It has been almost four years since my now ex-husband came out of the closet.
I have always known that I would write a book about our life together. As I have shared our story, so many people have told me that they know other couples who have gone through this same kind of divorce.
It’s very isolating, and there are not a lot of resources for families as they navigate this very complex issue.
While my focus has been mostly on the book, and I haven’t spoken on it for the masses yet, this feels like the right time. A friend reached out to me this week to tell me that his step-father has come out. His mother felt like there was something wrong with her their whole marriage. He assured her that it wasn’t her, and shared my story with her.
This is for my friend’s mom, and any other woman (or man, I suppose) in this kind of relationship, or navigating the ending of one.
There are a few things I want you to know.
First: You’re not crazy.
All the times that you felt like you weren’t connecting with your partner, or you didn’t feel desired, or you felt like things were off—you were correct. My biggest regret in the end was that I didn’t trust my intuition.
When I would try to talk to my partner about my feelings, he usually tried to explain them away. When I would express dissatisfaction with our relationship, he had a list of logical reasons why things weren’t as good as they could have been- busy schedules, kids, job stress, etc. If I persisted in these conversations, they usually ended with me feeling like whatever was wrong was my fault. My expectations were unrealistic, or I was being too sensitive, or I was simply insatiable and no man could ever please me.
In the end, I just felt crazy—like I had imagined that we had problems only I could see. Because he couldn’t give my feelings any validation, I really thought that I was the one with the issue.
Which brings me to the second thing you should know- it’s not your fault. You didn’t have all the information going into that relationship. You made the best choices you could with what you had to work with at the time, and that’s all we can do.
Maybe you were like me. Maybe you just didn’t know or love yourself. Maybe you didn’t feel like you deserved anything more.
Or, maybe your marriage felt healthy compared to the house you grew up in. Maybe you married your best friend, and you were committed to finding your happy ending. Maybe you stayed for the kids, or the security. Maybe, you didn’t think you could do it on your own. Spend some time reflecting on this, so you can break that cycle in your future relationships.
Please forgive yourself immediately for anything that happened in your marriage.
It is in your past now. You can’t go back and change it. And, things are going to make sense now that never did before. Don’t beat yourself up for not seeing or ignoring the signs. Just trust that everything happens for a reason, and in perfect timing. You did the best you could, and that’s all you can do. It wasn’t up to you to fix what was broken. It wasn’t your fault.
The third thing I want to tell you is that it isn’t your partner’s fault either.
For a gay person to enter a hetero marriage says that they didn’t know how to love themselves. We grew up in a place where there were no gay people. It wasn’t okay to be gay there. If you can’t be who you are, or don’t even feel free to explore your desires, the only other option is to be who you think you’re supposed to be.
It was perfectly logical for my ex to marry his best friend, have some kids, and go make a great life.
We were chasing the American dream—and by most standards, we made it happen. We had the big house in the cul-de-sac with the picket fence, and nice cars, and the two kids, and the little dogs. We had an active social life, and participated in our community, and had plenty of material things.
He thought that by giving me material wealth, he was loving me. Providing for me financially was not the same thing as love, I knew that in my heart.
But, it’s what he had to give. He was doing the only thing he knew how to do.
At the end of the day, I know that he was not able to be honest with me because he was not able to be honest with himself.
Denial is a very powerful thing.
I can’t fault him for not knowing who he was, or not loving himself enough to be authentic. I’ve been there. I know that he didn’t enter our marriage intending to hurt me. It was not a malicious act on his part. He was just trying to be the man he thought he was supposed to be.
If you are ending a relationship like this, it’s very important to give yourself all the time you need to feel everything you are going to feel. For me, it was very much like mourning a death. I went through all the stages of grief, just like I would have if he had died. In some regard, he did die. The man I knew died, and as he worked through the identity crisis that followed, he was reborn.
When emotions come, and they will, honor them. Acknowledge them, witness them, and do your best to find their origin. Feelings of betrayal, feeling lied to or tricked, being angry with yourself, and feeling abandoned are all perfectly normal. Don’t let your emotions take over your life, but do give them the time and attention you need to work through them so you can let them go.
Don’t be surprised if this takes a lot longer than you think it should. There are many layers to work through. You will learn, and grow, and change. Hopefully, when the dust settles, you will love yourself in a way you never imagined.
Finally, my best advice if you have been through this kind of relationship is to find the gifts in your experience.
We have two beautiful children together. They are the joy of my life, and without my ex, they wouldn’t exist. We have so many happy memories together. I saw the ocean for the first time with him, and stood beside him in the Taj Mahal, and, usually, our house was full of laughter. I have no doubt that he loved me then, and continues to love me today. Just not in the way that a husband loves a wife. I try to remember the happy times and let go of the rest.
The greatest gift I found in my experience is a deep love for myself. I took time to really examine my heart, and what I had brought to our marriage. What I found was the scared little girl inside me who would have done anything to find something that resembled love. She had never been loved.
She didn’t know how to love herself. She didn’t know that she could make it in the big scary world without this man by her side.
Once I learned how to love that scared little girl and give her all the reassurance and encouragement she needed, I became the healthiest, happiest, most authentic version of Renee there has ever been. I now know that I don’t need validation or love from outside myself to be whole. Those things have to come from inside first.
Whatever the unique struggles in your situation, I hope that you and your partner can come to a peaceful resolution. We really tried to do our best not to put our kids through hell.
We also tried to be supportive of each other, and continue to foster our friendship as we ended our marriage. With a little forgiveness and grace, this can be one of the most powerful times in your life for personal growth. Embrace it, allow it, and know that every day gets a little better. If you can, try to see this not just as the ending of your marriage, but rather as an opportunity to redefine your relationship.
*Note: The information in this article has been published with the permission of the parties mentioned herein.
Author: Renée Dubeau
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Karl Fredrickson at Unsplash