I don't want to point fingers and say "he did this and he didn't do that" because I don't want anyone to think that I had no hand in the dissolution of this marriage. Because that would simply not be true. There were many things that, in hindsight, I could have done different. But hindsight is a teacher by experience and isn't of any help whatsoever to the one who is actually facing decisions that need to be made. Perhaps someone reading this will recognize themselves and be able to learn from my experiences, from my hindsight. The problems we encountered in our marriage started long before either of us had even met. They involved the baggage we'd each brought into the relationship.
For me, I had learned early not to rock the boat. I had heard my parents arguing at night, and laid awake crying, wondering how I would ever pick which parent I wanted to live with if they got a divorce. So I decided that if we didn't fight, we'd be happy as larks and there would be no reason to get a divorce. So I kept everything inside. I became so good at hiding my feelings, I got to the point where I would even justify actions that others thought were rude or inconsiderate. When he forgot my birthday or our anniversary, I told everyone that because of his learning disability, he had a problem with remembering dates and numbers. Of course, I never told them that he could look at a military plane in the sky and immediately identify what type it was as well as the number and size of the ammunition it could carry. Or that he knew the numerical specifications for the tolerances of every moving part on his motorcycle. When he didn't want to fly home with me for my grandmother's funeral (using tickets my mother had purchased), I told everyone that he couldn't miss the work. That his learning disability made it difficult for him to deal with meeting new people and being placed in new surroundings. Of course, I never told them he met new people every day as a mechanic and that he drove all over the Denver area on his motorcycle or four-wheeling in his truck. I became an expert at making excuses for him because of my desire to not rock the boat.
I also brought into our marriage a very low self-esteem. I saw myself as over-weight, not very pretty and certainly not much of a catch as far as a girlfriend goes. So when this guy, who I thought was very handsome, showed an interest in me, I jumped at him and clung tenaciously. Again, I figured if I didn't rock the boat and did whatever he wanted to do, he'd think I was the greatest thing on earth and never want to leave me. We went to car shows, motorcycle races, four-wheeling, camping with his friends, to cookouts and parties at his friends' houses. I took care of the bills and if he wanted something we really couldn't afford, I'd tell him to go ahead and buy it and then find some way to come up with the money-- either cut something out I wanted to buy or work some overtime to get some extra money. I never asked him more than once to do something. If he didn't do it the first time, I did it myself. If he said he wasn't interested in going to a certain place, I never asked him to go again. If I needed to go somewhere, I didn't even ask him to watch the kids while I went.I took them with me to "give him the day off".
Through this all, it was, ironically, my ex- who continuously encouraged me to express my feelings, to tell him when I was upset, to ask to have my own needs met. I didn't remember the first time I did, but he did. And I relate it here to give you an idea of how much I had "subjugated" myself to filling his needs. We had moved to a mountain cabin with VERY limited space. (The outside dimentions of the house were 20'x24' with a loft bedroom over about half the house. By the time we moved out, there were four of us living there.) He'd come home from work and hang his coat on the doorknob of the kitchen door, which was the only door that offered access to the outside (unless you wanted to jump about 12' from the back porch.) In the winter, it would get so cold that frost would build on the door where it was covered by his coat. So I asked him to not hang his coat on the doorknob. To me, it was such a small thing to ask that I completely forgot about it. But years later, when we were in counselling for our failing marriage, he remembered that very vividly as the first time I'd ever asked him to change one of his habits. Bear in mind that we'd been married for at least three and a half years at that point. For such a small request to be remembered, it offers a good illustration of how much I hadn't asked him to do. Our first bona fide fight was when our oldest was two and a half years old-- after we'd been married for five years.
As time went on, I did begin to gain more self-esteem and began asking to have more of my needs met. After moving to Pennsylvania in '92, I started working as a draftsman with my father. We lived with my parents so I had my mother to help with the housework. The arguments my ex- and I began having became more frequent, but we both chalked it up to having to live in the same house with my parents and not having a real sense of privacy or a place that we could call our own. When we finally got our own house in Dec. '94, I found I needed help with the housework and asked his assistance. While he agreed to help, after a period of a few weeks, I found myself doing it all again. Repeated requests for assistance brought the same results. I became very resentful, yet still kept so much inside because I was so afraid I couldn't make it on my own. So afraid that if we split up he'd try to take our kids from me. My fears kept me from voicing my feelings and I held them all in.
By this time, we both knew our marriage was in serious trouble and we began to see a counsellor. I remember getting so upset with the counsellor when, during our first discussion with her, she said, "Maybe there just isn't enough common ground in this relationship anymore to make it work." I was furious (which I now know is because she had hit the nail on the head) because I was determined to make the marriage work. Sometime during the spring or summer before we separated, he first brought up the suggestion of a trial separation. I immediately vetoed it, saying we could make it work. We spent hours talking and reached a compromise that held for about a month. But because I knew he was seriously thinking about a separation (something he'd promised to never even consider), I went back to keeping a lot of my anger and resentment inside.
In the course of counselling, we were told to read a book called "The Dance of Anger". It was a real eye opener for me. As I read about the ways in which two people (not necessarily married couples) react towards each other when angry, I realized that we were a classic example of one of the "arguing styles". The more emotional I would get when we were arguing (and it was never a shouting match and never degenerated into a name-calling melee), the calmer he would get. The calmer he would get, the angrier I would get resulting in even more emotional reaction on my part, which made him even calmer and on and on in a never-ending cycle. When I saw what was happening, I followed the suggestions in the book to "break the cycle." When I found myself starting to get emotional, I would tell him that I couldn't discuss it anymore right then and try to do something like read a book or do some work or clean. But he would always say something or ask a question that would bring me back into the conversation until I was crying and he was calm.
For months, we went through cycles of compromise and broken compromise. Each compromise, I found myself giving up more and more of what I wanted and/or needed until one day, I looked into a mirror and found myself staring at the face of a woman I didn't really know anymore. So much of what I believed about life and love had been compromised in a desire to save my marriage. But I had reached the point where I had nothing else to give without giving away my soul. So the next time we had one of our arguments, I stuck to my guns. I picked up a magazine and started to read-- or rather pretend to read. My mind was so focused on ignoring what was being said or asked of me so I would not be dragged back into the conversation. Within minutes, my ex- was screaming at the top of his lungs, something I had never seen him do before at me. Three days later, he said he was going to look for an apartment.
On one hand, I was devastated. My marriage was falling apart and I didn't know what I could do to stop it. On the other hand, I was so terribly relieved that I wouldn't have to dread him coming home from work or sitting in the same room with him for hours on end never saying two words to each other. I remember many times looking at him and wondering "Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?" and hating the idea that this was all there would ever be.
From the day he told me he wanted the separation, it was as if I was living with a complete stranger. He began sleeping on the sofa bed and the only time we really talked was when we were trying to figure out how to tell the boys and what to do to help them get through this. I think, in looking back, that part of me knew that he would not be back. But another, more vocal part of me, couldn't give up the hope that we could work this out. He even came to Christmas at my parents house that year, despite the fact that we'd been separated for about five weeks. My family still welcomed him, perhaps because they held the same false hope, alhtough in all likelihood, it was more because they were being respectful of me. I asked him a few days after Christmas if we were ever going to talk or if we were just going to slowly drift further and further apart. He came over to the house on January 2, 1996 and we talked for hours about what he wanted and what I wanted and how we could compromise in order to meet both of our needs. I was actually encouraged when we reached that compromise and we both agreed it was one we could live with. Then, in a very calm voice, he looked at me and said, "But it will never work." I was actually shocked because there was no reason that it couldn't work. Except one that I had overlooked. When I asked why it wouldn't work, he looked at me and said, "Because I don't want to have to learn how to do what I'd have to do to make it work." His response cut me like a knife and for the first time in my marriage, I truly knew how much-- or in this case how little-- I actually meant to him. But in a way I was grateful for those words, as much as they hurt at the time. It cut the final strings of hope, freeing me from any doubt that there was something more I could do to make it work.
Okay, so now that you know how my marriage fell apart, what exactly are my views on divorce? And how long is forever anyway? For what it's worth, here are my humble thoughts. I truly believe most people go into a marriage with the dream of having it last forever. But life is a process of growing and learning and a marriage is when two people agree to help each other to grow and learn by walking side by side along the same path. In a best case scenario, the lessons of those involved in a marriage are similar enough that the experiences of one can teach the other. In the beginning, my marriage was just such a case: my ex-husband taught me a lot about life, love, God and me. He was a very wonderful teacher and I'll always be grateful for the lessons he taught me, especially about self-esteem. While we are all teachers to someone else, we are also all students. Just as I had a lot to learn from him, I also had a lot to teach him. The only problem is you cannot force someone to learn. You can put the information out there for them to hear, to read, to study, but you cannot force them to learn. He made it abundantly clear that he had no desire to be my student. My options that January 2 were either to sell my soul to keep my marriage together, or to put into use the lessons he had taught me. I chose to use those lessons and respect myself enough to know that I cannot live my life to make someone else happy. To respect myself enough to know that I deserved to be happy and have my needs met without having to compromise my standards. Somewhere along the line, the path he and I had been walking together had forked. He'd gone one way and I'd gone the other. The split at the time had been so small that we hardly noticed and could continue to walk hand in hand along separate paths. But the distance between us continued to grow until it was impossible to reach each other anymore.
Was there any way to make the marriage work? There's always a way, I suppose. I'm sure there will be those who see what I'm about to say as justification for not working harder to save my marriage, but it is something I truly believe. There are those we have agreed to meet in this lifetime who will be our teachers. I knew the moment I laid eyes on my ex-husbnad, before even knowing his name, that I was going to marry him. We were meant to be together for a purpose-- to learn from each other the things we needed to learn the most in our own life at that time. But such learning is a two way street and one partner cannot carry the other. I learned what he had to teach me and he rejected what I had to teach him. That is his free will and I, in order to be true to my own beliefs, had no choice but to respect his right to choose what path he would walk. Out of respect for myself, I chose not to walk beside him any more because the only way to do that would have been to compromise the very standards I followed in allowing him to choose his own path.
Marriage is a two way street. Each partner must give and each must take. Not take selfishly, but take gratefully and gracefully. If we are always the one giving, we deny others the pleasure of giving. And in not taking, we are constantly rejecting them. After so long, such rejection becomes painful and the one being rejected finally learns that one can stop the pain by not banging one's head against a brick wall. Perhaps not many are as lucky as I was to have their ex- come right out and say, "I don't want to learn", but for me it was a blessing because I was ready to keep banging my head.
When a marriage gets to this point, is there really a marriage anymore? A marriage is more than a piece of paper that says the law recognizes your marriage. It is the commitment of one to another. It is a willingness to learn, to share, to grow, to experience together. It is unconditional Love and a willingness to allow your partner to be who they are most happy being, not who we would be most happy having them be. He and I still had the paper, but that was all we had. I was not committed to him anymore, I was committed to the piece of paper. And to our sons-- I didn't want them to have to go through this. I was committed to the man I wanted him to be, to the man I knew he could be, not to the man he wanted to be. The willingness to learn, share, grow and experience together was one-sided and, in all honesty, by the time the marriage reached the critical stage, the together bit was something I wasn't really looking forward to. I hated the loneliness I felt when we were together. Finally, and ironically, I had to realize that in order to show him unconditional love, I had to let him be the man he wanted to be, not the man I wanted him to be. The man he wanted to be didn't want to be married to me, didn't want the responsibilities of maintaining that marriage. I had to stop trying to make him into the man I knew he could be but chose not to be. The final act of love was to let him go.
There is still a part of me that loves him and always will love him. However it's no longer the type of love that will make an intimate relationship work. Love never dies, and I believe that with all my heart and soul. I also believe that the time to express that love in this lifetime in the context of an intimate relationship is over. Such expression is, of necessity, two-sided and it will not work when one side chooses to not express it. I think the ultimate act of respect for both yourself and for your partner is being able to recognize when the marriage has reached that point. The ultimate act of wisdom is to end the relationship before all the good memories are soured by anger and hurt and repeated, unsuccessful attempts to breathe life into something that's time has passed.
Life is a cycle of birth and death, yet we try to keep marriage immune to this cycle. We're fighting a losing battle. We have got to recognize that there are relationships that are destined to be, but not destined to be forever. We need to remove the stigma attached to being divorced and to realize it does not always indicate a failure on the part of either party, but simply a recognition that the time to express their love in this lifetime is over. That the lessons to be learned have either been learned or rejected and that in order for both parties to continue to grow, they must do so apart from each other. That to remain together means that one will thrive at the expense of the other or that both will die in the struggle to stay together, strangled by the need to stifle their needs and desires just to say they stayed together.
That's not to say that there aren't relationships that can work until one of the partners leaves this plane of existence. There are those lucky few who find their lifemate and who are both willing to continue to work at making the relationship work. I believe I'm one of those lucky few right now in my current relationship. I used to try to picture myself at age 65 with my ex-husband and I could never really do it. But with my wife, I can see past 65 to 75 and 85....