I am going to be honest—the “D” word crossed my mind several times during our first year of marriage. Sometimes it came late at night while I was lying next to my husband in bed, sometimes it came after a heated argument that felt too wrong to be natural, and sometimes it came at random while I cooked or folded laundry.
At first, I had just chalked it up to the common belief that generally, the first year of marriage is the hardest. So we marched on, loving each other the best we possibly could, buying a home and starting a family, making hundreds—thousands!—of happy memories together, and making just as many unhappy memories alongside them.
Despite our backbreaking efforts to create and maintain a happy marriage, we could not bring ourselves to approach nor resolve conflict in a healthy manner. It is horrifying to admit the dangerous degree to which our communication styles clashed during fights. The anger and resentment that would conjure resulted in vile words that could not be unsaid and disrespect that could not be reversed.
Looking back over the years, I see a worn path of my own maturity, my own coming of age as a woman and a mother. Scattered along that path are discarded bits and pieces of the adolescent love, the naïve hope, and the dangerous passion that had brought us together in the beginning.
It is devastating to admit that it did not take long before there was nothing left of what was before except for an undeniable cliché—we had grown apart. Or to be more accurate, I had grown away from him. He is by and large the exact same man I met those many moons ago.
I am the one who has changed.
In the years since we met, I have become a mother to an amazing little girl. I have overcome a life-altering struggle with postpartum depression. I have proudly experienced incredible success in my career within a male-dominated field. I have survived the death of a parent. All of these things have intrinsically changed my perspective on life, and they have transformed me into the woman I have always wanted to be—weathered yet wise, confident yet empathetic, and comfortably independent.
I was recently taken aback when my husband told me I actually had not changed, but had simply become secure in the woman I have always been. He saw these qualities a decade ago and fell in love with them. He told me he had always known the day would come when I would wake up and realize I deserved better. Talk about dagger in the heart—for the both of us.
During our brief courtship, I had pretended to be okay with certain aspects of his lifestyle, as so many young women do in their quest for love. I submitted to his indulgent ways, excused his anger by calling him “passionate” and hoped he would simply grow out of certain behaviors as he got older. I put on the mask I had thought he wanted to see, presenting myself as a woman he couldn’t resist. And it worked. But one can only play house for so long until the fun and novelty wears off and you are left with nothing but the heavy disappointment of a reality you had denied before.
He feels lied to, as he should. It is not fair for me to wake up one day and tell him, “Oh by the way, that woman you married? Yeah, she does not exist, and now you are stuck with the real me. And the real me does not like this, that, and the other thing.” But it is far less fair for both of us if we were to continue our unhappy charade.
While I feel tremendously guilty for fooling him, I am even more angry that I had lied to myself. There are fundamentally philosophical, political, and intellectual differences between the two of us that I never should have overlooked—the kinds of things that I will teach my daughter to never accept in any prospective partner.
Sharing a child means this is not just about him and me anymore. If we had not gotten that surprise pink line three years ago, I am certain we would be divorced by now. But I have our daughter to consider. What is best for her?
A huge part of me wants to figure out how to happily stay together. After all, her father and I do not hate each other. In fact, the life we share runs pretty smooth as long as we avoid any deep conversation or personal interaction. Not exactly anyone’s idea of a joyful existence. More agonizing than the level of loneliness you feel when you are alone is the level of loneliness you feel when you are with someone. Suffice to say that sex has not happened in a long, long time.
We are good friends, my husband and I. Hell, we even still make each other laugh now and then. But passionate lovers with mutual respect? We have not been that since the first year we met.
Do we continue to be life partners, supporting our shared goals and bringing our daughter up in an “intact” home? Considering we still share some familial love for each other and succeed in running a tight ship at home, we could probably pull it off. But our daughter would never see what a healthy, loving marriage looks like. She would never see two parents who have each other’s backs. She would never learn how to overcome conflict and communicate effectively in relationships. She would never get embarrassed, because her parents can’t keep their hands off of each other. She would never see her father be the shoulder for her mother to cry on nor her mother be the rock to which anchors her father.
If she grows up to the be kind of woman I expect her to be, she will likely be disappointed in me for staying in an unfulfilled relationship. She may even feel a twinge of guilt over the fact that she was the reason her parents suffered through life without knowing true love’s deep, ongoing passion.
Yet my heart breaks when I think about divorcing. Obviously this is not what either of us wanted. But maybe—just maybe—if we divorce now, our daughter will never bear witness to the unacceptable damage of my disappointment and her father’s resentment. Sure, one day she will wonder why Mommy and Daddy do not live together like other parents do, but at least she is young enough that having two happy homes will quickly become her normal. She probably won’t even remember a time when we all lived together, which is both sad and hopeful. And perhaps, if we divorce now before things turn really ugly, her father and I can more amicably co-parent as friends, or at the very least, two adults who still respect the other.
We have started going to a marriage counselor, and I am keeping my heart open to possibilities. It is through this professional help and my personal reflection that I am gaining strength to prepare for either the incredible effort it will take to remain his wife or the overwhelming culture shock of becoming an ex-wife and single mother. Regardless of where this path is taking us, it is taking us somewhere…somewhere other than the stagnant sorrow that is drowning us today. And today/right now/at this moment, that change is all that matters.