Marriage takes a lot of work, and it helps to be prepared.
In 1999, my marriage to the woman I’d fallen in love with as a shy, teenage boy, ended after eight years.
We’d just spent a year separated following a year together trying to work through our issues. These “issues” had been brought into the open once I felt that I was in love with another woman. This, of course, opened up a huge gulf between my ex-wife and me, a chasm I did not seem to have the strength or ability to bridge at the time.
We went to several counselors together and I saw one on my own. Nothing and no one seemed to help. I felt angry and alone and I’m sure she felt the same. After two years of pain and no indication that she planned to return home, I filed for divorce.
In truth, I did not see divorce as final, likely due to the fact that my parents had been married and divorced twice to each other (now married a third time.) I think at the time I thought we’d both go our separate ways for a few years – while remaining in touch – and then once we had a better sense of what we wanted in life, we’d end up back together.
I did not know that after the divorce she would refuse to speak to me.
The morning the divorce was made final I went to the courthouse filled with extreme anxiety and sadness. I was met by her attorney. She did not come. As I watched another couple stand before the judge and end their marriage, I knew there was no way I could have gone ahead with it if she had been there. I wanted our relationship to work, but felt completely helpless at the time to improve our marriage.
When it was my turn to go before the judge it was simple enough. Her attorney spoke with the judge and arrangements were made. I signed a few documents and that was that.
I decided I needed to be around other people and so I went into the office and, surprisingly, was offered a promotion. After I accepted the job, I immediately went home to my near-empty apartment and wept. We struggled financially during most of our marriage. This promotion would have greatly helped our relationship and I’d just divorced the one person I most wanted to share the good news with.
The years immediately following the divorce were filled with a lot of pain and I continued to make many bad decisions, some of them with lasting consequences.
I learned several things about myself during this time, including the obvious fact that I often do not respond well to pain and disappointment.
I also learned some important lessons about marriage in the years after the divorce, with the following five things among the most important:
- Marriage is hard and requires daily effort. This might seem like an obvious statement but many people appear to enter marriage with rose-colored glasses, thinking that as long as they “love” the other person everything will be fine. That’s not true. Some people end up divorcing someone they love. I definitely think I underestimated the daily effort needed to practice effective communication, forgiveness, empathy, and even small acts of love. Marriage requires each spouse to dedicate daily attention to their marriage and their partner. Marriage is not a fifty-fifty proposition. I don’t contribute 50 percent with the expectation that my wife contributes 50 percent No, I need to contribute 100 percent and take full responsibility for the health of our relationship.
- Marriage requires you to know yourself. If you don’t know yourself well –what motivates you, what frustrates you, what baggage you bring into the marriage, the person you want to become, the life you envision for yourself—then you cannot know and support another person on their journey to wholeness. You will end up, like me, sabotaging yourself and your relationship.
- Marriage is for the long term. You cannot enter into a marriage without understanding that you’ve made a serious (lifelong) commitment to another person. Marriage is difficult and if you enter it with an eye on the exit door you’ll likely use it. Booker T. Washington noted that “Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” A good marriage is worth having and it comes from doing the daily hard work over a period of time.
- Marriage requires a community of support. During some of the most difficult periods of my marriage, my ex-wife and I found ourselves physically (and sometimes emotionally) isolated from family and friends. We did not live near our families and some of our closest friends had moved out of the state. A good marriage benefits from a supportive group made up of friends, neighbors, family, and one’s faith community.
- Marriage requires selflessness and a sense of responsibility. My first marriage failed in large part because I spent too much time thinking about my own hurts and focusing on my own grievances, rather than doing the difficult work of attending to my wife and healing the pain I’d caused her. A good marriage is about taking responsibility for your own actions, not blaming your spouse, and working hard to demonstrate love and kindness to the other person, regardless of their response.
No, none of these lessons are profound. For me, the toughest part has not been to learn these lessons, but to implement what I’ve learned. It’s something I need to work at every day in my marriage by taking responsibility for my own actions and committing daily acts of love and kindness, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant
Originally published on STAND Magazine.
By: Dwayne D.Hayes/Managing Editor/STAND Magazine
Photo: Getty Images