What I Learned About Marriage Through Divorce

A life season ago, on an unusually warm day at the end of September, I walked down the long aisle of a stained glassed church and professed my love and commitment to him before 200 of our closest friends & family. We rode in a trolley to take photographs at our favorite locations, lovingly cut decadent red velvet cake, danced blissfully to Jason Evigan’s “Cinema”, laughed in the photo booth, and stole kisses the entire night before jetting off to an all-inclusive, relaxing honeymoon.

Our first anniversary was spent on the west coast, in Napa Valley and Sonoma, San Francisco and Sausalito. We drank wine, perused the farmer’s market, biked across the bridge, and walked up and down the city’s hills. That day, we stopped in a convenience store for a bottle of champagne, laid down my coat in a park overlooking the city, and toasted to one year. We exchanged gifts, words, and hopes for the future. Our first year was incredibly tough, more so than either of us could’ve imagined when we said “I do” 365 days before. We experienced disappointments and failures, broken words, family tensions, and broken promises. Some days didn’t go well, and other times, weeks.

Two months after our first anniversary, emotionally raw from our latest and biggest argument, my throat clenched and my stomach sank deeper with each room I walked into. I’ll never forget how loud the silence was that day.  Our dog was gone along with all his toys, bowls, and food. The medicine cabinet that hosted his bathroom bag was empty, the hangers that held all the clothes I had thoughtfully picked and purchased for him over the years lifeless on the rolling rack. My eyes pooled deeper than their blue color as I walked into the living room and stopped. The Christmas tree was aglow but giftless-the balls, toys, and bones for Rocky, gone. He also has the Chrono Shinola Runwell watch I secretly saved up for as a huge surprise. I had it planned for months along with the note that would accompany it, playing on the words of time and what I wanted this gift to mean: “Time is very slow for those who wait, very fast for those who are scared, very long for those who lament, very short for those who celebrate, but for those who love, time is eternal. (Shakespeare)”The tears began their silent, familiar march down my face, the same trail they had traveled so many times before. My blurred vision made the tree appear to sparkle even more, its presence suddenly oppressive.

Those close to me know the intimate details of what happened, which is to say “nothing” and “everything” at the same time. They know how hard I tried, cried, and they know how much effort I put forth in attempt to restore the brokenness in each of us. It is the acquaintances or the potential paramour moving forward that I don’t know how to answer. I’ve yet to sum it up in an elevator speech that doesn’t sound dismissive, aloof, devoid of emotion.

Starting that day, I chose the route I knew I could feel confident in, whatever the outcome. I chose daily to be committed to truth-telling, connection, and authenticity, rather than that of blame, anger, perfection, and obsessing over image. I reached out to our pastor, couples in our church, our couples bible study, close friends whose marriages we each respected greatly. I read every book I could, I prayed desperately and intentionally, I journaled. I wrote him emails and letters focusing on what I could give rather than what I wasn’t getting  in our marriage, letters of respect and admiration of him, letters of hopes for the future and ideas of what we could try together to get back on track. I dropped off letters/lunch/and books to the receptionist at his work, I went to a marriage conference alone on a Friday night and my dear friend came back with me on Saturday while 9 months pregnant.

Two years to the day that he got down on one knee and asked me for forever, I received divorce papers. It was his decision, but that isn’t to say I didn’t have my doubts as well. I felt more lonely in our marriage than I ever did on my own, disappointed in how many meals I ate alone, how many calls were ignored  when I didn’t know where he was and why he wasn’t communicating,  how many times I felt I had to compete for attention with his single buddies and bourbon. I wanted to settle down, to host dinner parties, to buy a house, to start a family, and it wasn’t happening. I’m certainly not a victim and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. This is not something that happened to me, it is something I went through. There are two people in a marriage, and I have my share of shortcomings, false beliefs, defense mechanisms, broken pieces. When abandonment is triggered in me, both physically and emotionally, I can lash out, hold onto anger, and develop resentment. I fully recognize and can identify the areas in my life that I need to work on, which starts with loving and respecting myself and finding my worth and confidence in myself, not in someone else, and certainly not in what someone says I am and am not.

These pictures no longer have a place anywhere else. The walls in my house have been replaced with word art, black and white stills of sailboats, and others have been left blank, for now. They have no place on a holiday card, anyone’s fridge, or on the desk in my office, and they’ll never go into an album. But they exist. And it was real. I don’t want to hide my past and I refuse to live in shame. The photographs are proof that it wasn’t all bad and they’re memories tied to 8 on-off years of the history that contributes to who I am.

I’m certainly not qualified to give marriage advice, but I’ve learned a lot this year: about myself, about marriage, about forgiveness, and about letting go. This list is hardly compulsory to avoid divorce, and to complete them like a one-time task list is to miss the point.  But they’re things that make up the story I have to share.

1. Be Transparent. Trust in a marriage is paramount. You must be willing to share, everything. To fully love is to show immense courage and to be vulnerable with the parts they may not like. Share anyways. Trust they will not hold your shortcomings and fears against you. Your image is not what matters, it is your character and your ability to connect, to live and love wholeheartedly, to drop the mask.
2. Become experts on each other. What he likes & what he doesn’t. What’s tender to him, and what he dreams of. Become experts on each other’s love languages, and practice new ways of showing that, especially if your love languages are different.
3. Date Night. Almost every married couple told me this, and it is true. Schedule time to date each other, trade on and off who plans, and try something new together. Don’t let a week go by without making time to connect and share an experience together.
4. Say “I’m sorry.” Even when you don’t think you should have to, even when you don’t fully understand why, even when you think you are owed more than you owe. Extend Grace. He needs it, you need it. Give each other the benefit of the doubt and forgive each other quickly. Time is much better spent this way.
5. You’re family first. Yes, you each have your own family, friends, and now you also have in-laws. Compromise will have to happen with holidays, traditions, and time. Make sure you also make time and start traditions with each other. Put each other first. The two of you are family first, and everyone else falls in line afterward. This also applies to the single friends monopolizing your time and couch on the weekends. Make sure you are sharing news, both good and bad, with each other first. Keep some things between just the two of you.
6. Consult each other. Marriage requires sharing, and unfortunately, sometimes oversharing. You share meals, bedtimes, bank accounts, time, and plans. Consult each other before overcommitting or before making bigger decisions that affect both of you.
7. Be conscience of what you say Yes and No to. It is imperative to make each other a priority. When you say yes to your friends every time, or yes to consistently working late, or yes to social commitments after work and on weekends, you may really be saying No to your spouse. Make sure to display your priorities and be willing to scale back (or forward!) if things are becoming misaligned.
8. Wherever you are, be all there. Having a spouse also means obligations you wouldn’t make for yourself. You may have to choose between two events that fall on the same day, or spending a holiday with in-laws. You will indeed miss out on something you would’ve liked to do instead. However, this is a great chance to show love, commitment, and selflessness. Give this time selflessly, not as a deposit to be returned or made to feel guilty for.
9. Fight Fair. Choose your battles This cliché never becomes less true. I would also indicate that your battles should be present-topic, not rehashing issues from the past. Keep things moving forward. Attack the behavior, not the person. Do not hold shortcomings against one another and absolutely do not bring others (re:your family) into your arguments. When you only tell your parents about the arguments or frustrations in your spouse, they will only see them in that light. Respect your spouse by refraining from this.
10. Set goals. Find time to sit down and write goals for the month, for the year, and/or for the future. This could be working to save for a house, showing each other love in new ways, how to tackle cleaning the house, checking in with each other emotionally, doing a bible study together, or learning a new hobby together. Set goals and set a follow up date to see your progress.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I’d love to be a wife and I’d love to be a mother. But my dreams are bigger than checking those categories off my proverbial list. I would also like to be VP of my company, travel the world, own a vineyard, learn to sail, write a book, flip a house, be fluent in another language, and have a successful lifestyle blog. I have so many dreams, both big and small, and while I realize there’s a chance a lot of these won’t happen, that doesn’t hold me back from dreaming them or working toward them a little bit each day. Life can be heartbreaking but it is always beautiful. This world is teeming with inspiration and fresh starts and opportunities for growth absolutely everywhere. And if this is all there is for me, the here and now, it is enough. I am enough.

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