On Boxing Day, 2015, I found the courage to ask for a separation and divorce. It’s a day that life ended, and life began.
Of course, marriage doesn’t end in a day.
The ending builds up, usually with a dull crescendo, rather than an exciting climax. For me, the reality is that it probably should never have begun. When he asked me to marry him, my response was a gut-wrenching sob of “no”. And I should have held my ground. Five years later, when we separated, it would be for all the same reasons that I said “no” the day he asked me to marry him.
But I didn’t have the courage that day to stand by my “no”. I still believed that love could conquer all.
Know this, I didn’t end a loveless marriage. I broke my own heart at the same time that I broke our relationship.
But I was so lost and adrift in the relationship, drowning, and I knew that the only way I would survive was to end the relationship.
I chose me. For my own sake, and for my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
The end began long before Boxing Day. Even before we were married, when I had the ectopic pregnancy, there were all kinds of signs that I should have paid attention to.
Choosing transformation and growth
Nonetheless, in 2013 I increased my involvement in coaching and personal growth. My baby was only two months old at the time, and I was just getting back on my feet from dengue fever.
Of course, for any of you that have ever done any personal transformation, you know that any time you grow and change, it disrupts every relationship you have. Meeting a new group of friends, who I trusted and opened up to, was a threat within my marriage relationship. Inviting him to join me and meet everyone only served to anger, not to include.
Over the next eight months, I was challenged to grow beyond my comfort zone. More than that, I had a group of close friends that were now willing to support me in that growth and the challenges that would follow. I chose that path and so, in a way, the consequences that followed.
Two questions stick with me to this day:
- “Are you willing to lose what you have to get what you want?” This was a general question asked in a group coaching session. But for me, the question became: am I willing to lose the marriage that I have, to rebuild the relationship I want to have with my husband? And if I can’t have the communication and rapport that I want to have with my husband, am I willing to be single again?
- “Do you trust him?” This question was actually asked to me by one of our coaches during a break. I was supporting another group coaching session. I wasn’t there to be coached. Of course, just because you aren’t part of the group being coached, doesn’t mean you don’t get coached! In fact, you’re in the hot seat. I wasn’t let off lightly!
Unfortunately, my answer to that question was “no“.
More questions followed – “did I love him?” Yes. “Did he love me?” Yes. “Had I been unfaithful?” No. “Had he been unfaithful?” Not that I was aware of.
So – where did the lack of trust come from?
I didn’t feel safe emotionally.
In black and white.
Said out loud to a group of people that I trusted and who loved and supported me.
I had finally taken the mask off – I was not in a happy marriage.
I was married to a good man.
I loved him.
But I did not feel safe to be myself or express my opinions within the marriage.
Of course, the challenge that followed was “are you willing to try what you’ve never tried yet to rebuild the intimacy you want?”.
What had I not tried?
Well, there were difficult conversations that we had avoided. And so I attempted to have them, Some not so successfully.
Eventually, we agreed to go to therapy as a couple. Another thing we hadn’t tried. I found someone we both felt comfortable with.
Over the next four months, we probably went to eight or so sessions. In a two-hour session, I noticed I was given about 15 minutes to speak. I was regularly told “I haven’t finished” and had questions answered for me. How had I not noticed that during our marriage? I finally realised that I was being told what I should feel and how I should be within the union.
As a lawyer, how had I failed to notice how disempowered I felt and where it came from?
In the setting of therapy, when you can’t just walk out on the conversation, I was stuck listening. Hours of listening. Recognising what I had failed to hear during our relationship. He only asked one thing of me: for me to realise that our marriage was perfect as it was, I just needed to put more effort into the role of being his wife.
It dawned on me – I would never be that!
I was miserable and burnt out. If this was perfect, then I couldn’t stay!
Of course, for him, it was perfect – so there was nothing to work on. Nothing to improve. I finally understood his anger when I asked for things to change.
I finally got it.
The person that was unhappy in the marriage was me, and I was miserable because my expectations were not being met. They would not be met. I was holding out for him to see that I was drowning, and he wanted me to swim harder!
And yet, I was angry, defensive, irritable, tired and losing it! I had long lost sight of the woman that I had been.
- I was no longer the active and confident businesswoman who travelled twice a year overseas to visit clients. Going out to networking meetings to meet new clients had become a thing of the past.
- Monthly weekends away with my girlfriends had long been left behind. A choice I had made for the sake of the relationship.
- I would make holiday plans, which he would cancel because he couldn’t make it, asking me to reschedule when he was available. And then rescheduling never happened. So, I never went alone. But I never went with him either. Again, the choices I had made.
The final straw
I’m sure that in any plummetting marriage there is probably a “final straw”. That one thing that you cannot overlook.
For me, it was the comment “so maybe I should just leave“. Any time we had any disagreement or I wanted to have a conversation about something I disagreed with, that was the response.
Because I was trying to rediscover who I was, this triggered more arguments! So I heard this response more often. It took me back to conversations years earlier when he had asked if there was a revolving door in our relationship – where he could leave, and I would have him again. The answer then had been NO.
I remember sitting him down in late November or early December, and voicing that I needed to know that it was safe in the relationship to voice disagreement. That his “so, maybe I should just leave“, used in every discussion had two effects on me:
- you are not allowed to disagree with me without threatening to end the relationship; or
- I really want to leave, but I’m not willing to be the one that pulls the plug on the relationship.
Neither of which gave me any security: knowing that it was possible to disagree and still have a conversation without losing the relationship.
I finally had the nerve to say “I don’t feel safe in this relationship when the response is maybe I should just leave.” Of course, the response was the one I had come to expect “you shouldn’t feel that way“.
So, I laid down an ultimatum: If we can’t have any disagreement or conversation in which I don’t agree with you without you saying “so, maybe I should just leave“, I will ask you to leave, and it will be final. I don’t believe he took me seriously.
Boxing Day 2015
I found profound courage that day.
The courage to say
“yes, I want you to leave. I want us to separate and get a divorce.“
For me, this was not a trial separation. It wouldn’t work: I wasn’t going to just come to my senses.
Because I finally had come to my senses! I finally realised at that moment that love cannot conquer all. I couldn’t heal all wounds, because I was broken beyond repair. My hope was to get away, lick my wounds and put myself back together again. They say “when a woman leaves a man for herself, she won’t be back.”
Our marriage was not going to get better. I had done everything I knew how to do, including having painful conversations and opening up more than before.
The beauty of doing this – of being willing to try what you’ve never tried – is that when you throw in the towel, you have few regrets. I’m not left wondering “What else could I have done to save my marriage?”.
There could well have been more things I could have done – but I’m not going to judge myself harshly in the light of 20/20 hindsight for stuff I didn’t even know at the time! What was I confident about was that I had tried everything I knew. And I made a choice, with my eyes wide open:
- I can stay in this marriage precisely as it is, with no expectations of it getting any better; or
- I can say it’s over.
When I looked at this choice, I couldn’t envision another two years of this, much less twenty to thirty more years!
Are you willing to lose what you have to get what you want?
I don’t ask this question lightly.
I have no idea what you stand to lose if you take the path of playing your hand to win. What I do know is that I have found myself, and I love and appreciate the woman that I am becoming.
In 2013, one of my coaching challenges was to adopt a personal statement that would be true for me throughout the coming months. It still serves me well:
I am a strong woman who has everything she needs and everything to give.
Of this, I have no doubt.
Because on a day like this, four years ago, I found courage.