I recently received a text from a college friend asking if I had seen the article posted on our mutual friend’s Facebook page. Apparently, our friends had gotten divorced, which was a shock in itself, but the article I was about to read would be the real showstopper. She said I had to go read the article called “The Sweet Spot of Divorce” that was written and published by the now ex-wife. It was a beautifully written article about how two loving people married for 20 years and worked hard on their marriage. But ultimately before things got too ugly or someone crossed the line, they stopped and decided if they divorced now, they could do it with kindness and grace, saving their family, even though they lost their marriage. They found the “sweet spot” of divorce.
As I read the article, the mixture of feelings I had ranged from sadness, admiration, anxiety, and even jealousy. Yes, jealous of someone’s divorce! As I read it, I related to the raw emotion — I could have written much of the article myself. You see, at the same time this couple was sitting on a therapy couch, my life was about to come crashing down. My marriage had been falling apart for years as well, but we missed the sweet spot by a mile. My husband at the time had already crossed over the line into something ugly — a heartbreaking affair.
I will never forget the day or the way I felt as he sat across from me telling me that he had been having an affair for months. It explained so much. I had been pushing us into counseling again, trying to find our way back with date nights, weekend getaways, gifts, and online exercises guiding us through healthy communications. As if the 20 other books I had read the last ten years didn’t have the right answers.
I wanted so bad in my heart to not lose the 18 years I had spent with this man. I was terrified to live without him, as our lives were intermingled with kids, family, friends, business, and so much history. While we were both miserable in our marriage, I faulted in that I could not call the game, I could not get off the train, I could not bring myself to quit on our marriage and family. I worked so hard for so long to try to fix us and just kept failing.
Looking back, I realized you can’t make it work alone. I see now that my husband had quit playing the game and got off that train years before. He was done trying. He had moved on to endurance sports, starting more businesses and doing anything he could to get away from our family. I spent the last five years of our marriage alone with my two daughters anyway, so why was it so hard to imagine life without him? He had been emotionally and mentally gone for a long time already.
I had a lot of time to think about how to respond to the affair, because he left four days later for a two-week Hawaiian vacation. I know, don’t even get me started. Who does that? I remember the desperate hope and wondering, maybe this affair will wake him up? Maybe he will realize what he is throwing away and change the way he treats us? Maybe we will be that couple where an affair saves their marriage? I scoured the internet looking for answers, reading articles, obsessively writing journal entries and crying myself to sleep. Every. Single. Night.
At this same time, my husband was in Hawaii pursuing his next affair partner. So, I guess we all know the answer to those questions!
It has been an ugly few years since. I have felt feelings I never knew existed. I shamefully walked into an ER thinking I was having a heart attack, in addition to having many other health issues related to stress. I navigated the uncomfortable parent conferences, sporting events, concerts, and kid exchange moments. To others who have not walked in those shoes, you don’t understand the pain involved in seemingly simple moments when you must share them with someone you can’t bear to even look at. There wasn’t a gymnasium big enough during some of those days.
About six months after our divorce was final, I watched my ex-husband move the much younger girlfriend (whom my kids had met twice) across the country and into his new, beautiful house where he has custody of my daughters every other week. I had already left the home I raised my kids in to live in a more modest home. I navigated the terrifying ordeal of creating a resume, interviewing, and finding a job; something I had not done in over twenty years. I spent the first year getting my foot in the door of a company making $14 per hour, punching a clock for the first time in my life.
Every day on the way home, I passed my namesake business that we spent ten grueling years building in our community together. I lost the flexibility of being able to be at all my girls’ events or taking them on vacations because I started my job with no time off. I watched my ex-husband take my daughters on three ten-day cross country “extended trips.” Sprinkled in between, there were many other long getaways to places we used to go together, people we used to visit as a family, and of course there were the front row seats to the Taylor Swift concert. He traveled with my kids to his family’s Thanksgiving, just inserting her in my place, and everyone was okay with it. I tried to “rise above” and be thankful my kids were getting these amazing life moments, but I would not be human if I didn’t admit I was devastated they were all without me.
I also watched him travel with his new girlfriend on so many “epic” vacations I lost count. We ran our businesses together, and in ten years were never able to get away as much as he did the first two years we were divorced. I didn’t know how he was doing it. I was told by him months after the divorce was final, I had to pay half of a $45,000 unheard of tax bill for our business since I was part owner that year. I fought him in court the following year when his taxes magically showed an income of substantially less and he wanted to lower his child support. It was ugly. There were no sweet spots anywhere in sight!
I felt humiliated, exhausted, and devalued in a way I thought no one could ever make me feel, much less the person I trusted and promised my life to. I have never been a person to feel sorry for myself, but during this time I couldn’t imagine feeling any worse. I hadn’t been an overly insecure person before, but I fought off dark thoughts daily. I was afraid my kids would like his young, adventurous girlfriend more than me. After all, they were starting this new, exciting life, and my ex-husband was a real pro at creating big, memorable experiences, especially when he was making first impressions. What if my girls want to be with them more than with me?
I was fighting to get through each day, struggling with depression, while they were having wrestling matches in the living room and going on adventures. My head knew my girls were my girls, and we had a connection and love that could never be replaced by anyone else, but my heart reminded me that at one time I thought that was true with my ex-husband too. It was a dark place, and I felt so alone.
After recently reading my friend’s article, I felt inspired to reach out to the 99 percent of us who missed the “sweet spot” of divorce. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy and so proud of them both for getting through one of the hardest challenges life can throw at you and coming out the other side being able to write an inspiring article like that. I am not surprised that if anyone could have done it, they did, because I saw the perfect couple everyone else saw. Our friendship drifted apart over the years, and I don’t know the details of their story and what occurred or didn’t occur to get them to the place they are. I don’t know what they considered the line their toes hit to stop them; we all have different tolerance levels.
I do know that most divorces don’t end with two people in the same emotional spot willing or able to find the grace and forgiveness they did. I felt a sadness for the rest of us who read that article and put another ten-pound weight into the baggage we already carry around. Maybe it’s because, within an hour of me reading the article, predictably, my ex-husband forwarded it to me — in my mind saying, “See–why couldn’t you have extended that grace and forgiveness? Why do you have to make this divorce so hard for us? What is wrong with YOU?”
Looking back, I wish I could have accepted it all with more grace. I wish I didn’t allow it to completely devastate me and that I could have coped with the extreme feelings of betrayal and loss with more dignity and pride. I get angry at myself, wondering why and how I allowed someone to take complete control over my life and happiness. At what point in life did I feel it was okay to completely lose myself in order to please someone else?
The thing is, it doesn’t just happen one day. It happens slowly over time — you get tired of fighting it, and you began to do whatever you can to just keep the peace. One day you look around and wonder, How the hell did I get here? Before this happened, I would have never fathomed divorce could have had the effect it has had on me. I mean, people have divorce parties; they are sad for a while, but it’s not that big of a deal, right? In this case, it is true to say, unless you go through it, you have NO idea how you will handle it, even if you think you do.
After reading the article, I judgmentally thought, if you can write an article like that and be such great friends, what the hell is it you’re missing that you can’t get over, fix, or live with? Does our world have an expectation that is unrealistic? Do we think after 20 years of marriage, we should still feel like we did in the first years? Do we think that after kids, jobs, responsibilities of life, we are not going to change? Or am I just someone who is too comfortable settling? At what point do you call the game? Why was I willing to fight to stay in a miserable marriage with a selfish man, when they could gracefully bow out? What makes people think that finding another person to partner with will make you so much happier? Won’t they have flaws as well?
In my opinion, it all comes down to personal expectations and values — what expectation do you have for yourself, your spouse and your marriage? Do you value commitment and loyalty more than, say, happiness and excitement? There is no right answer. We are all complex individuals with a mixture of different values and expectations — what works for some doesn’t work for others.
I wish I could end this by saying that I have found the other side. I have not. It’s going on three very long years since that day on the couch. I have made so much progress in many areas of life. I took that entry level job, and humbly worked my ass off in it for one year. Then I took a chance and interviewed within the company, landing a new job that not only am I proud of and love, but am very good at. I did that at the same time I was purchasing a house, buying my first car, and taking my own first solo vacation with my girls to the beaches of Florida.
But that sadness that looms over me. It is not gone. I get more breaks from it, and have had glimpses, days and maybe weeks when I think, “Hey — I’m doing this.” I catch myself laughing and find I can sometimes go almost a full day and not feel grief. But I also still have many triggers that can take me back to the way I felt that day instantly. I know my marriage needed to end and should have ended much sooner for many reasons I have not even touched on. But, to say that I was naive to the grief and pain that comes with ending a marriage would be an understatement.
To my friend who wrote the Sweet Spot article — I have so many special memories from when we were young and newly married. Who would have thought we would end up here 20 years later? I am so sad and have no doubt you both fought to the end for your marriage. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with the world. It pushed me forward and forced me to look inward. I am sure that your story will help many people evaluate how they cope with the fear and hurt of divorce.
But, to all those out there who missed that sweet spot, I’m here to tell you, the feelings you’re having are normal. That it will get easier with time, and you will get through this, somehow. One. Day. At. A. Time. Even though I’m not there yet, I do realize now that I will get there someday, my way, in my time. It may be at the pace of a snail, but I’m moving forward, and so will you.