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What Happens When You Marry into a Profession with a Staggering Divorce Rate?

Marriage as a football coach's wife

Earlier this week, we received news that a friend and former co-worker of my husband’s was going through a separation with his wife. Earlier this month, the same friend had gotten a new football coaching job that would move him back across the country to his wife and kids. He had lived away from them for over five years. I had breathed a sigh of relief, at the time, thankful that he would be heading home.

Unbeknownst to me, the white flag had already gone up on their marriage. It waved surrender, largely, to football life.

To Everything There is a Season

Long gone are the days I dreamed of settling down and raising my future babies in a modest, small-town home with lots of yard space and a sprawling, wraparound porch. The dream has changed and I wouldn’t give up what we have—the excitement of game days, the privilege of seeing and living in many parts of our country, the many wonderful friends made on the way, and the safety of the football “village” caring for our family—for any amount of the small-town vision I once had.

Of course, there are trade-offs.

Our years have two seasons, not four: in-season and off-season. There are no weekends, no sick days, no personal time. The hours are long. Birthdays and holidays are re-scheduled. Weekends are spent with your football family—the wives and children of your husband’s co-workers, the ones with whom you share your game-day seats and who fill in for your extended family and friends left half a country away. Christmas morning starts with a family breakfast and continues into a regular workday as your spouse leaves for the office later that morning. All vacations are scheduled within the four weeks before training camp, and nothing is booked until you are positive which airport you’ll be flying out of. Everything has to be planned last minute. A move is always imminent.

Whispers among our circles always describe the football wife as a highly independent being—one who can wield a mascara wand, a chef’s knife, and an electric drill with the same amount of faculty. When you spend as much time alone as we do, there is little room for not being able to get things done.

Before we brought our kiddo into the world, I was a fantastic football wife. Already raised with a great sense of self-sufficiency, I checked engine oil, maintained our social calendar, and packed and unpacked houses like a pro. I spent my alone time devouring literature, binge-watching Parenthood and aimlessly walking around the city in which we lived at the time. I missed my husband, but, as a lifelong introvert, I also liked having time to myself. I shared the few nights and weekends I had with my husband with recruits, who always managed to call right in the middle of dinner. I smirked a little to myself when a “new” wife lamented on how hard some days were. We are in a good place, I’d think. I can do this.

Making a Fifty Percent Divorce Rate Look Good

The overall divorce rate for football families at the major college or professional level is estimated to be around seventy to eighty percent. This is an alarming statistic, one that almost makes our national divorce rate seem pretty great. And almost two years after transitioning from football wife to football wife/mom, I can only begin to understand why many longtime football marriages dissolve.

It would be incredibly naïve to think that football wives are alone in this sort of marital and family dynamic. Some of us have it harder, some seemingly easier, but the struggles of all marriages are very real. There are days you float through, careening through the world in a state of perfectly imperfect marital bliss. Other days, you struggle to pick yourself up. The minutes feel like hours, the hot angst fills you up to your ears, and you wonder how you—this strong, brave, independent woman—ended up in this place.

Those days, in the football world and the worlds right alongside, are rarely spoken about. Not even in hushed tones do mentions of struggle and hardships come up.

And then, we all become wide-eyed and gasp when we hear that someone is getting divorced.

Things Fall Apart

To disregard the fact that you married into a profession in which eighty percent of marriages fall apart would be downright negligent. However, I don’t think any of us live our marriages with divorce in the forefront of our minds. The truth is that life, and marriage, continues day-by-day, moment-by-moment—sometimes good, sometimes okay, sometimes not okay.

I am a firm believer that marriages are a work in progress. And, barring any sort of emergency situation, divorces are too. Just as a marriage is slow to grow, and in need of soft nurturing, a divorce is often the cumulation of a long unraveling.

Achebe said it best.

Things fall apart. 

We Live Like This because we do

People often look into my life from the outside and smile one of those sad, pitying smiles: “I don’t know how you live like this.” I politely smile back, and bite my tongue to avoid saying the same to them. Living in a semi-public world, our life sometimes feels open for judgment. Opinions of our personal life casually strewn about, just as the professional decisions of my husband and his co-workers are debated hotly in the media and online forums.

To be fair, a lot of those opinions are true. Moving away from all of your family and friends? Sucks. Not being able to hold down a steady career because of your lifestyle? Sucks. Not seeing your husband much and solo-parenting most of the time? Sucks.

But, other parts of our life are amazing. And some, like my husband and son, are downright Incredible.

Our life is a choice we continue to choose every day. In the end, what else can you do?

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