If you clicked on this post, you noticed at least two things from the title; One, this is a fairly personal post about my divorce, and two, this is only Part 1. If, after reading about the really beautiful things I learned from the divorce, you want to know what the “Loved Again” part is all about, be on the lookout for part 2 where I talk about all of the wonderful things I have learned and experienced since the divorce. I hope you are encouraged in your own relationships – romantic and otherwise – as you read about my journey. Peace and Grace to you.
- I cannot control what other people do. A few months after we got married, my husband began talking to and sexting other women. He shared pictures with them… and he shared his life with them. I did not find this out for another few months, but when I did find out I was rocked to my core because I thought our marriage was great. I call this day, “The Event.” The Event unfolded rather quickly, but it stayed unfolded in a steaming heap for quite some time. According to the esteemed psychotherapist and relationship expert Esther Perel, people essentially cheat when they are unhappy with themselves. I knew this, so I wanted to find the root cause of his dissatisfaction, create an action plan, and pursue it with fervor until he was happy and our marriage was saved. And I decided all of this about 2 hours after finding his hidden content, spending the rest of the day trying to implement my plan. I ignored the fact that he was cheating, and instead, pressed him for every detail of what he didn’t like about his life. I pursued this plan for the five months following The Event, with counseling and regular conversations (and arguments), and still, he kept everything hidden in himself while I attempted to control everything. Right before I left our house to start the divorce process, I found out that the day of The Event was as much a beacon of our downfall for him as it was for me. Our counselor asked about it, and my husband explained that I had pushed him for answers that he didn’t even know existed. He thought cheating was this dirty thing you do if there is something wrong with you, and he didn’t want me to have to deal with that. He didn’t know that he was dissatisfied with himself before cheating, he didn’t think he could grow or change after cheating, and he didn’t want to talk about it. To this day, he will not talk about it. My “plan” therefore, was rendered as absolutely useless on the day of The Event as it played out to be over the following 2 years. No matter how great the plan might have been, not all parties were invested in the plan. I learned that I couldn’t control another person’s outcome – even if I was trying to do it for a really good cause. I think the hardest thing about the way my marriage turned for the worse was watching my husband lose himself and knowing I was powerless to fix it for him. I think the hardest thing about loving someone is knowing you cannot control life to make it great for them, nor can you control them in your efforts to help. Love is built on trust not just because trust is a really connected and beautiful thing, but because it is the only functional option available.
- The “impurity” of cheating is not why cheating is harmful to a relationship. The distance cheating creates in two individuals is what is harmful. My husband stopped believing in himself, in our love, in our marriage and so did I. Recovering from that takes a lot of dedication from the people involved (again, not something we can control beyond ourselves). I cannot count the number of nights I cried myself to sleep, thinking things would get better if he would just talk to me and take me and The Event seriously. He was miserable and I don’t think he believed there was a solution other than to be okay with the new normal. This included being alone, depressed, guilty, and silent – all things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I was miserable and I felt so alone because no amount of talking to him made him talk to me. Our sex felt cheap and dirty because I knew I wasn’t loving him, and I couldn’t imagine he loved me, either. Any fun or adventures – even Comic Cons – felt hollow because, when the fun moment was over, there was nothing solid to come back to anymore. Our great memories from the previous seven years of growing up together, friendship, and dating took on the tinge of uncertainty as I wondered if we had always been like this and I had just been too blind, dumb, or proud to acknowledge it. While I know now that is not the case, it was absolutely crazy-making to believe I had been part of my own decade-long scam. It wasn’t because he was some unwashed sinner that our marriage ended; it was the effects of The Event on our communication and confidence that did.
- Ignoring my own needs did not help him or our relationship. As I grasped at ways to save our marriage, I decided I needed to be more selfless. It’s a noble pursuit, for sure, but I thought that the only way to overcome being selfish was to ignore my own needs as I focused on his. Now, I am pretty outspoken, so I failed at this endeavor a lot because humans have needs. We just do. And I wanted to talk about mine. So, every time I caved-in to acknowledge my needs, I was desperate for him to know them because I had pushed them aside for so long. It was overwhelming for us both. I came to feel like a big, fat failure at selflessness because every time I needed something I was needy. I grew to resent his needs (and feel like more of a failure for it) because they were always the center of my attention, with no security in knowing he would also meet my needs. I don’t necessarily know that he would have acknowledged my needs any better if I had been more real with myself, but I do think I would have felt a lot less miserable if I had been taking care of myself, too.
- I have much more grit than I ever gave myself credit for. We got married in February, The Event happened in August. We divorced a year and a half later. I tackled a lot of personal hang ups – ego, nagging, anxiety, etc. – in an attempt to right the course of our marriage. I wanted to be the best me I could be for our life together. I was miserable, I complained to my friends A LOT (like, a lot), but I kept working. It wasn’t until the day I was rejected when I asked him to re-invest in faith together, that I realized our marriage was hurting him perhaps even more than it was hurting me, and that was simply not okay. I realized that, if the man I said “hello” to in 8th grade because of his vibrant faith, the man I married because of the ways we uplifted each other, did not want to invest in faith anymore, he was suffering something I couldn’t even comprehend. As I dove into my own faith alone, I finally realized that I could not be miserable and pour affirming Love into him – or anyone. He was suffering from that absence in our marriage on top of the litany of other undiscussed issues he may have been struggling with. So, after spending the majority of my marriage fighting for something I wasn’t even sure would work, I left because neither of us was going to grow in faith and Love where we were. I am glad that I took the time to discern the difference between a possible bad season and a marriage that was harmful to us both. My persistence allowed me to heal after I left, strengthening my faith and sense of self in ways I didn’t even know I was lacking.
- Things change and that is life. Just because our marriage did not end well, does not mean I wouldn’t have done it. Marriage is a bond of trust. When people date, we work hard to learn and love each other. Then, when we feel like we have a solid foundation, we commit to trying to learn and love one another for the rest of our lives. There is no way to know the certain future of that relationship, we can only work hard to keep growing it with love in our hearts. I think that leap of trust with someone you love is beautiful. Regardless of where my first marriage went, the relationship was founded on that beauty and Love.
- Forgiveness is hard, and it is real. I married and divorced my best friend of nine years. He is no longer my best friend, but a lot of who we are is part of each other. To hate him would be to hate a large part of myself. I was really hurt by the things that happened and the way I was treated. I was really hurt by the way I acted and the thoughts I had in that marriage. If all we ever had from our 9 years as friends was the conclusion of hurt, I cannot imagine the greater damage that might be done. Instead, we have moved into a different relationship where forgiveness is growing and healing is really happening. We don’t talk often, we don’t hang out, we have healthy boundaries in place, but we have also forgiven each other and choose to see the goodness in one another just as much as we see the pain of the past. It is humbling to see both myself and my ex as complex people who are good and, yet, have done harmful things — rather than demonizing him and elevating myself — and I think it is a necessary perspective for growth. We celebrate that goodness and that pain, knowing that we are both better people now than we were then. I am grateful for our marriage, for our divorce, and for the growth we have experienced through all of it.
- I still have a lot of growing to do and a lot to learn. Everyone does, and finding the friends, family, and life partner to grow with is one of the most meaningful and rewarding journeys. Some will come and go and some will stay, and each one of them is a blessing. I am so, so thankful for the people in my life. My prayer is that we can all grow together in empathy and Love from experiences like my divorce, learning humility, self-worth, gentleness… learning to really care for the other.