Monday, 13 July 2015

How I Changed My Mind, Grew, and Became Less Judgemental

I used to think divorce was nearly always a bad thing (unless a spouse was abusive) and even bought into that much trotted out idea that people just didn't try hard enough or gave up to soon.  It amazes me that I held these views as I am not remotely religious and they are usually tied up with religious ideals.  I was silently critical of people I knew who divorced, and usually most so of the one who did the leaving, unless the couple had always seemed really poorly matched to me or if I found one of them quite unappealing and could really understand the other's having suddenly seen that.  I used to proudly tell people that even if my husband cheated on me I would not leave him because divorce was bad for children.  I would insist on making the marriage work.

It is exactly this thinking that made such a mess of things for me.  Hindsight being what it is, I can look back on my marriage and see that there were some red flags early on.  But I was not the giving up type.  I was the work it out type, the just try harder type.  I was the type who believed that I personally could and should fix it or hold it together.  Hindsight also tells me that ego was involved.  I would be very unlikely to have admitted that I had made a mistake in my choice.  I now sometimes wonder if I failed morally in some way by not ending the marriage early on, particularly before we had a child. 

I have to note here that not many mothers can ever regret the birth of child and I do not regret mine.  I love him more than life itself but I sometimes feel guilt for having brought him into an increasingly dysfunctional family.

Sometimes when I read of or hear of people saying someone gave up too early, too easily I feel angered by this ignorance.  I stayed until it felt too late to turn back.  To me, because of the beliefs I held, it was too late to turn back the day I said my marriage vows.  Not that I had any regrets at that point.  It took ten or twelve years into the marriage before I was actively trying to fool myself.  Before I was in deep denial.

As the marriage began to more visibly crumble there was counselling involved.  There was much determination on my part.  There was more denial on my part but then life is often complex and so are people.  Although the marriage was dysfunctional, although he was becoming increasingly emotionally abusive, there were nice things, there was a shared history that included good times, he was not and still is not an evil or all bad person.  So I made excuses, forgave, ignored, pretended.  The problem with this is none of that changed his behaviour.  It did not matter how much I tried to make this marriage work, it did not matter that I had not given up 'too soon' and in fact it may have been worse because I had held on so long.  I stayed for 23 years.  Nobody can tell me that I gave up too soon, but there are still people who love those feel good stories about people who are on the brink of divorce because they have stopped treating each other well and suddenly they realise that and fix it all and live happily ever after. 

So what good does it do to rant and rave about people not doing marriage properly, not trying hard enough, not sticking it out or not taking it seriously?  How beneficial is it for a child to witness an example of a dysfunctional marriage instead of a loving and successful one? 

The only people I know who view marriage as some sort of sacred institution that must be stuck with no matter how harmful it is to one or both parties, are people immersed in very fundamentalist religions.  I was not and never have been one of those people so I do not know how I ended up with those attitudes but I suspect it was more connected to pride. 

But I learned.  We do not know all that goes on in someone else's relationship even if we think we do.  Not even if we are close friends with one or both of them and they tell us.  I know this because I myself lied to close friends and family.  Out of misplaced pride I could not let anyone know that the man I was married to had stopped loving me or had been mistreating me.  I preferred to tell people, at least initially, that I was leaving the marriage because I was just not suited to being married and was better off alone.  I took on all of the blame.  I said, it's not him, it's me.  Undoing this later was a bit of a challenge.

While I was silently critical in the past, others are not silent about their criticisms.  I believe such attitudes are harmful and contribute to the attitudes that prompt an abused person to stay in a bad relationship.  I believe they support shame.  To this day most people in my social circle do not know why I left the marriage except for a few close friends (there are only about two people from my offline line who ever sometimes read this blog) and even my ex is clueless.  Emotional abusers usually do not recognise that they are such and they leave no bruises to contradict their own perceptions. 

In writing about this I am simply hoping to reach a few people, perhaps someone who has never considered this perspective before and could offer more sympathy and support to a divorcing friend.  Or perhaps to someone who needs to leave a bad relationship.  I am not jaded; I will try again someday.  And I"m grateful for the many lessons I learned in my experience.  I am even grateful for the times that were good.  I forgive him and I forgive myself.

11 comments:

  1. wow! i´m totally impressed! by you honesty - mostly by your honesty to yourself! this is the hardest part, is´t? but its never to late to learn and to start new - and you are a sparkling example of it!
    i so hope that your words will help others....
    xxxxxxxxx

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    1. Someone as introspective as I am is usually very honest with herself, I think. All that thinking requires it, otherwise it is just storytelling. I think about and analyse everything. It's cheaper than therapy. ;-)

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  2. I wonder if we become less judgmental as we age. I'm glad you forgave yourself. I hope you forgive yourself for bringing your child into your marriage. I'm sure he does!
    Having had and still have many bumpy times being volatile people, I am totally understanding of divorce. Xo Jazzy Jack

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    1. I think our experiences in life really determine that. My younger brother has become more and more conservative and I have become more liberal, with both of us starting from a fairly moderate upbringing. He is two years younger than I am and has had a very different adult life. In my early adult life, I had not encountered many obviously bad marriages and that probably played a part in my perspective.

      I do forgive myself. I just cannot help sometimes mentally apologising to my son. Not that I have any regrets at all about his existence, just that I wish I could have given him something better.

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    2. Shawna ... When I was pregnant with my son I went to an AMAZING lady weekly for a reflexology treatment ... she said something to me that has gotten me through times when I believed I was not worthy of my son ... She said that our children choose their parents ... so you gave your son the best you that you could!!! He would not be the person he is should you and your ex not have been his parents.

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  3. This was such a good post! I really think that people should be exposed to things that are unfamiliar, or things that they might not agree with for this sake. I grew up in a very conservative household, so I was not used to seeing any other relationships other than my parents and their siblings. Upon entering adulthood, I was exposed to many same-sex relationships, divorce, and even polyamory, and it may have been confusing, or even strange for me initially, now I am completely comfortable.

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    1. Thanks; I'm glad you enjoyed it. It often takes a personal experience to wake us up, which is really what that whole walking a mile in someone else's shoes is all about. Something that I thought would never happen to me did happen to me and I realised my thinking about it was just too uninformed and simplistic. That also means I could probably examine other forms of my thinking too and I hope that I constantly do!

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  4. wonderfully written dear Shawna. I do think that most of the emotionally abusive people don't realize what they're doing. Quite the contrary, they think they are helping others with this kind of behaviour. They're controlling, manipulative and sneaky...but they truly believe that what they do, they do because it is somehow their job ...well, I guess there is no shortage of people who think they know best either.

    I think that there is a point in many relationship when it is just better to make a run for it and never look back. This even applies to friends and family who act in this way, sometimes we must distance ourselves from them. When relationships turn to emotional blackmail, there is really nothing more toxic. In the end, it is not good for either person.

    None of us should ever feel guilty (not even a little bit) for walking out of relationships in which we feel we're emotionally abused (even if it is only in a slight way). Our walking out may even make that person realize he/she has done something wrong and cause them to change, while our staying in that relationship can't possibly bring any good to anyone.

    Don't feel guilty about your son. A very few families are happy or functional. I saw this not as a bitter person, but as someone with vast life experience. In my lifetime, I have seen only one marriage that was completely happy and loving, like something out of some movie. The love those two have for each other is so touching and visible....but that is a rare thing. I think many parents feel too guilty...afterall, one's child (no matter if it a grown man by now) only need to feel it is loved. It's a cliche but that is really what is most important and I'm sure that is what your son feels.

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  5. I always enjoy your wise and thoughtful words. I think I would adore to sit and discuss things with you over coffee and then wine because of course we would keep going for hours. Philosophy, psychology and literature, art, writing, there would be so much to talk about! Thank you for the thoughtful comments you leave on my blog. They really make my day. xoxo

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    1. that was so sweet of you! I'm sure we would have tons to talk about.

      I was rethinking what I wrote about only one happy marriage I observed, I hope that didn't sound too harsh. I don't think it means that there is no hope for genuine happiness or that many marriages with couples who aren't that madly in love aren't good and functional ones. I think that in a marriage it sometimes makes sense to work on problems and sometimes it is really best to end it...if one person isn't happy at all with it, that it should come to its end because in the end it is best for both.

      Many people feel guilty because of the divorce, especially when they have children....but according to statistics, divorces are very common nowadays and I don't think it scars children for life as it perhaps did in the centuries before just because there was such a social dogma against it.

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  6. Sometimes it is important to not let go soon, to work it out as you said, sometimes there is a lot of miscomunication, lack of understanding, emotions that can be easilly fixed with a little bit of effort. But, damn, many times there IS NO working out! The relationship sucks and that's that! My previous ex relationships, in no way are close to your 23 years of marriage, but I did have this exact feeling in some of them, like this is a totally lost cause, and it was exactly that. When you are miserable there is no point in fighting, even if it is for the kids, they want to see their mother and father happier and staying in a damaged relationship prevents that.

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