I was chatting with an old friend on the phone recently. He stuttered for a bit, gave a couple false starts, and then told me he was getting a divorce. My wife, Mel, was sitting next to me on the couch after our kids had gone to bed.
She knew I was talking to Dustin, so she leaned in a little closer to hear what he had to say. We’d both been friends with Dustin and his wife, Kristy. They lived just down the street from our old apartment. We watched their kids, they watched ours. We went out to dinner together, movies, the works. But they moved, and shortly thereafter, we moved too, and we’d only stayed in touch intermittently.
Dustin told me that he and his soon to be ex-wife were living in the same house, but she wouldn’t speak to him. They only communicated via text and email. She wouldn’t respond to him verbally at all, and I can only imagine how awkward that must have been. When I asked what happened, all he said was, “I messed up,” which could mean a number of things. And when I asked why she wasn’t talking to him, he said, “He didn’t know.”
I know this all sounds pretty cliché, and I will admit my mind went to the worst assumptions too. But we knew this couple pretty well, and from the outside, they appeared solid. And I think that’s what makes it so scary when friends get divorced. You can’t help but look at their marriage, compare it to your own, and wonder if you could be on the edge and not realize it.
It’s odd… in my 20s, it was marriage season. Now, in my 30s, it’s the season of divorce. My divorcing friends tell me about custody of the kids, who’s getting the house, percentages… that sort of thing. They tell me they’re dating someone new or about how miserable they were in their marriage despite appearing to be just fine and giving their spouse regular shout-outs on social media. Sometimes I’m online and an old friend’s profile picture changes to them snuggling with someone I don’t recognize, and so I do a little snooping to find out they’re now divorced, and I’m left wondering who got the foot massager I gave them as a wedding gift.
Dustin and I ended our conversation, and I sat on the sofa with Mel next to me, thinking about how this was the third friend I’d consoled about a divorce just in the past three months.
I remember chatting a few years back with an old friend who went thought a divorce, and what she told me scared me most of all:
“It has been happening for 16 years. It wasn’t an event; it was a process. I don’t think either of us really understood just how lonely or distant our marriage was…”
My father died divorcing his fourth wife, and my mother is on her third marriage. Divorce has always been a part of my life, but right now, 15 years into my own marriage, with three kids, it feels like I’m surrounded by it, and it scares the hell out of me. But what scares me the most is how few of them can fully explain what went wrong. Sometimes there’s a smoking gun — an affair or a secret credit account — but most of the time, it seems like this gradual thing, like weeds entering a garden, and it makes me wonder what Mel and I might be doing wrong.
So each time I hear about another divorce, each time I get online, look at a profile picture, and say to myself, “who’s that guy?” I find Mel and I tell her that I love her. I hold her a little tighter. I tell her how much I appreciate her as a person and as a partner. I tell her that I hope we never live in the house and not speak because she’s honestly the person I enjoy talking with the most. I ask her if I can do anything more or differently that would make our marriage better, more secure. I suppose I start to look for those weeds, and try to make changes to keep my marriage from slipping apart.
Not that I don’t do these things normally, I do. But there’s something about being in the season of divorce that makes me realize how fragile marriage is, and how important it is to make sure ours is still solid.
And each time, Mel and I have a good conversation about maintaining our marriage and what we can do better, it doesn’t feel like we’re dwelling on the fear of divorce anymore. It feels like we are making some lemonade out of lemons. Like we are taking action to make our marriage more secure. It feels like we are doing the maintenance that is so necessary to keep a marriage alive.