Queen of Denial
I remember feeling surprised the first time I really realized my marriage was not going to last forever and that I was going to be divorced.
No one in my family had ever been divorced. I had no role models for this. I had no siblings paving the way, no aunts or uncles, no cousins. No grandmothers or grandfathers.
Despite the fact that 50 percent of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, no one in my family was part of this statistic.
I would be the first to blemish my family’s clean record.
Divorce wasn’t what I was thinking when I walked down the aisle, blissfully unaware of how long “forever” really is. And I was too naïve to take into account things like substance abuse and intimacy issues when the Rabbi gave the pros and cons of “For better and for worse, in sickness and health.”
No, as I was walking down the aisle, nearly faint with excitement (really, I nearly fainted), I was thinking: “This is my dream. This is my future. I’m sure I can change him.”
I know plenty of women who walked down the aisle fully aware they were making a mistake. I interviewed one woman who said she knew she’d be divorced within a year; another told me it took all her willpower not to turn and run when she saw her husband-to-be standing in front of the minister.
Now, I am an absolute Queen of Denial, with a hefty dose of Pollyanna mixed in, but I don’t think I could have knowingly walked into a marriage that wasn’t going to last. I’d be too embarrassed to accept all that china. As it was, even after 13 years of marriage, I felt I’d let everyone down.
Have you felt that way too? That you didn’t try hard enough, stay long enough, do everything you could to make a relationship last?
I thought my problems weren’t big enough to warrant the dissolution of our family. We had a young son and I couldn’t bear the thought of raising him alone or being without him every other weekend. I thought I owed everyone a huge explanation, an inarguable reason, why my husband and I couldn’t stay together.
Turns out, the only people owed an explanation were my son, my ex and me. And looking at us today – divorced, living apart, but healthier and more supportive than we were in our marriage – I see that we made the right difficult decisions.
My fears and feelings of failure were unfounded. In fact, no one said, “Give it another chance. Try harder. Do more.” Maybe it was because they’d watched us give it one chance after another for more than a decade. I think many of them knew our marriage wasn’t going to work before we did. They’d just been waiting to exhale along with us, and help us build what came next.
I wish I had known that.
I wish I had known my friends and family would be more than supportive of me — they were kind, compassionate, caring. And my closest girlfriends were thrilled with my decision (finally) to create a healthier, more authentic life. I mean, no one actually said, “Damn, girl, what took you so long?” but their hugs conveyed those feelings and more.
My sister-in-law still teases me when I take a long time to make a decision or leave a job or give up a volunteer position: “At least you did it in under 15 years. I’m proud of you.”
As I rebuilt my life, my ex did amazing things with his, too. As many of you know, I consider my ex-husband one of my best friends. But after years of working on our marriage together (we were in couples’ therapy for 14 years; married 13), just two months after we separated, he went into a program on his own, and has made it work for nearly five years. Now, he is an involved, thoughtful father to our son and an unbelievably supportive co-parent to me. I can say with some certainty that this would not have been the case if I had not taken a deep breath and been the first person in my family – to get a divorce.
In fact, I believe that all those years of therapy* working on our marriage is what made divorce work for us, and definitely helped us create a healthier, happier relationship on the other side.
Now really – who could have known that?
*Stick around for my next few columns, when I’ll share years’ worth of therapy about dating after divorce – and it won’t cost you $100 bucks an hour. (And you won’t have to listen to anyone ask, “So how’s that working for you?”)