We have all looked at a marriage or relationship that wasn’t our own and wondered why the hell the people were still together. I have also learned about a couple’s split and been shocked and even disappointed to learn they were divorcing. When toxic relationships and marriages end, there is usually a sigh of relief from bystanders and by those of us who love the victim. There is justification and celebration because the relationship was visibly not healthy. But even when it’s not always obvious why someone is getting a divorce, we should support and normalize the fact that one or all of the people involved realized they needed something different. Not all reasons for divorces are traumatic or filled with drama. Sometimes relationships are good until they aren’t, and that’s a valid enough reason to let them go.
When my own marriage began to unravel, it was first a conflict within myself, and not one that I understood or was recognizable by my partner. I continued to have a growing sense of longing for something I couldn’t name. I felt walls going up and I assumed something was wrong with me; I thought I needed to fix something within myself to feel better in marriage. I felt this way because nothing was “wrong.” My ex wasn’t abusive, lazy, cheating, or any label that would warrant me or someone else to call her a bad person or poor choice of a partner. We were good teammates and co-parents. We had been together for nearly 20 years, have three kids together, and were still friends. Nothing seemed wrong or out of the usual range of chalking certain feelings up to being an “old married couple.” But something wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t in love anymore, and once I realized that, I knew I hadn’t been for longer than I had wanted to admit.
Even when there are very clear and obvious reasons why a marriage isn’t working or why a relationship didn’t work out, it can be hard to end or break a commitment. Some people can’t leave without a safety net because of financial reasons or threats of physical and emotional safety. But I was in a safe, loving, and financially secure relationship; I didn’t think I was allowed to be unhappy enough to leave it. Was the desire to want something else enough to leave? Were my needs more important than those of my ex or of my kids? I didn’t think so.
But then the resentment grew. It became too hard to fake it. I never pretended to love my ex; I did love her, but I wasn’t being completely honest about the kind of love I was holding. I didn’t desire physical intimacy with her, and wasn’t getting the emotional safety I know I needed. Neither were her fault—the first less so than the second.
For so long I was ignoring signals that were advising me to make changes, but I didn’t give myself permission to do so. This was in part because I didn’t think I could give a good enough reason to leave what looked from the outside like a perfect marriage. This came down to not thinking I was worth making changes for myself and that those changes would be even harder because of the judgement placed by others who wouldn’t understand.
Too often the narrative is that people should stay together for the kids, or that couples should work harder to make it work. Vows were taken and expectations were set. But what good will any of it do if one or both parties can no longer live up to those expectations … nor want to? Why stay for anyone when a better version of yourself will be better for everyone?
We need to normalize the fact you are allowed to leave a relationship or marriage at any point, for any reason. You are even still allowed to like the person you are leaving. My ex and I still like each other. My ex and I rarely fought. Neither one of us was miserable. You don’t need to be living in a dumpster fire before you realize it’s time to live somewhere else. I’m not saying it’s ever easy to walk away from something or someone, but in some ways the more preemptive route I took is harder because there isn’t something specific or relatable to define as the tipping point.
My sexuality wasn’t in question. No one cheated. No one was throwing insults or furniture at the other. All of those reasons are valid for ending a relationship, but even without these extreme forms of conflict it’s okay to get a divorce. Staying out of obligation or someone else’s view of what it means to work through the ins and outs of marriage are not good reasons.
I still have moments of guilt for the pain I caused my ex, and for the disruption I created for my kids. Part of that comes from the fact that I finally put myself first, but some of it comes from the shame I get from others thinking I just gave up. Getting a divorce isn’t giving up; it’s marking an end of something so that something new can begin. That end is often messy and filled with what-ifs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.
It’s okay to leave your marriage, because you have the right to create new spaces and boundaries — either alone or with someone else. No matter what your reason for ending a relationship, it’s valid, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.