It’s a thing. A real spot. If you’re lucky, you’ll find it and it will make a painful journey a little less difficult and a lot more rewarding. A rewarding divorce? Yep, that’s also a thing.
By the time we landed on a therapy couch in our 18th year of marriage, we were about as disconnected as two people can be. We had become little more than roommates and really sucky roommates at that. It was me who took the leap and finally broached the uncomfortable conversation, but we both knew we were incredibly unhappy and something had to give. We found a therapist and buckled up for a bumpy ride.
For awhile, it felt better. At least we were doing something; action felt good in a situation that had been stagnant for so long. I was hooked from the beginning. Him, not so much. I was ready to do the work. It was painful, but I Ioved the digging deep, self-awareness and brutal honesty. He did not. He tried to get on board, but after the first two months, I most often sat on the couch alone. I was disappointed in his lack of interest and discomfort with therapy, but my time there was not wasted. I knew that if this marriage was going to end, I had to be 110% sure that I had done everything possible to save it. That included working on me. I had to be confident that it wasn’t some defect or unhealthy bits within me that were preventing my marriage from working. I had to discover if getting myself as healthy as possible would be enough to save my marriage.
Spoiler alert: it was not.
It wasn’t only the therapy; we worked in other ways too. Date nights every single week. Weekends away. Sure, there were some fun moments, but not any true connection. Sometimes I could only cry with brokenness. Other times I thought, “That was fun, but I sure wish we were just friends.” We tried faking it until we made it; hugs, kisses, holding hands and “acting” happy. It all felt false and uncomfortable and definitely didn’t bridge the gap between us.
I think our hearts knew that even if every box of “what we want” in a spouse was checked, we still wouldn’t feel the way we wanted to feel about one another. It just wasn’t there. However, when we thought about our three children, divorce felt impossible. We desperately wanted a different ending to our family story than that.
So, we persevered. We hit peaks and valleys. We worked, we discussed, we (mostly me) went to therapy, we cried, we tried. Damn, did we TRY. We learned more about ourselves and more about each other, but we didn’t find love, connection, or anything close to happiness. After two years, our efforts really began to hurt. It hung over us, heavy and unbearable. Anger and tension began to brew more strongly. Here we were working our asses off and yet falling so terribly short. Not just sometimes, but every damn day. We were miserable.
We both felt rejected and unloved. We resented that the other couldn’t or wouldn’t change in the ways that we were asking. We were hurt, lonely, and frustrated that we were always failing one another. We began to realize that we were forcing ourselves to be something we were not. Where before we couldn’t imagine a “broken” home for our kids, we could now see that it was us, our marriage, that was making our home feel broken. We looked like a happy little family on the outside, but inside our home, the walls held tension so thick it stuck to everything it touched, including our precious children.
It came to be that just as our toes hit that line of crossing into something really ugly, we stopped ourselves. It became crystal clear. We were looking for the answers in the wrong relationship. We were never going to find it in our marriage. We were at a tipping point. Were we going to cross that line of no return? Would we keep riding this train to nowhere, allowing our unhappiness to grow into hatred and deep anger, or would we take control of our lives and just call the damn game? We caught ourselves just in time. It had gotten ugly enough to know we could no longer be married, but not so ugly that we couldn’t end our union with kindness; the sweet spot!
It happened gradually and took a lot of grace and forgiveness, but what we found was that taking away expectations of each other as spouses changed everything. As friends and co-parents, we have completely different expectations of one another; expectations that can actually be met and met well! It has been a delicious discovery. We are free to care for, enjoy, and even like each other under the terms of our new relationship.
The beautiful thing is that our children felt the difference almost instantly. They expressed that our home felt “happier.” Their own anxiety noticeably decreased. They began to flock to the common areas in our home, instead of holing away in their private spaces. Their own disconnectedness mimicked ours, but we hadn’t even noticed as we were too busy attempting to save our unsalvageable marriage.
There is fantastic freedom in not forcing and pretending. Now we can hug each other and really mean it. Now we talk and laugh with each other as our children revel in the comfort of spending time with two parents who are happy and whole. We got lucky. We found the sweet spot of divorce and grabbed it at just the right moment. It feels very much like a victory. Our marriage didn’t win, but our family certainly did.
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