Sometimes doing the “right thing” means ending it. But why not do it as honorably and as honestly as possible?
In our North American culture no one gets married without a conversation. It probably started early in the relationship, each of you tip-toeing around your deal breakers as you tried to determine whether lust would blossom into a long-term committed relationship with harmonious goals, values, and morals. Maybe there was some window shopping in the jewelry store at some point, or hints dropped via magazines left open to pictures of rings your girlfriend liked. Or maybe the day came after living together for years when a not-so-subtle ultimatum was issued.
However romantic or comical your courtship story is, I doubt you found yourself at the altar, dumbfounded, wondering why you were being asked if you promised to love, cherish, until death do you part.
Yet, not just a few of us have found ourselves at the opposite end of the martial spectrum, in the middle of divorce proceedings, with no freaking idea of how we got there. I was blindsided my ex’s request for an open marriage one afternoon. My girlfriend’s husband left the house on Tuesday, didn’t come home that night, and she was served with divorce papers the next day. I read an article by a man who arranged to move out during a two hour window while his wife was at the hairdressers. Surprise!
A fellow blogger I admire whose writing offers me great comfort and hope, Lisa Arends, of Lessons From the End of a Marriage, experienced a text message ending to her marriage and wrote about what she calls “tsunami divorces.”
“A tsunami divorce is one that completely blindsides a spouse, flattening him or her with a wave that was never spotted. A tsunami divorce is characterized by a normal marriage and a normal life up until the moment of total and utter destruction. The spouse that embodies the wave may simply disappear, abandoning their significant other with little to no communication or explanation.” ~ Lisa Arends
Why on earth would anyone make such a monumental life-changing decision without consulting with the other half of the equation? Of course I am setting aside spousal violence within a marriage. I am referencing relatively normal marriages with two functioning adults. It stuns me to this day that my husband lived a life of deceit for years, and the most hurtful part of that deceit was how often he must have thought about leaving me: how to do it, what to say, and when to do it. Yet I, the woman who shared his bed, home and bank account, and signed with his last name, was never invited into the conversation in his head. Never heard a word of “This is how I feel,” or “This is what I am thinking is best for my future.”
However, my ex told me that the week before his announcement to me he had coffee with his lover and her husband, and they encouraged him to tell me a partial truth. Don’t be a jerk like my ex and have this important conversation with everyone but your spouse. The truth always comes out eventually.
I was not stupid within my marriage, or ignoring obvious signs. Sure the rearview mirror showed some potholes in the road, but my friends and family were just as stunned as I was. The photo taken on a trip with other couples three weeks before he told me shows me sitting on his lap, his arms around me, both of us smiling. For our anniversary in late February he had my wedding band resized because I hadn’t been wearing it. There was no tension, no drawn-out fights, no threats of divorce, no prolonged separations, and no ongoing marital counselling. There was a marriage one day, and, within the space of a few sentences, muttered in probably less than a minute, there was no longer a marriage.
To say I disagree with this approach to ending your marriage would be an understatement. I champion the divorce proposal. Take the marriage proposal and turn it on its head. So what the heck would that look like? You don’t need to get down on one knee, but I also don’t recommend that you physically stand over your wife and drop the bombshell while she is trying to have a nap. Create a physical space where you are equals.
You: I need you to hear me when I say I am starting to think we might both be better off living out the rest of our lives separately. I can imagine that scenario for me. Have you ever thought about ending this marriage?
You: This marriage as it has been for X number of months/years is not how I want to continue living my life. Over the years as we have grown and changed, we have not grown together, and I do not like what our relationship has changed into. I need to discuss this with you.
You: I need to tell you how I feel about you and our marriage. I am not sure I am in love with you anymore although I care deeply about you. I have a problem with our marriage; I need you to hear me talk about my feelings.
The conversation is going to be hard, it might cause you physical distress before it takes place, it is going to be horribly awkward and uncomfortable, and there might be tears, name calling, profanities, or withdrawal and stonewalling. Your spouse may experience and project anger, hurt, confusion or any number of conflicting emotions during the course of the conversation. Your spouse may deflect back on you and use this opportunity to tell you every shitty thing you have ever done to her. The conversation will likely need to be repeated many times over from slightly different angles, and maybe in front of a therapist or a clergy person.
That needs to be OK in your mind; divorce is not a situation that should be entered into lightly. The emotional, health, and financial ramifications of divorce are too vast not to be given significant weight. I really see divorce as a last resort. You didn’t get married without a conversation or two and I caution you against divorcing without a conversation or two. That is the point of the icebreakers above — starting a two way conversation.
Maybe you will feel like a bad guy at the time of the conversation, but months down the road you will have the comfort of knowing you were honest, brave, and present, while hopefully being compassionate and vulnerable with your spouse. You will have respect for yourself that you gave your marriage everything you had until the very end, and you will have the peace of mind that allows for a good night’s rest knowing you gave the prospect of divorce every bit as much loving attention as you did the thought of getting married. That conversation may be the beginning of the “conscious uncoupling” you thought you wanted, or it may be the beginning of a new and different type of relationship with your spouse.
In the long run, the outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is your spouse won’t be blindsided and have to deal with the emotional ramifications of a tsunami on top of all the “normal” emotional baggage that comes with a divorce. And that will benefit you in the long run as much as it benefits her.
Photo: Flickr/Christopher Patterson