you simply cannot see far ahead into the future and predict how people will change, what life will present you with or how your partner will react to it.  I used to think, rather smugly, that only the clever people made good marriages.  And I thought I was one of the clever ones.  I had married the person I believed to be my best friend, but I had been practical too and truly thought about whether or not he would be a good husband and father.  He was a solid, hard working, well educated guy from a background similar to mine and we were in love. We talked of all our hopes and dreams and plans for the future and they  meshed well.  How could that fail? 

Well it did and sooner than either of us acknowledged.  We both wanted it to work, which should have been a significant factor in making it work but it wasn't.  Time passed and we became people who were less and less compatible.  Life threw things at us like a chronic illness for me which neither of us had expected and a child with larger hurdles to jump than average.  Our goals, dreams and view of the world began to separate but we stubbornly hung on. We both believed divorce was a bad thing, it was practically unthinkable.  We became miserable and still didn't see it.   We coped with these changes in different ways.  I became depressed, he became more controlling.  Our relationship became more dysfunctional but we still didn't see it.  One of the reasons why was that we didn't fight.  Oh sure we disagreed, but neither of us have it in our natures to shout or get dramatic or to argue endlessly and we thought this was a virtue.  It wasn't.  It was avoidance.  I walked on eggshells.

One day, after about 22 years of marriage and in the middle of a huge home renovation and escalating personal crisis for our son, my husband told me he didn't love me anymore.  With hindsight I am a bit fascinated by how I reacted.  I was not really as devastated as I should have been if the love of my life said that to me.  I was shocked, but I also took it fairly calmly.  I am a fixer.  So I said.  "I will fix that."  I was determined that he would change his mind, either realise he was wrong or fall in love with me again.  I patiently waited, I kindly listened to him when he needed to talk.  I said, it's okay I am not angry.  I told him that we belonged together and that this could not end.  We went to counselling.

The counselling did not help.  We quite literally had irreconcilable differences, that term one always hears of in American celebrity divorces.  It took me about another year to realise the marriage was irreparably broken.  I realised that he was right.  He did not love me and I no longer loved him.  We no longer belonged together.  Unfortunately I had done a very good job of convincing him it was reparable and we had switched roles.  I now wanted to leave and he was thanking me for pulling him back.   Those may have been his words, it may have been what he believed, but his behaviour hadn't changed so I knew that the love was still dead.  I told him I didn't love him anymore and wanted to leave and he believed he was devastated.  I spent one month thinking of leaving, and another month sleeping in the spare bedroom after telling him I was leaving.  We managed to amicably split our possessions and I packed, feeling increasingly lighter.  By the time I moved out I was euphoric.  An enormous burden had been lifted.  The burden of trying but failing to hold it all together.

Some people believe divorce is automatically bad for the children involved.  I used to be one of those people who believed that.  Worried about this I sought advice before declaring my intention to leave even though our child was nearly an adult.  I was given a new way to look at it.  We don't do our children any favours modelling a toxic marriage and pretending it is okay.  My  first husband and I did our best to present a united front, not to create tension in our home by arguing nastily and to always make it clear that we are our son's parents and support each other as such.   We still strive for that.  After 23 years of marriage, a marriage that had become dysfunctional years ago, I walked away from the security of a relationship, the pleasure of a semi-custom home and the joy of my abundant garden and rented an apartment a few blocks away.

It took three years to work out a divorce settlement and it got a bit nasty at times, but for the most part it has always been our goal to remain amicable.   As far as I am concerned it is better, since we live in a small town, have some mutual friends, connections with each others' family members and are parents to the same wonderful young man.  The things that once hurt me no longer do and I believe I speak the truth when I say my ex and I are both happier now.  I also believe I have grown as a person and expect to be treated better than I once would put up with.  I know there are no guarantees in life or love, but I am neither bitter nor jaded.  He has a live in girlfriend whom I really like and she has two great kids.  He is her problem now, not mine.  I wish her luck.

19 comments:

  1. I respect your candor, Shawna. Talking about this must be hard. Few people have the courage to do it in public.

    Relationships are difficult. We go in with the best of intentions but things happen, people reveal themselves, and staying together is rough. I'm in the middle of one of those situations myself.

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    1. I hope you make it through whatever it is you are going through, without too many scars. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and a few scars help us remember the lessons.
      xoxo

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  2. Interesting Shawna. I've been down this road too. My first marriage split after 12 years and the kids were only 9 and 11 at the time. I think they're still a little mad at us for splitting. But when they get into a marriage some day they'll understand. And I agree, it does nobody a favor pretending things are okay. Kids can see, especially when they get a little older. I'm in a new marriage with 16 years under our belts and it's far from perfect. I often wonder what it will be like around here when our 16 year old is gone. Time will tell!

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    1. It's funny that you call it a new marriage when it has lasted longer than the first one. I don't believe my son is mad about the split, but then it had very little impact on his life in the end, and I suppose that is because he was older. He seems to understand why the split happened.

      I doubt any marriage can be perfect, because no people are perfect but I do believe it is possible to be happy with the imperfections you have. In some ways, choosing the right partner is a bit about choosing the flaws you can live with. ;-)
      xoxo

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  3. Hi Shawna, What a beautifully honest post. I am happy that you came out 'on the other side' feeling better about yourself and being stronger and happier.

    My parents got divorced after 13 years of marriage ... As an adult I look back and am happy that they did that because their relationship was toxic and should never have been and would never have worked ... one of them would have landed up in jail after killing the other. My advice is never to stay in a relationship "because of the kids" ... The long term damage of that environment is not good for the child and then inevitably the child looks for the same kind of relationship for themselves. Fortunately I decided that I was not going to do that ... Got engaged 3 times to very different kinds of guys and then found "The One" who I have been happily married to for 27 years.

    My in-laws got divorced after 35 years of marriage ... I think they just also hung on because it was convenient until the secretary convinced my father in law otherwise. Their marriage only lasted 10 years.

    I honestly believe that if you have done everything you can to be the right person and it still doesn't work then for your own sanity you need to make a different life for yourself.

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    1. I agree with you Lynne, sometimes there is nothing more a person can do and they have done all that they could. That is certainly what I believed about myself by the time I left. I'm glad you found the right one and are happy. I am not at all jaded by my experience and although I think people who find happiness together are very fortunate, I certainly hope to be that fortunate eventually.
      xoxo

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  4. OK so Blogger just ate my long comment. But thank you Shawna, for sharing your experiences, baring your soul and giving hope that things can be OK. You have a charming home, that you've made your own, you're a talented artist and you have a beautiful, creative soul. Thank you. xoxoox

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    1. Blogger has moments of pure evil! Thank you for reading and for leaving me such heart-warming comments, Desiree. One of my favourite movies is The Best Excellent Marigold hotel and a character in that is always saying "Things will work out in the end and if they haven't worked out yet, it's not the end." I love that!
      xoxo

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    2. omg I just found that movie in an op shop last Friday, snapped it up and really enjoyed it! The Indian boy who coined that phrase was so hopeful and optimistic. xxx

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  5. I've struggled through many painful break ups and I can only imagine how it must feel to divorce someone after 20 years, but I believe that it's always for the best. I know a lot of people who forcefully stay in a relationship, forever unsatisfied and angry, just because they don't have the guts to end it. Why do we do this, it's stupid. Life is so short, we only get one chance, do whatever, take risks and try to find your own happiness, why is it so difficult, it should be simple.
    I think you're awesome for realizing there's no point in keeping a broken marriage and I think I love your blog and your posts ^_^

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    1. Thank you Keit! If we don't take a risk, if we don't invest in a relationship we aren't living fully, but that doesn't apply only to romantic relationships it applies to platonic friendships too. There is always the risk of getting hurt if we open ourselves up emotionally but I doubt I could do it any other way. People stay in bad relationships for a variety of reasons. I know that my reasons for staying through a whole decade of deterioration were complicated and largely in my subconscious. I was in total denial that the relationship was not good. We all do what we can to cope. I like to think that the way I did things helped shape who I am today, and I really like who I am. ;-)
      xoxo

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  6. How very honest!! I am glad for you that you were able to fo this rationally and practically. I honestly think where children are affected is when the break up is volatile, full of hate and drama. I survived 2 divorces as a child unscathed, I think as my Mum and Dad, and then my Stepdad were quite calm about it. Mind you, I was always in my own world, I just accepted changes around me.

    X

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    1. Thank you, Kezzie. I think you are right about children and divorce and as a teacher I have seen examples of children badly hurt and children thriving. One little girl I taught had four parents who adored her. Mum and stepdad, Dad and stepmum all game to the parent-teacher conferences and beamed with proud over this little girl. You are right about how your own personality contributed to it too. My 'first husband' grew up in a military family and there was constant moving/relocating. His older brother thrived in that situation while he and his sister struggled with it.
      xoxo

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  7. What a thoughtful, honest and open account of your marriage and divorce, Shawna. I think the notion of soulmates, finding The One, etc, are so unrealistic, most of us muddle through, make mistakes, do whatever we can yet sometimes the relationship still fails, despite our best efforts. xxx

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    1. Thank you Curtise, being able to write this without all the drama of 'you hurt me and I can't forgive you' shows me that I really am at a good place. I believe soulmates are possible but damn hard to find. Some pairings are destined to be short lived, some are toxic, some are mediocre, some may start passionately and then fizzle out. Not only is finding someone to love a game of chance, but if we consider how difficult it is even to keep platonic friendships alive for decades, why do we think it will be easier when we are sharing a home and life with someone? I no longer look at my first marriage as a failure, just as an experience.
      xoxo

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  8. sooo honest! chapeau shawna!
    i was always the opposite - better a end with a scare then a scare without end. but then i thought i will never find a man to live with. and gave up. but - tadaaa - my now husband appeared on the scene - it´s never to late :-)
    thank you for sharing!!!!
    xxxxxx

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  9. I thought you wrote about this beautifully, the truth and reality - the fear of upsetting children, the determination to fix something that can't be fixed and ultimately freedom - I do think relationships are where we learn our own boundaries, it's a learning curve for sure, each one teaches us it's own lesson x x x

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  10. Relationships are so tough. Many of my friends have divorced. Myself, almost, but we managed to work things out. I'm glad you feel lighter :)

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  11. Soulmates do exist, and when you find yours, it will not just feel good, it will feel WONDERFUL, like nothing else. It's magic.

    Much much love xxxxx

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