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.