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I’m talking to the spouse whose marriage is just good enough to be tolerable.
The one just good enough to not be able to explain in a nice and neat sentence, why he or she wants out. I’m talking to the married, but essentially single spouse who is waiting.
Please, don’t hesitate.
I was 18 when my mom broke the news of my parents’ divorce. I remember her telling me that leaving her marriage was the most selfish thing she had ever done, and at the time I thought, yeah, she’s right. She sure is selfish.
Fast forward almost 20 years, and—holy sh*t—who’s selfish now?
My marriage wasn’t awful. My ex-husband and I were (and still are) both good people and parents. We had a lot in common, and we genuinely liked being with each other. There weren’t any major problems that came out in the first half of our marriage. It was pretty easy, in fact.
My god, we were so naïve.
My ex-husband and I met right after I graduated from high school. We had some mutual friends, and through them, we became friends, too. Our friendship lasted for four years, until a make out session changed that.
Fast-forward. Eleven years into our almost 13-year marriage, we opened it up. For such an incredibly significant shift, we made the decision with little to no thought. We were completely ill-prepared, and it exposed every flaw and weakness in both our marriage, and in ourselves.
Having seen little if any conflict between my parents, I never learned how to handle it as a child. The only experience I had to fall back on in my marriage, was how I handled it with my dad and my brother.
When the situation got tense, I tried to defuse it. I made myself small. I made myself quiet. For years, I did the same with my husband.
But I am a learner by nature, so when we opened our marriage and I had no clue how to handle everything I was seeing in myself, or in my relationship, I knew it was time to learn.
I spent a lot of time in my head—and my heart—trying to understand what was happening to my marriage, and what was happening to me.
I began to read voraciously. Books, articles, blog posts—anything I could find, that would help me better understand myself, and my relationships.
I went into therapy, dug into my relationships with my family, and discovered how they impacted how I was functioning in my marriage.
It was chest-cracking, mind-stretching work, and I was fundamentally transforming. I was becoming a vastly different person than my ex-husband had married.
I started to view marriage as a pathway toward personal and spiritual development. I did not want to ignore, or temporarily fix anything I was seeing. I wanted to dig down, tear things apart, and blow things up so that I could get to the root of our problems.
It wasn’t just how I was viewing my marriage. It was how I was viewing my entire life.
He wanted to turn back the clock and go back to the way things were before we opened our marriage. I couldn’t blame him. But for me, it was too late. I was too far down this path and I couldn’t turn around and go back.
Or, could I?
Here I was, about to do something that was very much for myself. I knew my actions would hurt him and my children.
I was going to do something that I knew would hurt my kids. What the f*ck?
So, what were my options?
>> I could try faking it until I hopefully made it.
>> I could suppress this crazy idea of what I wanted in my life.
>> I could wait until I was filled with such hatred and blame for having been made to tuck these desires all away.
>> I could wait until our homelife was so toxic that it was in the best interest of the kids to divorce.
>> I could wait until the damage of the marriage wasn’t hurting just me. Then it wouldn’t be just about me, then I wouldn’t be seen as selfish.
And that would be somehow better?
In order to justify leaving a marriage that is no longer working, we feel like we have to destroy everything. And that’s just not right. This notion is what makes divorce so damaging for everyone involved.
I remembered my mother’s words—the most selfish thing she’d ever done.
Nearly 13 years into our marriage, when my ex-husband asked if I was done with our marriage, I nodded my head and answered softly. Yes.
I refused to wait until everything was completely destroyed to end the marriage. Instead, I ended the marriage to save what was left of mine and my ex-husband’s relationship with each other. I did it for my kids.
My selfishness is how we were able to create a divorce with little conflict.
Neither one of us hired an attorney. We sat next to each other at the same table at our divorce hearing, and had breakfast together afterward.
My selfishness is how we were able to create a post-divorce family that was still able to feel like a loving family for our kids, and to effectively co-parent our children.
For the first three years, we dedicated every Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon to family time, where the four of us spent time together.
My selfishness is how we have been able to enjoy each other’s company at our kids’ basketball games and orchestra concerts.
Time will tell what kind of long-term effects the kids will have, but they appear to be happy, and well-adjusted.
I really don’t know if we could have gone through this as well as we have been able to, had we waited until we hated each other to get a divorce—had I waited for the understanding and permission of others.
The only permission and understanding we need, is our own.
If it is selfish to want to live happily, authentically, and where we know we belong, then that’s exactly what we all should be.
Over 20 years later, as I look back, I give my mom a high five for getting a divorce. I give myself one, too.
Yeah, she sure was selfish. And it was about time that she was.