Sometimes we have words and emotions that we want to share, but we don’t. Maybe because the emotions are incredibly raw and we feel we may be exposing too much of ourselves. Maybe because the truths we are admitting to are painful for ourselves and the ones we have loved.
Today’s post is an anonymous contribution by a wonderfully talented and courageous friend who made an enormous life decision this year. A decision that many people consciously choose to never make.
She shares her experience of separating from her husband, and the lessons that arose from this immense change. Reading the words below fill me with two things: the first is a bittersweet comfort in knowing that we humans all face similar challenges, and the second is a great deal of admiration for my friend.
The world doesn’t always need to know about your inner turmoil.
So it’s been many months since I shared my writing publicly. But now, I feel like I’ve emerged from a very tough time, and have found my voice again. And it’s telling the story of how my marriage ended. I don’t know if there are lessons in it for anyone else. But I do know that when I was uncertain and adrift, it was comforting to know that others had trodden the same path before me.
Separating from my husband three months ago was not the catalyst for the crisis; the crisis was a long, slow unraveling of a formerly happy marriage.
I left when I was out of options and out of love. The best advice I received, from two of the most trusted mentors in my life, was this: don’t leave until you’ve tried everything you can do to make it work. You’ll know when you reach that point.
These two wise men knew that in moments of guilt and doubt and fear, the anchor that would keep me weighted down – sane and resolved – was the firm belief that this was the right, and the only, decision.
My husband rails against his lack of agency in this process. He says it fits the paradigm of our marriage, where I controlled everything. He says I can’t imagine the way that feels. I don’t deny this.
But being the one to make the decision – the leaver, not the ‘leavee’ – carries with it a different type of anguish.
And he underestimates the lack of control I felt as our marriage disintegrated. The times I tried to get through to him, to break through a carapace of emotional disengagement and distance.
Like a moth that hurls itself against the window, over and over, trying to reach the light inside, I tried everything I could think of to reach him, when he had stopped feeling anything much at all. Depressed, embittered, exhausted – I think he was all of these things. I feel for him, and his pain, which he has only just recognised, and is now trying to address.
But sadly, you can’t hurl yourself forever without getting tired and demoralised yourself. When someone stops engaging with you emotionally, at some point, you’ll do the same.
This is what they call ‘falling out of love’. A brief and prosaic description for a long and painful process.
Three months ago, I intervened in this process. To say ‘I left’ seems such a brief and inadequate description. It fails to express the intensity of emotion involved in reaching that decision, and then in carrying it out.
It’s not a new story – in fact it’s so common that it seems like a cliché. And yet I plumbed depths of sadness and guilt and tears that were hitherto unknown to me.
As all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, every marriage breakdown is momentously and uniquely painful in its own way.
Here I am, three months later. It’s my birthday. I’m officially closer to 40 than 30. In my lighter moments I call myself a divorcée – I like the French emphasis, suggesting something scandalous about a woman who has left the confines of marriage.
My life has changed fundamentally. I swapped the house in the suburbs for an inner-city apartment. I own about a quarter of the ‘stuff’ I used to – much of it left behind, much of it given away. I spend more time out and less time doing domestic things.
I feel lighter. Yes, happier. It’s partly the satisfaction of certainty, after spending so long with one foot out the door, one eye on the world outside.
I’m probably a little more selfish, as I only have myself to worry about. I’ll construe that as ‘nurturing myself’ for the time being.
I’ve been amazed and touched by the kindness and generosity of the people around me. Friends, family and colleagues have been so supportive. Help has come from unexpected quarters. People are wonderful.
In my darker moments this year, I wondered if I had the courage to do this – to leave. When that happened, I would invoke the spirit of my great-grandmother, who literally ran way from home in 1923, leaving a narrow and lonely life on a farm with her father and her ‘illegitimate’ child, to start a new life with my great-grandfather.
I’ve read the letter she wrote to her father in explanation, and her pain is palpable. She can’t imagine decades stretching ahead in this lonely life, and yet she acutely feels the pain she will cause to those left behind.
She left anyway.
I never met her, so I’ll never know if she believed that she made the right decision. But I draw on her courage and spirit. And at this moment, I feel like I’m in the right place for me.