Knowing When To Leave

Today’s post is by Melissa, and it’s a profoundly brave post about knowing when to leave a marriage. I’m posting it not just because divorce needs to be less taboo, or because some of you might be in difficult places in your own relationships. I’m posting it because the kind of painful emotional honesty she describes is important for all of us, no matter the state of our relationships. Even if we’re happily walking down the aisle, or happy newlyweds, or just happily married, knowing how to face up to our own truths is a key part of making our own happiness. So here is Melissa, with some brave, unvarnished truth.

A lot of people ask me how I knew it was time to leave. It’s like slipping into a shoe that’s too small, or putting the left shoe on the right foot. The shoe doesn’t fit and your feet get scrunched and cramped. Uncomfortable. Constricted. You can try and reason with it, plead with it, offer up a shoe horn. But at some point, you will inevitably say, “This shoe does not fit me. I must take it off.”

Except marriage is more complicated than a shoe. And so is knowing when to leave. In the most simple terms, this is as good as it gets: You just know.

Friends told us, “The first year is the hardest,” then, “The first two years are the hardest,” followed by, “The first five years are the hardest,” all the way up to (I kid you not), “The first ten years are the hardest.” Eventually, I realized something had to give. Marriage could not possibly suck this bad for ten years before getting better. If that was the case, I was not interested ever, thankyouverymuch.

But then I got pregnant, so I stayed until well after she was born. For her. But you know what? I have never seen a happy couple who stayed together “for the kids.”

Knowing that it’s time to leave is only half the battle. Next come all of the doubts, insecurities, second guesses, self bargaining, and self hatred (with ample more to lob at the soon-to-be-ex spouse). Between all of that, a choice has to be made: stay or go. What I have learned over the last few years is that it doesn’t matter why you’re leaving. It will always suck.

Details were severely distorted and dozens of friends were lost. I drank too much after my daughter went to sleep. I cried on my mother’s floor every night from the moment I decided to leave until almost a year later. I worried and fretted and stressed and tried bargaining with God.

And yes. I was the one who left.

I didn’t do it for money or for someone else or for convenience or because I could no longer handle a military lifestyle or because it was easier than dealing with him. I did it for me. I did it for my daughter. I did it for our future. And plenty of other very personal reasons. But each reason was another notch in the “for my daughter and me” column.

I never wanted to end up a single mom at 22 with a divorce under my belt and a throng of pitchforks and torches following me across a nearby city. These are the things that can happen when you marry at the age of 19, without a clue about who you are or what you want in life, simply because your boyfriend said he joined the military “for us.” We hadn’t even dated a year. We were apart for eight of the ten months. We were young and dumb. Our consequences were adult and painful.

Each new day was like a hurricane. Torrential storms and winds of self hatred would swirl around, followed by a sense of peace from a dear friend with a kind ear, only to be rocked with more anger, this time towards my ex. Repeat. Every day. I didn’t know how I would ever make it.

And then began the custody battle. The most gut wrenching, knife turning part of the entire debacle. I was called awful names in court and had a lawyer who I still believe was never fully on my side. I became bloodied and broken. Despair loomed overhead like a viper, ready to strike and take me under.

But life did not end. It got better.

Let me repeat this. Maybe you missed it. Maybe you didn’t get it. Maybe you don’t ever believe this will happen. You need to hear it again. Life did not end; it got better. Better than I could have ever imagined.

I wish I could go back to that scared girl three and a half years ago and tell her it would be ok—give her a big hug and a bigger margarita.

I’d tell her that her child, the most precious thing in her life, isn’t going to experience any less love because of this. And her life won’t be ruined either. Sure, there will be rough patches and custody hiccups and “retraining” periods and plenty of frustration—but frustration and mother’s guilt are inevitable with children. This is only different, not worse.

There will be black days. And they will always be followed by some of the most beautiful days you’ve ever seen. The hurt decreases over time, slowly. But each new day brings more joy and love and happiness. Soon the hurt is more of an annoyance than pain. It gets better.

Interview lawyers. Don’t leap on the first one. And if your gut tells you something is off, find someone else. Trust me, you don’t want to one day open the mail to find your newly issued divorce decree with new custody arrangements you didn’t agree to hand written and signed in the margins. (I’m pretty sure my head almost detached itself that day.)

The sun will come back out. You won’t always hate the idea of marriage and family. And one day when your heart is strong, someone will come back along to sweep you off of your feet. And they will love you and your child. Your families will come together and show so much love your heart won’t believe it. And this time, it will be so much sweeter.

I would like to steal two more minutes to discuss “broken homes” and how they are a giant crock of shit. There is absolutely nothing broken about my home with my mother and siblings, nor my own family with my daughter and new husband. Both lives are full of love, support, and a deep sense of family. Whoever coined that phrase can kiss my pale rear end. From the beginning, all I have ever wanted was for my daughter to feel nothing but love. And she is one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving little girls I have ever met. We are not breaking up families. We are cutting off the bad limbs and leaving room for the good to grow.

Photo by: Hart & Sol Photo

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  • Lor

    So needed that this morning. Thank you.

  • Shawna

    Wow. Thanks.

  • Louise

    thank you for such a brave – and intense – post. I’m glad to read you came out on the other end and that you and your daughter’s lives are the better for it.

  • So beautifully written, heartwrenching, and hopeful. Thank you.

  • Getting divorced at any age is heart-wrenchingly awful. But getting divorced young is its own special kind of horrible. Congratulations on finding your way through. Your daughter will be better off with you modeling a happy, healthy relationship, rather than modeling that marriage means staying even if it’s not right. Not to mention that YOU will be better off in a healthy, happy relationship, rather than staying even if it’s not right. Thanks so much for writing this.

  • Contessa

    “I would like to steal two more minutes to discuss “broken homes” and how they are a giant crock of shit.”

    I need to hear this at least once a week. Thank you so much. It’s so easy to look at our kids and see how their lives can be negatively affected by our decisions and forget how hard we work overall and how OK the kids will be because of that work. When will we stop buying into the idea of “what should be” and accept that, most of the time, everyone is doing their best to create the best situation they can for their kids?

    I was the one who was left in the marriage and I was the one who would have stayed in an, at best, so-so relationship because it seemed easier. It took a few years to realize and appreciate what my ex-husband struggled with when he decided to leave. It’s hard to justify a divorce “simply because you are unhappy” but it’s valid. Kudos to you for being brave and making a change you believed in.

    • Jo

      “Broken homes” made me so angry as a kid whose parents were getting divorced. It wasn’t a something that broke us–it made us stronger. It made us closer to each other and to our mom. It was never something we felt sorry for ourselves about, it was something that we were proud of our mom for and that we defended with pride.

      A big piece of that was that our mom talked with us truthfully, but never viciously. She was never bitter toward our father, just honest about the situation and about teaching us to be strong and true to ourselves.

      • All that. And as a child of divorce who saw the unhappiness and the fighting I really didn’t appreciate it when people asked if I wanted my parents to get back together (hell no, these people were mismatched and I could tell as an 8 year old) or worried that I thought it was my fault (um, no I’m pretty sure it was their problem, not mine- I’m 8?). I felt relieved from the words “Dad and I need to talk to you.” Sure, it wasn’t always easy and sometimes it was sad- but I have two really happy parents and an amazing step(ped in) dad. My family is strong and close and cohesive, and I can promise you we’d be broken if they’d tried to stick it out any longer. Their spirits would be broken, and my siblings and I would have grown up in a home of unhappiness and struggle. They made a decision and it lead to their happiness, which has a tendency to lead to happy kids.

        • Caroline

          This was not my experience at all. My home and life and heart were broken by my parents divorce when I was 12. I’m learning to fix them now, but it took a decade. My parents rarely fought or had any issues in front of us before the divorce, but after the divorce it was open season, usually through us kids. Which is to say, if it isn’t handled well, I think dvorce does break children, but perhaps if it is handled well, it is better. I would have liked to see my mom and stepdad modeling good relationships earlier, (they married after I had left home), but the way the divorce and custody was handled was hugely devastating.
          I’m not trying to suggest this will be the case for your children. I think that with good communication, good boundaries (not bad mouthing the other parent to the kids, not communicating through the kids) and a stable custody arrangement (we had to switch every 2-3 days. It wasn’t enough time to unpack our bags. If it had been every other week or living with my mom and visits with dad it would have been much better. Instead we lived partly out of tote bags for a decade.) then the effect of modeling good relationships and a happy parent might be good for the kids. But divorce does sometimes create broken homes for children.
          I’m not saying don’t go if it’s what you need to do, but just to realize it isn’t always better for the kids. It wasn’t for me.
          (I tried really hard not to make this a shaming comment, I’m just trying to speak my truth. I had no intentions of shaming folks, and I hope your children do not feel like they come from a broken home.
          If you can manage that, that is wonderful.)

          • Contessa

            I don’t disagree that some people handle divorce poorly, don’t put the children’s interests first and do damage to their children while they are going through the pain of it all. And I am SO SORRY that that happened to you. I can’t believe that your custody situation was anybody’s idea of a good plan and that no one noticed your suffering.

            I think my intention in my comment was to say that when we start with a blanket statement of, “My divorce will ruin my children’s lives forever” we heap guilt and shame on ourselves which is often undeserved. While I can’t control what my ex-husband did or does, I can control how I respond to what he does and says, how I communicate with him and how I treat my children during the painful process and how we create a new little family in the future. Feeling guilty or shamed over the situation is not helpful in dealing with the parts of the reality I can control.

          • z

            I’m also the child of a broken home, and I’m very comfortable using that term. My parents Failed. Their behavior was reprehensible, their divorce hasn’t made anyone happier. It may be hard to hear, but I don’t feel obligated to sugar-coat it.

            I think we’re all entitled to describe our experiences as we see fit, and I’m capable of civil disagreement without resorting to vulgar dismissals. It’s disappointing to see that “crock of shit” is an acceptable way to express a difference of opinion on APW.

          • In this culture, ianything but the cookie cutter mom-dad-kids family is considered “broken”. Toss in stepfamilies, grandparents, same sex, etc, and the world tells you your perfectly happy, healthy family is “BROKEN”. Families who fit within that mold can be broken. And yes, divorced families can be broken. ANY family can be called broken.

            But to automatically say mine is because of our situation? Even though we ARE happy, healthy, and full of love?

            That IS a crock of shit. And it IS very APW to say so and say to hell with those who try to say otherwise.

        • Goodness, I’ve been waiting to hear those words since I was old enough to know what divorce is. Sometimes kids know that their parents/family would be better off after a divorce.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. As a child of divorce(s), I completely agree. Broken homes are pretty much a crock of shit. I never felt like I came from a “broken” home. I think it’s so important to talk about all sides of marriage.

    • I felt like I was living in a broken home because my parents who needed to divorce never did.

  • Really beautifully written. So honest and brave. Well done!

  • Oh, Melissa. This was heartbreaking and uplifting and brave. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Good for you, Melissa. I’m glad you found the courage to do what was best for you and your daughter.

  • Anne

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Melissa. Your strength is truly an inspiration.

  • Ros

    Yes. This post.

    When I was 20, a boy I had been dating for 6 months (also military), proposed. I loved him. A lot. But in the end, I’m so, so glad I didn’t go through with it, because I would absolutely have been in the same situation as the original poster.

    And yes, there is definitely a time to leave. When a marriage stifles instead of helping you grow, when you lose a sense of self, when you’re (either or both of you!) not happy and (this is important) can’t see how you would ever be happy… There are times to end relationships, and there are times to end marriages.

    And yes to your comment about broken homes. Also, can I give a shout-out to the notion of “failed” relationships? I don’t think a relationship “fails” by virtue of it ending. My past relationships have taught me so much, and I’ve grown and learned and loved and I’m very good friends with most of the people I’ve had relationships with, and the ending was a sign that we were moving on, and that there were other things that were BETTER for us, but that doesn’t mean that the time we had together was a failure!

    • Yes. So much yes on callng out the word “failed” to describe ended relationships. “Failed” is an ugly, hurtful, not accurate at all term for this. “Ended” is much more articulate.

    • Kinzie Kangaroo

      One of my favorite parts of the Dan Savage “The Commitment” was when he talked about how strange it is that, in our society, a “successful” relationship is considered as such if it lasts until one partner dies. And that otherwise, if the relationship is broken off or terminated, it means absolute failure on the part of both people.

      I don’t like this idea either; in fact, my partner and I have decided to use this part of his book in our vows, because we so strongly agree that no matter what happens between us, the current part of our relationship is a success. We are growing, we are changing, we are thriving together. I don’t ever want to call us a “failure.”

  • LPC

    Melissa – You did the right thing. And as for broken homes, my apologies for the Disney reference, but in Lilo and Stitch, the little monster says, “This is my family. It’s little, and it’s broken, but it’s mine.” Always made me cry:).

  • k

    Beautifully written, Melissa.

    I have never been divorced, but I had one six-year and one four-year relationship in my twenties (both serious, committed, and drama-laden) , and I explained leaving the second to people by saying, “You know how when you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes there are two pieces that look like they should fit, and they almost do fit, and if you put them together and smack them with the heel of your hand you can kind of MAKE them fit….but in the end, they just don’t fit? That was us.”

    I wish I had known then what someone said on another thread here: that if you’re always miserable and thinking that if you just worked harder you’d stop being so miserable, you aren’t talking about the normal “work” of relationships.

    • meg

      When I was in my early 20’s, I heard someone say, “If it’s right, it’s easy.” And that is maybe the best advice I’ve ever heard. When it’s right, it just WORKS. You don’t have to MAKE IT WORK. And there is a reason for that (I learned in my 30s). Our marriages are supposed to free us up to make big things. They should be a foundation that launches us to the sky… not the thing sucking all our energy all the damn time.

      (I too had terrible relationships in my early 20s….)

      • N

        I feel like this comment needs some caveats. My marriage is happy, fulfilling and freeing, but I wouldn’t characterize it as easy. It takes a lot of work, but maybe the key is that the work is something that I want to do, not a burden placed on me.
        (To be fair, my experience is skewed by having life toss a bunch of crap at me and my husband, but isn’t that part of what we accept when we get married, that life and our relationship aren’t always going to be easy?)
        Which is not to say that having to make things work isn’t sometimes a really good sign of serious problems in marriage or a valid reason to think about divorce, especially if needing to work hard is true over a long time period. I just think that the statement “If it’s right, it’s easy” is an oversimplification.

        • I agree. Marriage is hard, yo… it just shouldn’t be THAT hard. I hope we can all agree on that. :)

        • liz

          i think possibly there are waves of work, rather than constant work. i’ve been in relationships where every little thing needed to be worked, negotiated, discussed. in my marriage, this hasn’t been the case. things fit together. it feels easy. and then a snag comes up- (we actually just had a several month long snag, so please don’t think i’m using that word to mean “little problem”)- and you need to work. hard. and it’s difficult. but then, that time passes and you feel more “yourself” and everything is easy again.

          i think that’s the difference i see. the work can sometimes be hard and gut-wrenching and painful and make you question everything. but you BOTH do that work. and it eventually comes back to a place of ease.

          • N

            I really really like that way of thinking about it! My particular snag almost certainly won’t ever go away, but even brief periods of being in a place of ease make a huge difference.

          • meg

            What Liz said. Nothing is ever easy all the time. LIFE is not easy all the time. But fundamentally, my relationship is a big part of what gives me the tools and the power to deal with life.

            And I tend to disagree with the common idea that marriage/relationships are hard work. My marriage/relationship has periods of hard work in it, but it’s fundamental nature is one of ease and laughter… and it’s been that way for seven years.

            So is a good relationship worth working for? Yes. But I’d say that a good relationship is often characterized by ease and simplicity (most of the time).

        • anonymous

          I think it’s along the lines of:

          Marriages require work. Relationships do. You have to work at them.

          But you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to “make” it work. You contribute attention time, sometimes when you don’t want to, but it’s not forced, it’s not constantly painful, it’s not Sisyphean, and you’re not applying the work to fixing unhappiness (maybe sometimes you are, but temporarily – not as a usual situation) – you’re applying it to maintaining something great.

          The good kind of relationship work is like tending a lovely garden or putting in effort into a well-loved hobby. The bad kind is like, well, fixing a toilet that breaks every day or having to put in overtime at a telemarketing job.

          • meg

            This: “The good kind of relationship work is like tending a lovely garden or putting in effort into a well-loved hobby. The bad kind is like, well, fixing a toilet that breaks every day or having to put in overtime at a telemarketing job.”

            I mean, not that gardens don’t get muddy and full of weeds and mud sometimes, but it still feels different then telemarketing overtime. WAY different.

          • OK, when I say, Marriage is hard, yo, I mean: Marriage is hard like a garden is hard, yo.

      • Jessica

        This may be true for some.

        I know my marriage takes some work because we are such different people, but we come out on the other end loving each other fiercely.

        I think all relationships take some level of work, let alone a marriage.

      • I think there is an important distinction to be made here. An easy relationship is not necessarily one where there is never a conflict to be resolved. Even easy relationships will hit the occasional bump. Couples will fight, external bad crap will come their way, issues will need to be resolved. But in an easy relationship, the fight gets resolved without leaving an aftertaste of contempt or hurt feelings that will fester and grow into something unmanageable.

        I consider my relationship with my fiance an easy one. For the most part, we don’t sweat the small stuff, and we agree on the big stuff. We do argue. I get irritated, he gets irritated. Sorry and mea culpa are not easy for him to admit or say, but that doesn’t matter because he finds another way to express it. It’s easy because we resolve our differences, which are few. We generally agree on the Big Stuff (children, religion, money, jobs, location). We don’t spend without talking to the other person first. We are both a roughly similar amount of slovenly and neat. We fit well together with little discord and no competition. We celebrate each other’s successes, and comfort each other when faced with disappointments or worries.

        We have had more than our share of hardship during our relationship. Life threatening illnesses in each of our families, layoffs, moves, job woes, difficulties with children, money, friends, exes. We are right now three weeks from our wedding, and starting next week Tony will be spending the work week in another state and flying home each weekend, which means we will be spending two days out of every 7 together. At a time of great change in our relationship, he’s going to be gone for the bulk of every week. While I am not happy with this situation, we are excited for his career prospects and grateful that in this economy he was able to find work at all. I know that our relationship will adapt without too much turmoil because our relationship is easy. The situation is hard, but the relationship itself — it’ll be fine.

        I consider my relationship with my ex-husband to have been quite a lot of work. When it comes to relationships, work is misery. It feels a lot like job burn out. I had to actively remind myself to be nice, to find the good in him. I had to take a deep breath and count to 10 before I spoke. After a while, I had to count to 20, then 30. Evenutally, the act of just being in the same place at the same time became work. When you don’t want to be there, it’s too much work. The shoe horn analogy is spot on. There were times when I felt that we had shoe-horned our way to a passable, almost comfortable relationship. But it was never actually comfortable. It was always work. It didn’t seem to matter if good things were happening in our lives or bad, the relationship itself required constant work to keep it afloat. My relationship with my fiance hums along quite nicely under my feet. It’s solid, and comfortable, and I feel like I can go wherever I like, knowing that there is a safe place to go home to when I’m done. That’s not work; it’s like falling back onto a big, soft bed.

        So, for me at least, an easy relationship is one where every external influence does not threaten the core of the relationship. The relationship provides the bedrock that keeps you stable while you survive the external bad crap. In a relationship that takes active work to keep it afloat, you don’t have mental energy available to handle the external bad crap AND manage the relationship to keep it secure, too. There is never a moment when you can be a little neglectful of your relationship and know that your spouse will understand and that you will be safe so that you can get through what you need to get through. Instead, each external influence chips slowly away at the base until you feel like someone kicked your feet out from under you.

        • Manya

          Two words:
          Effort vs. Toil.

          Effort is good/ normal/ healthy, and it results in things getting better.
          Toil is pouring your heart and soul into a black hole, and it only gets worse.

          Also, normal/healthy/loving marriages have two people contributing effort, not a single person trying to hold up the world.

          • manyafan

            Once again, Manya proves that she needs a BLOG so that I can read her brilliance ALL THE TIME.

        • k

          Yes. I often describe my relationship with my husband as “easy” and it’s not because we have never had a disagreement or had difficult situations to work through. It’s because he is doing the work WITH me instead of him BEING the work.

        • meg

          Agreed. And we didn’t even agree on RELIGION going in. But still, fundamentally easy, even through the hard stuff. Most days, at least ;)

      • This, exactly. My husband and I have only been married for ten days, but we’ve been together for seven-and-a-half remarkably easy years. Over our time together, we’ve weathered a lot of storms (including each of us going off to separate universities and only being able to see each other on weekends, among other difficult things.)

        But I think that when you’re in the right relationship, even when it’s hard, it’s easy. You put effort into your relationship because it makes you happy, because you want to. If your relationship just doesn’t fit, then even the easy stuff would be difficult.

      • gloucester

        For readers who are interested in how the language of “work” first entered the picture in terms of how Americans think and talk about marriage, an excellent reference is historian Kristen Cellelo’s _Making Marriage Work: a History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth Century_ (UNC Press, 2009). As you can guess from her title she’s interested in how marriage came to be understood as work, and she argues that starting in the 1910s, a cadre of marriage experts and professionals started to talk about the idea against the backdrop of an increasing divorce rate. But the marital work concept really took off during World War II, when the phenomenon of ‘war marriages’ (marriages hastily contracted between soldiers about to deploy and spouses they had just recently met) began to cause a great deal of cultural anxiety. The hand-wringing in the media went along the lines of ‘how is the war bride going to know how to act like a wife if her husband is away at war, and how is SHE going to keep the marriage together if he comes back changed or they discover differences upon his return?’

        In other words, a big part of Cellelo’s argument is that we (we as in 1940s-50s America) began to task women in particular with the labor of keeping marriages together, at the same time that their economic contributions in terms of domestic labor were not being recognized as work at all. Another underlying assumption was that women needed to be married more than men; hence their increased investment in marital ‘work.’ The later chapters of the book follow this language into the contemporary moment. It’s a pretty good read. As an academic history geared towards a wider audience, the writing is extremely accessible and the kinds of evidence she examines (women’s magazines, advice columns etc from the 1910s on) can be pretty entertaining.

        Sorry to sound like a grad student. . . but I was so fascinated by this discussion that I had to bring it up. How much does this history have to do with the uncertainty we have about sticking something as complicated as a marriage definitively into the work slot or the pleasure slot? (and how lucky we are to be able to air these opinions in a public forum that isn’t dominated by folks who ‘know best’?)

        • z

          Great comment! I think an interview with a marriage historian would make a fascinating series of posts.

          • gloucester

            That would be fascinating, definitely! I had posted before reading the comments below from Meg and others talking about attitudes towards marriage and divorce in American military culture at different historical moments (and the huge personal and emotional consequences that can result). An interesting follow-up question for the historian would be whether and how the WWII ‘work’ concept survives differently in military vs. civilian culture now, and what we can learn from any of these differences.

          • gloucester

            After reading some more stories shared by readers (especially CurlyRed’s very brave post) another question for the historian might be how and when the language of the ‘broken home’ emerged. Other readers have expressed their frustration with the lack of nuance in describing the consequences of divorce (the kid either ends up “ok” or entirely messed up), and Z points out the consequences for elder care that usually get overlooked. How did we start putting the two-birth-parent family on the side of the “whole” and the divorced family on the side of the “broken”? Does this language ignore the (sadly) multiple ways families can be ‘broken’, and shut down ways of thinking about how they can be “redesigned and retrofitted,” as CurlyRed so beautifully puts it?

            Moreover, if we as a culture assume that children are irretrievably damaged (or unaffected) by divorce, do we miss a huge opportunity to acknowledge and help with the particular emotions and anxieties an individual child is facing, whether terror, confusion, or relief (or some combination of these)? Is there more than one way to make a whole family? And–this is a stretch, but a question I’m really curious about–does this language of the ‘broken home’ affect or signal the degree to which our culture accepts homes and families that are built through means other than the ‘conventional’ ones?

        • Interesting. This made me think more about how we decide what is “work” and what is “play”; how we define “work” in the first place, especially for those gray areas, like when your work feels like play. (Or when things that are generally considered “fun” feel like loads of work.) And the amazing place of “flow” where what you are working at is so enjoyable that you completely immerse yourself and lose all track of time. I haven’t thought of these fluid boundaries of work and play in terms of marriage, but it makes sense to me, and I can see how marriage effort is often that enjoyable sort of “work” that one is glad to be doing…like someone above mentioned the example of doing work you enjoy in your garden.

    • “You know how when you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes there are two pieces that look like they should fit, and they almost do fit, and if you put them together and smack them with the heel of your hand you can kind of MAKE them fit….but in the end, they just don’t fit? That was us.”

      ahhhhh. yes. I have also been in that relationship before (5 years, the entire first half of my 20s.) and damn, it was really hard to stop smacking & fidgeting with those pieces, even long after it had become obvious that they just were not going to fit together. ever. finally admitting that we were dealing with inherent incompatibilities, as opposed to problems that could be worked through, was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

    • Kate

      I saved the comment you’re talking about because I liked it so much:

      “Love isn’t work. It might take some work to figure out the best way to communicate with each other. It might take some work to negotiate who does which chores. Problems will arise in life, you will disagree on some things, and yes, you’ll have to figure them out together. When people say ‘love is work,’ I think they mean to say ‘you won’t always magically agree on everything forever.’ Basically, ‘it won’t always be like the first month of the relationship, where everything is perfect and the other person can do no wrong.’

      But it shouldn’t be work to enjoy your love’s company. It shouldn’t be work to want them on your team and trust that they’ve got your back. You shouldn’t feel like every day with them is a grim, teeth-gritting duty. You shouldn’t feel miserable all the time, and keep thinking if you just worked harder to solve the problems, you could stop feeling so miserable. That’s not part of the normal ‘work’ that arises in relationships.”

      It was from Carrie on Manya’s post about her divorce – hopefully this link works:

      • meg

        This: “But it shouldn’t be work to enjoy your love’s company. It shouldn’t be work to want them on your team and trust that they’ve got your back.”

  • estefania

    I also chose to leave after seven years of trying to make it work (with a pair of sweet twin girls along the way). After I left, friends and family frequently confided their own marital struggles and asked how I knew it was time to leave. For me, I had to stay until I was 1,000% sure that I was making the right decision and would not regret it in the future. No one (not even my ex-husband) has ever been able to say I didn’t try. Three and a half years later, I’ve met a man who is not only willing to take on life with me and my girls, but is also willing to spend time in the presence of my ex-husband on outings with the girls so we can show them that we’re still on the same “parent team,” we’ve just added a member.

    My ex was also in the military. A bit of a tangent, but the military provides incentive to marry quick and pop out babies by giving you more money for every dependent you’re supporting. My ex-husband’s pay doubled when we got married. I’ve never heard of any other career that does this. I’ve read that military divorce rates are higher than civilian rates (as high as 66-75% and rising). People that might normally wait to marry (i.e. live together for a while) or have babies don’t have to plan as much for the cost of having a family, resulting in hastier decisions for many (especially the youngest, it seems) enlisted military members and their significant others.

    • Forgive the silly question, but is this in America? Because we were a “military family” in the latter half of last decade and we didn’t receive any additional pay with the birth of our daughter. BUT, we did get BAH earlier than he would have otherwise upon getting married (if we had lived off base) and got a few extra hundred dollars than the single sailor BAH.

      But you are right – there’s a push. In boot camp, they try to drill it into their heads, “DO NOT GO HOME AND PROPOSE” along with the ever favorable “If you were supposed to have a wife, you would have been issued one”, but that never stopped then. I was proposed to after boot camp, a whopping 4 months after we started dating.

      It places a sense of urgency on things for everyone involved. I have friends who managed to avoid a ring until their significant others got out of the service, but an even larger number who dove right in. I have dozens of friends who share a similar story.

      I was just one of the first to leave.

      It is a hard life, but what pulls people in is (a) the money for a select few (I didn’t know a lot who did this. The money isn’t that great) or (b) time constraints. They wanted to be together. The distance did funny things to their heads. I was no exception.

      THEN, you get slapped with guilt if you want to break up. HEAVEN FORBID you want to break up with a military man. SHAME ON YOU. HE’S GOING TO WAR! This comes on ten-fold in a divorce.

      Sometimes, people just don’t think before they speak.

    • meg

      It’s interesting. I come from a military family (both sides, career), and my grandmother talks about how you used to be *barred* from marrying till you hit a certain rank. The idea was that you couldn’t afford it till then, and it would be irresponsible.

      My grandfather was also sent to war before Pearl Harbor from The Citadel, because he has a photograph of my grandmother on his desk (they were not married yet), and that was forbidden.

      So, times have changed, no?

      • Things are so starkly different these days. And you know what? I kind of wish they reverted back to that. I have so many friends who have had their lives turned completely upside down from a military marriage. Oh, there are always, always exceptions. But there is also an unnervingly large group of us, ever growing, who have had to pick up the pieces and say, “If only we had waited…”

        My husband now is former military. He had to work hard to win me over in the beginning (he was in the process of getting out at the time, even) because I was not about to throw myself into that vortex again.

        Emotions run high in the military.

        • Danielle

          This is fascinating. I do not come from a military background at all, and what you’re describing is such a different kind of life from what I’m used to. This could be a great book — I want to learn more!

    • anonymous for this

      Thank you.

      I came back to this post because I wanted someone to tell me if I should be brave and leave or be brave stay, if that makes sense. And of course nobody can answer that but me. But I read what you said, and it clicked “After I left, friends and family frequently confided their own marital struggles and asked how I knew it was time to leave. For me, I had to stay until I was 1,000% sure that I was making the right decision and would not regret it in the future.” This was the answer I was looking for. I am not a 1,000% sure or even 95% sure, so I am going to go home tonight and keep trying. Because I still love him, and his hugs still make me feel better, and we still have fun–just less than we used to. But until I know for sure that it can never get better again or I am completely unhappy without mitigating happiness, I want to try. If there are no signs of improvement in… three months? I will revisit this post again maybe, and see what clicks then. But for today, you gave me exactly what i needed.

      (please note anyone who reads this–I just mean for me. If you feel it is time to leave but still have good times, or still have doubts about leaving, it may very well be time to leave for you.)

  • There is really no easy thing to say about this, except that it is absolutely true, and “thank you.” Reaching the decision to divorce, getting divorced, and figuring out coparenting with an ex spouse each are are excruciating events to go through. They sometimes seem insurmountable. If you also have the bad luck to be in a dying marriage while stuck in a house that is under water or in some other sort of financial mess, it can be that much harder. But you will survive, and it does get better.

    When I have been overwhelmed because it felt like everything bad was hitting me at once, I found that it helped to take a step backward, and focus on one thing, then the next. By the time I made it through one terrible thing, I knew I could survive the next terrible thing. And so on. I continue to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and when I can’t see the light, I look for a spot where I can rest for a bit until I’m ready to start trudging forward again.

    Divorce is not the end of your life. It’s incredibly painful, and definitely a left turn, but it’s not the end. There are good things ahead. Pinky swear.

    • Absolutely. It unfortunately took me a while to get to a point where I felt like my head was above water, but you are 100% correct.

  • Cassandra

    You definitely know when it’s time to leave a relationship. It’s hard, and it’s a brave thing to do.

    And I hear you on the broken homes business. If I had a nickel for every time someone (including a lawyer doing consults at a women’s center…) talked about the damage done to little children by their mothers leaving their fathers and raising them alone, I wouldn’t be so damn in debt doing my PhD. My child is happy, healthy, well-adjusted, clever, and just plain awesome. This pervasive belief that children are ruined because they don’t live in a home with their two biological parents drives me crazy.

    • Some people need to call their proctologists to locate their heads. At the beginning of the summer, my daughter actually had someone at her daycare tell her she “wasn’t allowed to have two daddies” – i.e. my ex & my husband. She was so upset because she “loves her daddies much big, mom”.

      We had a little chat with the director, who thankfully understood 100% where we were sitting and worked to shut up whomever was responsible for making my baby cry.

      We tell her all the time she is so lucky to have so many people who love her so much. And she’ll be the first to tell you – “everyone just loves me, mom.”

      • Cassandra

        That’s totally our way of dealing with things – the “so many people love you, isn’t that awesome?” My kiddo’s a bit different in that her bio dad isn’t around and hasn’t been in her memory, so she gets more of the ‘but he’s [my partner] not your *real* dad!’ etc. We’ve had many a chat with teachers over the years, and we’re only in the third grade. Sigh. Given the vast number of ways families can arrange and rearrange themselves, you’d think people would stop insisting on the standard and start accepting that love in a child’s life, from whomever it comes from, is a gift.

  • Thanks Practical-ites, and Meg.

    • meg


  • I want to thank you for your bravery. I want to thank you on behalf of your daughter, who (if she’s anything like me) will be eternally grateful for the tough stuff you’re doing now, because it’s going to make her life so much easier down the road knowing that she has parents who love her, who are willing to fight for her, and who did the right thing when it was really, really hard to do.

    • As a daughter whose mom also left a bad marriage early in life, I also want to say thank you on behalf of your daughter. You’ve made the right choice and you’ve made her life so much easier down the road.

    • Maddie, I want to thank YOU for this comment. I’ll be honest, even after the growth that has happened and the joy that has blossomed in our little lives after all of this, I still live in fear my daughter will suffer from it. I know full well what the outcome would have been had we stayed, but I can’t help but wonder.

      Still. It really means a lot to hear. So thank you <3

      • Contessa

        The hard part is knowing that we can’t know if they are “ok” until they are grown. When people ask me how the kids are handling the divorce I tell them to ask me again when they are fully grown men in stable long term relationships.

        • z

          I’d reserve final judgment for when you’re really, really old. As I said on a previous thread, caring for elderly divorced parents in far-away places is far harder than anything I went through as a child, teenager or young adult. I was one of those kids who thought my parents should get divorced and was relieved when they did, but had I known then what I know now…

          My mother loves to point out that I’m “ok”– as if there’s this dichotomy between “totally ok” and “suicidal mess” with nothing in-between. And I am “ok,” but it’s because I’m resilient. Their divorce was an awful, awful mess, and I’m ok in spite of it. It doesn’t prove that their divorce was a good idea, or that their behavior was in any way acceptable. My resilience does not excuse or justify their poor choices. People get through all kinds of things that are a million times worse than divorce, but that doesn’t change the fact that poor choices were made and terrible harms were committed. If someone broke my arm or burned down my house, I’d move past it eventually, but that wouldn’t automatically mean it was all for the best, right?

          As a child, I went to great lengths to pretend to be “ok” because I was afraid my parents would leave me like they had left each other. And my mother wanted so badly to believe that I was “ok” that she believed it for several years. I don’t know how divorced people can assess the accuracy of their perceptions, but that experience made me a little skeptical of the usual assurances that the kids are just fine.

          • Contessa

            Well…I’m not sure which part of my comment you are reacting to but as I said further up the page, blanket statements of “divorce will ruin my children’s lives” or “kids are resilient” are not helpful.

            When people ask me if the kids are “ok”, I cannot answer it because I truly don’t know. According to their doctor if they maintain their grades and their friendships at school, those are markers that they are “ok”. If they are not visibly depressed or self-injurious, continue to participate in family activites and seem to enjoy life, they are “ok”.

            But I didn’t give birth, lay my sweet baby on the hospital bed, look him in the eyes and say, “I hope one day you are ‘ok'”. Every well adjusted parent wants more than that for their kid.

            Marriages fail and we (as adults) deal with the consequences, (hopefully) shielding our kids from the worst of them. My point remains that once it has failed, blanket statements inducing shame and guilt are unhelpful in dealing with how to raise your kids in the best way possible moving forward.

          • z

            My only portion in direct response to your comment was to encourage you to consider how divorce will affect them as caregivers for their parents in the later decades of life. I haven’t found it difficult to maintain my own stable long-term relationship, which you kind of set up as the appropriate time to assess the impact. Personally, I was ok at that point, but that wasn’t the end of the divorce’s impact on our family. It wasn’t some kind of finish line where everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. I didn’t know until it happened to me, but accommodating their divorce as elderly people needing a lot of in-person and financial support from me has been the hardest part of all. It’s something I would encourage divorced parents to take extremely seriously. So my comment was in response to your setting up that particular milestone for assessing their well-being.

      • z

        I’m glad to hear you’re open to the possibility of negative effects, Melissa. My mother is so defensive of her decision to divorce that we can’t talk about any negative effects whatsoever, and it has really diminished our relationship. I hope that as your daughter grows older and processes divorce in different life stages, she won’t feel she has to keep her thoughts and feelings a secret for fear of making you angry or defensive. That’s my situation and it’s been really hard for me.

  • Thank you for writing this. I found myself in a similar situation at 19 when my boyfriend of only a few months proposed. He was in the military and promised a life that would never materialize (somehow we justified our rushed engagement as part of military life)…less than 3 months before the wedding (and a mere two days after the ink dried on the invitations), he called off the wedding. I thought my life was over, but when you said “your life doesn’t end, it gets better” it reminded me of the broken girl I was and just how much better my life has gotten! Thank you, again for sharing your story, your hope and your wisdom!!

  • Melis

    I think you are right with the shoe analogy, but I have to say that as far as broken homes go, there is something very different for me as a child of divorce now marrying another child of divorce, and the different isn’t all good. While we were somewhat spared the trauma of living in a home with two people who did it “for the kids,” as an adult I have found that my parents divorce left a bigger mark on my ideas of the relationships than I would have thought. As a kid, I thought everything was okay, but now I have realized how the way I fight passive aggressively, how much I fear direct conflict, much of this is the result of my parent’s divorce and my subsequent childhood. Which does feel “broken” at times, even if I ultimately agree it was the better option for my parents to end their marriage.

  • Marguerite

    As someone who just ended a 10-year relationship a few weeks ago, I really appreciated hearing that it gets better. And I like the shoe analogy. We were almost a perfect for each other but just not quite. Or perhaps, for a long time we were a perfect fit, but then our shoe needs and the ground we walked on changed and we were no longer a perfect fit. And then it was time.

    • Oh, Marguerite <3

      Honey, it will get better. It will suck like a voracious vortex from hell, but it will one day get better. What I've learned, though, is it's the bloody fights that make life thereafter so much more worth it. "Hell and back" really makes you start appreciating things in a whole new light.

  • Damn, if this isn’t a tearjerker I don’t know what is. Your account of your mismatched lawyer is so heartbreaking, but reading your essay I can tell you kicked life back square in the jaw. I bet your daughter is lucky to have you.

  • Your daughter is blessed to have a strong, brave Mom!

  • Manya

    Oh sweetie–

    I feel like you and I have a red ribbon stretching between our hearts (and I KNOW you see it too!). I FEEL you. Congrats for getting it down and out. I hope this post will heal you even further and get you one step closer to the opposite of love: indifference.

    You are not alone… and I’m lovin’ on you!

    • I would say “more than you know”, but I’m pretty sure that’s a lie.

      Matter of fact, it was your post on your divorce that gave me the courage to pen my own. And I showed yours to my mom, also a divorcee. What resonated with her most was staring at the next 50 years of your life. She said it nailed it on the head.

      Either way, <3

  • charmcityvixen

    My fiance was the one who left a bad relationship with a slightly less-than-stable ex. It’s been a struggle, and he’s found that the people he swore he could rely on decided to take his ex’s side, not knowing the whole story. The whole story being that they got married young, had kids young, and she cheated/was verbally and emotionally abusive. It’s crazy how much shit he got for leaving.

    Divorces are never fun… but he always tells me that post-divorce, it’s been SO WONDERFUL AND EXCITING getting to do it right (he calls it “doing it for real”) this time :)

    And those kids? They are pretty well-adjusted on our end. Their mom is a bit unstable, but they enjoy having me around. I was so nervous that they would hate me or resent me — but they are just glad their parents stopped fighting and there is peace in the house.

    • What I have learned is people are seldom the same with their friends as they are in the privacy of their own home. No one bothered to listen to me, or believe a word out of my mouth for that matter, because my ex was a completely different person around me. In their minds, the person I described was not anyone they knew. Ergo, I was “lying”.

      And it’s taken a long time to come to terms with that. But those people, had they truly cared about me, would have been far more objective than they were. So, a lot of people get unnecessary shit when leaving a marriage thanks to ignorance. It’s unfortunate. And is often very, very painful.

  • L

    Wonderfully written and deeply insightful. Thank you so much!

  • curlyred

    I have been divorced for nearly four years after a 17 year marriage. While in the early stages, there were hard times for my daugher (who is now nearly 10) and for me. Melissa, I, too, left for my daugher and me. I had stayed more years in the marriage than I should have out of fear and not wanting a “broken home” for my daughter. I came to the conclusion that the home we were in during the marriage was the “broken home.” I wanted her to learn from me, by example that there are times when enough is enough. Broken home? No way! “Redesigned and retrofitted” absolutely! She has seen me grow as much as I have seen her grow. If you ask me, my daughter is the bravest and most valiant person I know – bar none! “Life does get better.” Truer words have never been said. I have met a wonderful man who brings joy and peace to my heart and to my daughter’s. I look forward to writing my “graduate post” one day soon!

    • “Redesigned & retrofitted” – I LOVE IT.

      I’m so happy to hear you & your daughter were able to get out of a miserable life in search of fullness, happiness, and – most importantly – health. A healthy life is so important.

      I can’t wait to read your grad post, either :)

  • Mom

    1. I am so proud of you.

    2. I love you. Deeply and always.

    3. Kids from happy 2 parent households have problems, too. That’s life. The best that anyone can hope to do is take the problems we have and make them better.

    4. That stuff in the middle about what you would go back and tell yourself? I feel like I’ve heard that before… :-)

  • I’m not exactly sure what to say, this is an amazing post, thank you so much for writing it and for your bravery, for you and for your daughter. I have someone I need to forward this to, someone who is so scared of the “but what will come next” and of people being disappointed in her, of his family being angry with her, but I need her to know she can leave and it will be ok. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to come to that decision, so thank you for writing this, I hope she reads it and gains strength from your words and knows that she can be happy too. I don’t know you, but I am so proud of you.

    • Thank you. Immensely. Thank you.

  • Melissa,
    Your strength and courage are a constant source of inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing your story, I’m so proud of you, and am proud to know you <3

  • Thank you for such an honest post.

    I love that APW doesn’t shy away from the nitty gritty.

  • Christy

    So beautiful and so authentic. Thanks so much for sharing, Melissa.

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been reading APW for years – back when Meg was just engaged in 2008 and I was pre-engaged… Rarely, if ever do I comment, but I feel a part of this community and read every post.
    I was married at the end of 2008. It felt so right because it hurt so much – I thought that all the wrk I was pouring in to the relationship, all the tremendous highs and lows I was experiencing made it that much sweeter. Joy and love from the pain and hardship.
    As a 24 year old divorced single mother of a 9 month old daughter… I am grateful for your words today. I can relate to all of them. I got out for her, I got out for me. I KNEW it was right for us. It felt more right to leave than it ever felt right to get married in the first place. I’m still in the crying a lot stages, but feeling stronger and more hopeful for our future every day. I look forward to creating and demonstrating a happy, healthy life for my daughter. I hope to one day be able to demonstrate a happy, giving and equal marriage for her – but if not, it will be enough that she knew I was strong enough to leave a situation that could harm us both.
    Thank you again for sharing. I love the reclaiming wife posts, even newly divorced, but it feels so poignant reading this side of things and relating so well.

  • Moz

    Such a generous post. Another great example of APW community.

    I hope life continues to get better xx

  • Bambi

    Hmmm . . . I almost hesitate to post this comment, because I feel like it may be an unpopular opinion, but I will express my views respectfully and in a way that will spark debate rather than cause hurt feelings or anger.

    First let me say that I am not married, although I consider myself pre-engaged or even married-equivilent (I live with my boyfriend of almost a decade, in a stable and committed relationship and we know that we will soon marry and have children together). So, take all of this with a grain of salt.

    About six months ago, one of our closest friends moved in with us with his adorable two year old son because his wife decided that she just wasn’t happy enough to continue their marriage. He hadn’t “done anything wrong” except that he wasn’t enough to keep her interested and engaged in the marriage – she wanted more, she wanted a chance for a deeper, more fulfilling love. He attempted to save things any way you can think of, including counseling, but she just wasn’t intersted. She had decided that they just didn’t fit, and that was it. I have witnessed how devastating that has been to my friend and his child. They have handled everything text-book perfect so far (they are friendly and cordial when together, never badmouth the other spouse in front of the child, don’t fight in front of him, and have learned to communicate well and compromise on childcare issues). But even so, they are suffering terribly as a result of this. This experience is fundamentally scarring my friend and changing who he is. Being left by someone he loves and wants to remain married to, simply because he wasn’t able to make her happy enough to convince her to stay, has done unspeakable things to his confidence and self image. And while their little boy is too young to understand what is going on, it kills me when he cries for mommy and asks us why mommy isn’t there. The little boy is resilient and adjusting well, but I feel like this process has brought sadness and pain into his life that should not have to be there. And I fear that our friend will not be as resilient, and it may be years before he bounces back from this, if ever.

    My boyfriend and I are currently planning our own engagment and wedding in the midst of this sad situation. It has really made us evaluate what we consider reasonable grounds for leaving a spouse. While everyone’s background and situation are different, and I can only speak for my own relationship, we have agreed that we will be marrying each other with our eyes wide open and full understanding of what we are getting into. We know each other very well, and we are making a choice to be with the other person. So, with that in mind, we have essentially decided that for us, “you just don’t make me happy any more,” isn’t a good enough reason to leave and cause the kind of harm we are currently witnessing our friend go through. Cheating? Abuse of any kind? Absolutely. Serious problems with dishonesty or addiction? Yeah, maybe. But we plan to go into our marraige with a mindset that, when real work is needed, even when it is the ugly hard “telemarketer” kind of work, we will do it, because we have witnessed the alternative. Obviously, that is easier said than done, and countless situations could arise that complicate and confuse this decision. But I do know that we both have parents that worked through miserable periods in their own marraiges (periods of years) only to come out on the other end with stronger happier marriages than they ever imagined they could have. I used to be that kid who wished my parents would just go ahead and get divorced already, and now I am so inspired that they had the patience and strength to put in years of truely difficult work in order to turn their marriages into what they wanted them to be.

    About a year ago, I was listening to “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” on NPR and the topic was marriage and divorce. One of the oldest guests said that he thought the biggest change was that in his day, when your friend showed up at your door at midnight saying that he couldn’t take it any more and had finally reached the breaking point in his marraige and decided to leave, you would unquestionably counsel him to try to fix the marriage. Nowdays, we are much more likely to say “whatever is best for you,” or “I can’t tell you what you ought to do.” Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad that society has evolved to allow people freedom to make their own personal decisions relatively free of stigma and social pressure, but at the same time we seem to have lost an element in marriage that required us to make it work for the sake of others (spouse, children, extended family, and the community) even at times when we wanted to just walk away. So, my own personal view is that, for me, an unfulfilling or unhappy marriage, or one that requires a lot of work, probably still wouldn’t justify the pain caused by leaving. In some sense, this is part of the “divorce is not an option” mindset. Clearly, I do not know the details of anyone else’s situation, so I can’t speak to whether it was worth it in those cases to go through with divorce. And I don’t mean this to be judgmental or harsh or hurtful. I just feel like this point of view was missing from these comments. For me, my own unhappiness in my marriage may be something I have to deal with until I find a way to improve the marriage and/or make myself happier in other aspects of my life, because leaving and causing pain to my children, spouse, family, friends, and community just isn’t worth it.

    I consider myself a lefty feminist liberal, and I am somewhat shocked that I have reached this “divorce is not an option” stance that is so often associated with religious fanatics and social conservatives. But, even in the absence of religious belief, I think the consequences of divorce often weigh in favor of sticking it out, even when you are unhappy.

    • Well, I’d just like to say my divorce was NOT because “I just wasn’t happy.” Divorces are DEEPLY PERSONAL and I was not about to air out our dirty laundry in a public forum.

      And every divorce is different. Every situation is different. And when people say, “You don’t make me happy anymore” there is a deeper issue than “happiness”. It’s just a finesse word, one used to tap the surface. People don’t get divorced because they are unhappy. Unhappy is a symptom.

      • Bambi

        I definitely did not mean to imply that I knew anything about your situation or could speak about it at all. I absolutely agree that decisions about divorce are intensely personal (and I really commend you and appreciate you for being strong enough to share your experience with us). My comment was really a reaction to a lot of the discussions above about “work” and marriage. While I agree that it *shouldn’t* take work to enjoy your spouse’s company, and your relationship *should* be the pleasant gardening type of work and not the miserable telemarketer kind of work, I also realize that in MANY if not most marriages, there are periods of time that require that ugly miserable kind of work that does make a person want to leave. And sometimes those periods are long, with no end in sight. But, in my opinion (and I can only speak for myself), sometimes we are too quick to assume that it is bad marriage or unfixable or that the solution is to leave. I absolutely agree with you that while divorce can be soul crushing, life gets better, you move on, and you will eventually be happy again. What I want to say is that while misery in a marriage can be soul crushing, things get better INSIDE the marriage, too, without leaving. It just seems like a lot of our cultural narrative equates leaving with transformation, starting over, regaining your soul and becoming you again. My parents and my boyfriend’s parents both have narratives of misery and transformation and ultimate happiness inside their marriages. I guess that is where I get the idea that “work” in a marriage, even the terrible soul-sucking work that leaves you miserable and hopeless at times, doesn’t mean that the only avenue for regaining your life is leaving. That’s why I personally look at periods, even long periods, of that terrible soul crushing work and darkness and sadness as being worth it because I have seen people come out the other side, who look back on those periods as miserable and dark but ultimately necessary and transformative times in their lives.

        I think, maybe, each individual has their own ideas about “work” and periods of intense unhappiness in a marriage, and that is one of those levels of compatability partners should talk about before marriage. That is what I was trying to express by saying that my boyfriend and I are discussing reasonable grounds for leaving. I shouldn’t have said reasonable – that was really a poor word choice and I apologize. What I meant was that we are getting on the same page about questions like “How many years of being miserable are you willing to go through? How do you weigh your need to get out of immediate (and possibly long term) misery vs. the lifelong results of either staying or going?”

        I didn’t mean to come off as criticzing your decision – your story makes clear that you made the right decision for you and your family – nor equate what my friend is going through with your situation. Your post became the jumping off point for a larger discussion, and my comments were meant to address the general topic “when to leave.”

        • anonymous for this

          I know this is an old comment and you may never see this response, but it seems like your response here is deeply colored by the person you are friends with. You talk about how it will take years for him to be again so she should not have left, but if the situation was such that she knew shoe could never be happy ever again, why should she stay? If she leaves, they can both begin to heal, and yes, it may take a very long time. If she stayed, things may not have ever gotten better, or it may have taken years, years in which she was deeply unhappy. The same state you worry about your friend being in, basically.

          I think your resolve and decision to stay together and work through problems is a good one. I am a child of divorce (and not a broken home, thank you Team practical)and the main thing I have come away with is when I get married I really intend to see it as for good rather than something I can walk away from if things are tough. But if it is irreparable, i would rather leave than stay and be unhappy just because I said I would stay and for no other reason.

  • tirzahrene

    Much respect.

    Last year I left my husband (now ex) of nearly ten years, finally.

    I kept working at it all along because the good times were awesome and I’m not afraid of hard work…but little by little I saw more and more, and for me the tipping point was when I realized that if I met this man now, knowing what I know now about him and about me, I would NEVER get involved with him. I would run the other way to prevent myself from getting involved with him.

    It’s rough. I’m nearly 30. I had ten years with a family (five stepkids) under my belt that I had worked damned hard for and with. I’d grown my ass off, you know? And now it’s like I took a time machine back ten years – I’m single, going to college, sharing a house with a friend. No kids, no husband, no house, just two cats and an incredible sense of happiness and wellbeing that I’d forgotten I should have. I’m dating someone, long-distance, and I am constantly back and forth between just basking in how awesome it can be to have someone in your life who isn’t high-maintenance…and waiting for the other shoe to drop, because surely the hard work needs to come soon, doesn’t it?

    Thank you.

  • Kelley

    Goosebumps. Seriously. My back is tingling.

  • curlyred

    Caitlin – to your friend who is worried about “what happens next?” I would like to say this: some people/friends/family members may be angry or just won’t get it. In my case, people understood why my daughter and I needed to leave, but I heard “why didn’t you keep the house?” or “why didn’t you fight for the business?” or my personal favorite “why didn’t you put sugar in the gas tank of his Porsche?” Those things didn’t matter to me and still don’t. They still don’t get it. How many posts have I read here where family and community do not understand how we elect to celebrate our marriages/weddings and become vocal or hostile about it. Same applies to divorce.

    I “what if’d” myself to death: “what if he’s right and I can’t make it on my own?” or “what if I lose my job” (that did happen and I lived!). So, here is an alternative “what if” list. What if. . .

    * you find more strength than you ever knew you possessed?

    * in the midst of all the divorce chaos you still manage to find some goodness, good times and peace?

    * you discover your true worth and what you have to offer?

    * you, in time, become the woman you always wanted to be?

    * with healing and more time you find the love that will hold you and keep you for the rest of your life?

  • melissa – this is beautiful and brave.

    no one is a fan of divorce, clearly. when my mom and i left my dad when i was 12, it was a f*cking blessing, no joke. to this day, i don’t think anything of it that they got divorced – clearly, that was inevitable. if anything, i think about why the hell she didn’t leave sooner. it was clear to both of us for long before that. you’re brave for acknowledging soon on that this wasn’t the life you wanted for the two of you.

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  • KT

    “I would like to steal two more minutes to discuss “broken homes” and how they are a giant crock of shit.”

    I come from a home where parents divorced and remarried. And yes, it was broken. But the truth is every home is broken in some way because human beings are not perfect. Living and growing through pain and loss helps make the brokenness of life in general make sense. My parents divorce did affect me. I grieved. I grieved again 8 years later. I still grieve sometimes when things are more complicated because of it. Loss changes all of us. But it does not define my ability to experience love or give it. And maybe it has helped me see more clearly what is important in relationships.

  • I often tell people – not merely those contemplating divorce – that we already know the answer. It is the question that we spend years trying to discern.

    For me, I knew that my first marriage wasn’t a right fit. We dated for 5 years before we married. Engaged for two. Married for two and a half. I knew the whole time, but he was such a good man. I spent years telling myself I should count my blessings. “It’s ok that he hates to cuddle. I am a whole person.” “It’s ok that we don’t hang out together. We have diverse interests and we are confident enough to let one another pursue those individually.” One morning, I woke up and realized, “Will he ever love me in the way I want to be loved?” “No.” Boom. I was able to leave. Like, that week I asked to separate.

    It was crazy painful leaving a good man and one of the best ways I’ve ever taken care of myself. Listening to my core self, the one that isn’t concerned about rent, or how will I make it, or any of that stuff. I embraced the part of me that knew, “Girl, you *will* make it through this.”

  • This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your story and particularly for the last bit. I was divorced at 24, my boyfriend was divorced at 28, and he has a 3 year old son (with 50/50 custody). And our situation is not what either of us imagined but it is not broken, either. Just different.

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  • It’s so true about how families come together and give you more love than your heart can handle. I am unfortunately on the receiving end of a request for separation, and after a mere year of marriage I was incredibly embarrassed along with hurt, devastated, etc. My family was incredible. I will never underestimate the love and power of family ever again.