I spent what felt like a hundred years wondering if I should divorce. I had a lot of questions and no answers. I knew I wasn’t happy but, really, wasn’t happiness overrated? I wondered: Were other married couples happy? Was that a thing? Maybe we’re all in silent cahoots slogging through the misery.
Truth is, people in good marriages begin their days making the unconscious, weightless decision to remain married. People in bad marriages begin and end their days in a conscious state of relentless tension and confusion. I know firsthand what it is to have your brain held captive by a never-abating drumbeat of sadness, anxiety, and unrest. Truly, I thought I’d go mad.
Should I stay? (No.)
Will things get better? (Definitely not.)
What are my options? (Few.)
Am I happy? (Hell no.)
Can he be happy? (No way.)
Is this normal? (Really?)
What should I do? (Get a divorce, dummy!)
I knew the answers but I ignored them. Instead, I’d say, “I’m not the kind of person who gets divorced.” And I believed that. So, for a long time, I didn’t. Instead, I prayed like hell.
Of course — how silly — there is no “kind of person” who divorces. I know that. You know that. But maybe I thought I was different somehow. I was a serious person. I wasn’t frivolous. I was a doer and a fighter. I would fight.
What I didn’t understand is that in order to fight for a marriage, there needs to be a marriage. When you fight for a marriage, you’re fighting for the glue — the connection, the intimacy, the love — of it. Or you’re fighting for the memory of that glue — if you’re lucky enough to remember where you put it.
But what if you simply can’t find it because you never had it in the first place? Or it left the building too long ago? Then, you must ask yourself— as I did, perhaps as you do — just what you’re fighting for exactly. The yearly Christmas card photo? That summer vacation on the Cape? Of course, the kids. Always the kids. The very same offspring living and breathing their parents’ misery. (Because, you know, that kind of day-in-day-out toxicity is always optimal for their growth and development.)
Quick, think of an unhappily married couple you know. See how easy that was? And you don’t even need that couple to confess to their marital farce. You can smell the stench of their discontent a mile away. It’s hard to miss their edgy tones, their lack of playfulness, the conversational distance they keep. And the eye-rolling. Always the eye-rolling.
“No one will believe it when I tell them we’re divorcing,” a client said to me recently, explaining his hesitancy to make the announcement. To which I say, “I wouldn’t bet the house on that.”
My client thinks people will be surprised — as I did, perhaps as you do— because he’s such a family man. You know, the kind of person who doesn’t divorce.
Whatever my client thinks he’s hiding, I can almost guarantee he’s not doing it nearly as well as he thinks. He claims he’s holding back from divorcing to spare others the shock of it. But what he’s really avoiding is the shock of admitting to himself he’s the kind of person who gets divorced.
It is true, divorce forces you to look at the whole of your existence through a lens you thought you’d never need. And, as things come into focus, “I’m not that kind of person,” becomes, “Who knew? I just may be.”
But divorce? Really? You’re not lazy, uncaring, or irresponsible! So, how can it be you who is considering divorce? Of course that couple down the street is divorced because, well, they’re them. But you? You’re you. And last time you checked, you’re not that kind of people.
Years ago, a therapist asked me point-blank, “What the f*ck are you doing in this marriage, Abby?”
I didn’t have a good answer. I assume it was because I thought I wasn’t the kind of person not to be. I wasn’t the kind of person who would dismantle her life brick by brick. I wasn’t the kind of person who would saddle her kids with divorced parents.
But then, as it turned out, I was and I am. I am that kind of person because I knew I couldn’t be happy where I was. I am that kind of person because I wanted to show my kids it’s okay to want more. I am that kind of person because I chose health over heartache, strength over fear.
I am the kind of person who gets divorced (and did!) because I get to choose what kind of person I am — free of labels and judgment. And I’m proud to be that kind of person because I know the fortitude it takes to make such a monumental change.
Are you the kind of person who divorces? Perhaps you need look no further than your bathroom mirror. And maybe there, staring back at you, you’ll see that kind of person. The kind of person who deserves something better and damn well knows it: You.