My husband and I have had years to get (somewhat) comfortable with the fact our marriage is ending. It’s been a long road, and we have dealt with the denial, the hurt, the pain, and the mourning. And we did it our way and kept it between us for a really long time. And now we are living apart, and are in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with our new normal, day by day.
To people on the outside looking in, they have said they see two people who look happy and are going to be okay, but that is because we decided early on to respect the other’s privacy during our nightmare. We both had very close friends to talk to over the years, but our neighbors didn’t know. Our parents didn’t know. Our extended family didn’t know. The guy who owns the corner store didn’t know. Our kids knew something was going on — they always do — but they didn’t really know.
As hard as we tried to stuff our feelings, it was impossible. The charade was exhausting. Trying to convince the ones you love the most you are happily swimming along, when in reality you can’t even tread water, is too heavy to carry.
Since we have started talking openly about our breakup, I’ve been asked the same question by women I know, and women I don’t: “What is it like?”
Maybe what they really want to say is “Give me hope. Tell me what to do.”
Some of them mention they want to do the same thing, and they simply need to know they aren’t alone. I often think they are reaching out to someone who has been there, because they are wondering if they were to end their marriage, would they be okay? Would they make it through to the other side?
They come to me, asking for the truth, all of it. I understand — I wanted to know too. I was searching for some kind of validation. I needed to know I could rewrite my story and still stand up in my next chapter. I had to be absolutely positive my family (including my husband) would be okay if we did this for real.
I don’t know what the answers are for anyone else. Relationships are not one-size-fits-all. They bend, they wear, they rust, their shape changes. Sometimes they become more beautiful with time, and other times, they become so warped and unrecognizable, you don’t want them any more. What is enough for one couple might not work for another.
So all I can say when people say to me, “I am thinking of doing this too. We are in the same place. Are you okay?” is yes and no. We seem happy because we already put our time and misery in before we shared it with anyone. We waited until we made a final decision to talk openly about it. No one has to do it this way; this is what we chose, but it’s the end of a chapter nonetheless and the beginning of a new life. The pain ebbs and flows, and you have no choice but to feel it, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Honestly, I am living a life I never thought I’d be living, and sometimes, it can feel like I am using all my energy to climb out of hell. This usually comes two minutes after I have a moment of peaceful clarity. Your marriage ending can be an asshole like that, even if it’s what both people want. One minute, you’re feeling happy, content, and free. The next? Your heart is breaking all over again, and you can’t hold back the sobs.
What you are seeing when you look at us is the undoing of a relationship that wasn’t working. We wanted to become two people who held each other’s hands and promised we would dig deep and try our best to go our separate ways while helping the other through it. And thankfully, we are.
We still have an unbreakable partnership because we made three amazing humans together. Nothing will change that. We vowed we would make this as bearable as we could for all involved, and sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it feels like the universe is giving us the middle finger, but we are still standing.
I have days when it feels like I am living a double life. I have moments when I wonder what the fuck we’ve done, only to walk upstairs to try to find my daughter’s shoes, catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and have a feeling of absolute confidence and certainty wash over me. And when the next blow comes, I am somehow more ready to take it because I know I’m doing what is best for me, my kids, and my ex-husband too.
I cry a lot, like the day I took off my engagement ring and wedding band. I wanted to wear them longer, but the weekend my husband moved out I developed the most painful sensation under them — something I’d never felt. I lifted up the platinum bands to see my skin literally peeling off underneath. It felt like 100 bee stings. I took them off and watched them swirl around on the vanity. I knew I’d never put those rings back on as I sat on the toilet and cried into a gray bath towel. It hurt like hell.
And then I felt good, really good, and I stared at my newly naked hand just as much as I did when the ring was slid on my finger for the first time. I held it up to the light, but instead of catching the glare from the diamond, this time it was bare, the light catching only the indentation where those rings sat for so long.
It feels like freedom and sorrow. It is freeing to let go of a relationship that is no longer serving you. You can be sorry and miss someone without wanting your old relationship back, and that is confusing as hell. You don’t believe it, until you’re living it.
Some days, I float along in a trance, trying to get through. Some days, I want to go out and conquer the world.
There are days when the sun hurts my eyes, and my marriage ending feels like wanting to curl up under a down comforter and have someone hold me. I don’t even want to talk because I can’t even get my thoughts in order. I am so unbelievably tired. I didn’t know an exhaustion like this was possible.
It feels like shame. It feels like failing. It feels unnatural.
It feels like someone is peeling back my layers. I am raw and fresh and ready to move forward, but I am more petrified than I have ever been. Then I remember I am the one doing the peeling, and suddenly I know what to do — just move forward, one step at a time. And I do.
Until I forget again. Divorce is a bitch like that.
I am a mixed bag of emotions. I want to be the best mom and tell myself I will never make any more mistakes, ever. Then I call myself out on my own bullshit and give myself a break and drop the “I need to be all the things to make up for being unable to be married to their father anymore.” I can’t carry that, and I would never want him to carry that.
One thing I’ve learned through this is that when you want to make a life-changing decision, you usually do it. You move toward it even if you are scared shitless, even on the days you question yourself.
If you are moving toward staying in your marriage, that is what you want.
If you are moving away from it, then that is what you want.
And of course, you may flip-flop between both extremes before truly figuring out your next step.
Ending your marriage is not black and white. The experience is different for everyone, but it does mean you are shedding an old version of yourself. And before you start feeling better, you will probably feel worse. You will struggle, you will second-guess, you will feel like you are broken in two and the only thing holding you together is pure grit.
But deep down, you will know. You will keep moving through the pain, peeling back the layers, heading toward your truth. No one else’s, just yours. You’ve got this.