Posted on December 9, 2008. Filed under: screw-ups | Tags: |

I thought I knew, long ago when I was planning my first wedding, why people got divorced.  My parents were divorced.  Many of my relatives were divorced. I didn’t have any friends that were divorced, but that’s just because I was young, too young for anyone to have been married yet, much less divorced.

I thought that people got divorced because they weren’t right for each other.  I thought that people got divorced because they grew apart, or because they wanted different things out of life. I thought that people weren’t good companions, or had different ideas of what was fun, or just didn’t like each other very much.  I thought that people got divorced because they weren’t realistic about marriage — that they didn’t think about divorce when they decided to get married, didn’t think it would happen to them, didn’t imagine that it could happen to them.

And so, I thought about it, a lot.  I considered whether he was the right man for me, tested our ability to stick it out once the masks came off, was comforted that we knew each other really well and had the same goals and dreams.  Most of the reasons that I thought people got divorced had to do with the beginning of their relationship (reread the paragraph above and you’ll see that it’s true).  Did you pick the right person?  Did you consider the alternatives?  Do you know where you want to go (and does he, and are they the same place)?

I was wrong.

We got divorced not because we were wrong for each other (though that’s the comforting thought that I retreated to for years), we got divorced because we forgot that love is a verb, not a noun, and that it’s most important when it’s hardest.  We got divorced because we pushed apart instead of pulling together, in hundreds of little ways that added up.  We got divorced because we thought that if the big things were in place, the little things didn’t matter… but they do, even more, because those little things are what make your life what it is.  And me, I also got divorced because I couldn’t, wouldn’t ask for the solace and comfort that I needed, didn’t set aside my sense of self-preservation to be loved.

Success in a relationship is a tough and sometimes lonely road, and failure is often easier to justify.  I know this, having done both.  Failing at being a good partner feels better.  I can convince you — and myself — that I was justified in not forgiving, in not forgetting, in not being understood or loved.  I can go to lunch with a girlfriend and we’ll talk about how horrible and wrong he’s been, how insensitive, how unthoughtful.  And it might even be true.  But being a successful partner means accepting that, and forgiving, and loving, and choosing to stay and fight for us rather than doing what feels good, even when it’s best for me as an individual or when pushing away can be justified.

I thought that being married would mean I’d never be lonely, and so when I was, I thought it was my marriage that was the problem and not my expectations.  I thought that if the big things were in place, the little ones wouldn’t matter, when in fact those little things are dangerously capable of pushing you away from the one you love.  Nothing is too small to be a threat.  I thought that venting my frustrations and looking for solace in other people was okay, and it might have been, had I also been able to go to my husband and ask for comfort.  I thought that asking for what I needed meant that something was wrong, but that’s part of growing up — knowing and asking for what you need, because people aren’t mind readers.

Talking to your fiance about everything before you get married is good and necessary.  Making sure that you know him well and are compatible is important.  Thinking ahead and envisioning what you might do or say during the tough times will help.  But in the end, being married is a daily commitment, to honesty and fairness, to submission of some of your individuality to the needs of your family, to enough maturity and trust to ask for something you need.  There are times that you want to rail against the unfairness of what is, and you can, but you must also accept that whether it should be isn’t the question – it’s what you’ll do next that’s important.  Or else divorces happen.

If I could go back, I would tell myself this: you must believe that there is no such thing as divorce, that you will get through the tough times together, that he will be his best if you are your best, and if you’re not, you will be again.  Relationships are sometimes a game of chicken, with either of you waiting for the other to do the hard thing first.  Whether you think it’s right or fair, you be the one to do the hard thing first.  Be willing to hope and try and get your heart broken, because it will be, even though you’re married, it will; but this man can help you heal the hurt if you let him.  If you feel that you must make a choice, make it be about how you’ll recover together, not about whether you’ll recover together.  Vow to get help when things get bad, even if you don’t think you need it.  It’s not being disloyal; it’s being human.  And give yourself time.  Nothing will ever be as bad as it might seem in the moment, and if it takes a bit of loneliness to make it through, you can handle it.  Print your vows and display them where you can see them when things get tough, and use them as a meditation or prayer if you need to.  You’re loved, and you will love in return.  You must believe.

{This is not the complete story, of course.  It can’t be, since you don’t know me or my ex-husband, and blog posts are not books.  I try to distill specific “do not’s” out of my failed marriage as I prepare for my new one, and this is just one of them.}

I’m not going to end with a question on this post.  Feel free to comment if you agree or disagree, to ask follow-up questions; or because you can relate… or not.  It’s okay either way.  It’s a tough subject, after all.


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One Response to “Honesty”

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Thank you. Currently engaged and planning a wedding. Both of us are divorced, and we have come to realize just how hard a relationship really is – that it needs tending, action, strength and hope. This was well-said.

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    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.


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