Jacob Nordby thinks about whether loving someone should ever mean parting ways
For years there was a scene in my imagination which filled me with more dread than I can possibly express.
Picture me, a faithful husband of almost 20 years, sitting down with the first girl I ever kissed and saying, “I want a divorce”. It was unthinkable and I avoided this conversation until it became inevitable.
So why did it happen?
It wasn’t for any of the reasons that make headlines. No one beat anyone or cheated on anyone or became a gambling addict.
It all came down to this: getting a divorce was the most honest thing I could do.
God, I hated the long, slow process of facing this! Divorce violated my own Good Guy Code–especially if it didn’t involve any of the more dramatic reasons. I grew up in a religious sect which simply didn’t allow for divorce unless somebody got caught in adultery. Even though I left that belief system a long time ago, the residual loyalty to that standard remained. Also, my ex-wife and I have three children together. This fact kept me from facing my own growing questions longer than anything. I mean, we both love these kids and want them to leave our care as happy, healthy adults.
But there was a moment on Valentine’s Day when I was standing in the greeting card aisle trying to pick out something that would tell the truth of my love for this woman. And I kept pulling the next one out, reading it and putting it back on the shelf with an increasingly heavy heart. Standing there with tears in my eyes, I realized that none of the romantic messages I was reading was honest. I just couldn’t do it to her. I couldn’t keep telling comfortable lies.
I’m a romantic man. I started reading books about marriage when I was a teenager with an aim to become the perfect husband. I really hoped I could deliver a command performance as a man which would result in an entire lifetime of growth, love and mutual happiness. This scene in the Valentine’s card aisle broke my heart and it told me a truth I had avoided for a long time.
My journey in life has brought me to a point of knowing that the highest honor I can pay a person is honesty. Honesty liberates us both.
Honesty, as Billy Joel sings, is such a lonely word. The trouble with honesty is that it usually lurks around the edges of our awareness for years but we are too afraid to look square at it.
The truth is I knew what my heart had been telling me for a long time and there was only one reason I refused to listen.
It’s the reason I wouldn’t do what I knew must be done. I have written elsewhere that fear is just honesty asking to be lived.
And what are we afraid of in relation to the D word? Many things. We are afraid to hurt another person. We are afraid of what people will think—after all, even though more than 50% of marriages end in this way, we still hold a strong societal belief in happily ever after, and we can’t bear the judgment of our tribe. We fear financial devastation. We dread the jagged conversations and courtroom scenes. We are afraid that our children will be damaged forever. We fear the unknown of a thousand other things which lie outside what perhaps is comfortable misery.
But there came a time when the honesty caught up to me and wouldn’t allow me to turn away. If you have been there in the past or are facing it now, you know exactly what I mean. I was forced to face the slippery half-truths I had been telling myself for so many years.
For example, I had been telling myself that the growing lack of real connection with my partner was just what happens when people are together for decades, slugging out the mundane details of life together. But that was denying what I knew to be true: that we had never shared mutual joie de vivre, goals or outlook on life. We married when I was twenty and she was eighteen by a month. No matter how many great marriage books I read, or personal issues I faced or other things guaranteed to inject the magic back into relationships–nothing was going to overcome the reality that we had been walking different paths since the start.
So, back to my Valentine’s Day dilemma, I did pick out a card for my then-wife. I did say “I love you” with roses–and I meant it. I also began to face the questions I had been eluding for so long.
One day, I held my breath and dived into the conversation I had feared the most. Of course, that led to many more long, tearful discussions and, as those conversations continued, it became apparent that love isn’t inconsistent with divorce. In fact, this parting of ways was the most loving, honest thing I could do.
When the path became clear in that way, the decision was really about taking the direction my heart knew to be true into the unknown, or turning back and coping with un-lived truths festering inside.
But regrets often haunt couples who split because many divorces are filed long before that much clarity is reached. We know when honesty has finally revealed itself because there is a deep sense of calm regardless of the emotions swirling around the edges. We know we can move forward with peace if certainty remains in quiet moments when we are alone with ourselves.
If we take the time to live out our questions, then what will appear is the truth. When this happens, we will be able to offer a great deal of compassion to everyone involved.
If you are considering divorce, please don’t let it be because she cheated, or he wouldn’t help around the house, or because some more attractive partner showed up. Those are surface reasons and are probably fed by old patterns, co-dependency and wounds which will be repeated in future relationships (second marriages have an even higher statistical rate of failure).
No, if you can’t look yourself in the mirror and know for sure that divorce is the most honest thing you can do, then you owe it to yourself to dig in and do the work to find out why not. I know several couples who were obvious candidates to split, but they had something real and went the distance to rediscover it together. They learned more about themselves and each other and they are happier today than ever before.
To keep it real here, I won’t say that the road after even an honest divorce is always easy. Co-parenting and reassembling life in a new way is challenging.
But I can report that peace has followed my decision to choose courage over denial. The children are doing well, my ex-wife has found a wonderful new mate and my own work has opened in ways I couldn’t have previously imagined.
Life has a way of rewarding radical honesty with new doorways into our highest and best good.
And that is what we really desire the most, isn’t it?