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.