When people hear about my story of tsunami divorce and contrast the sudden trauma with where I am now, I often hear the response, “I don’t know how you did it.” And sometimes when I reflect back on those early days, I feel the same way.
But I also have a different perspective now, coming from over a decade of hearing other people’s divorce stories. Mine may have made a good story, but it many ways, it made for an easy recovery – a sudden and absolute ending, easy to achieve “no contact,” no children and an affair partner that was another victim instead of an additional person that betrayed me.
The more stories I hear from all of you, the more in awe I am of the strength you have in persevering despite seemingly impossible circumstances.
Those of you wrestling with the difficult and multi-faceted decision to end a marriage, I don’t know how you do it.
In some cases, the decision to end a marriage is clear-cut. There’s abuse, abandonment, prolonged and untreated addictions and one partner is unwilling to put in the effort to make a change.
But many marriages exist in a more nebulous realm, where it’s not terrible, but it’s also not good. And that’s a hard place to be – a place filled with so much unhappiness but also so much doubt. And many of you are in that place or have come through there, wondering what decision is best for your family and questioning yourself even as you initiate the dreaded conversations.
I’m in awe of you. It takes courage to make a change, to be willing to jettison the known okay in pursuit of the better. It’s easy to allow a fear of being alone keep you where you are; it takes some serious backbone to see your worth and decide that you would rather have nobody than settle for the wrong one.
Those of you staying strong and raising children through your own heartbreak, I don’t know how you do it.
In many ways, I reverted back to a child after my divorce. I counted on people to remind me to eat. I struggled to make any decisions, much less responsible ones. And I had a toddler’s ability to control my emotional state (i.e. none). But I COULD do that. The only other creature dependent upon me at that time was a cat, and I was able to manage buying kibble and dispensing it at regular intervals.
Yet for those of you with kids, you don’t have the freedom to fall apart. You have to find a way to pretend to be entertained by a discussion of the latest Disney characters when all you want to do is cry and curse the world. You have to hold your tongue because even if they’re the worst ex on earth, they are still your children’s other parent.
And that’s not even the hardest part.
I love the quote about having a child is like your heart walking around outside your body. Yet now, that heart – that you feel such an immense need to protect – is breaking. And you have to watch, knowing that although you can be there for them, you cannot keep them from the pain.
I am in awe of you. How you get up every morning determined to stay motivated and positive. How you set your own feelings aside for the benefit of your kids. And you sacrifice your own needs in order to create a better future for your children.
Those of you making the decision to stay with an unfaithful spouse in an attempt to repair the marriage, I don’t know how you do it.
Infidelity is such a thorny topic. It’s more common than we like to admit and those that commit it do all fall into the category of unforgivable and unredeemable. And for some of you, you and your unfaithful partner view the infidelity as a turning point, an opportunity to address what led up to it and to learn how to do better going forward.
Yet even when that decision is made to try to make it work and even when your partner accepts full responsibility and is doing all the right things, it’s hard. You have to be vulnerable with the same person that took advantage of your vulnerability. You have to learn to trust the same person that broke your trust. And then from outside the home, you face judgment from those that deem the ones who choose to stay as weak. Even though the reality is that it takes great strength and courage to stay and face this.
I am in awe of you. It’s easy to dismiss people who make egregious mistakes, to stay in a place of anger and outrage and victimhood. It takes true grace and character to see beyond somebody’s actions – and the hurt you’re still feeling – and be willing to give them a chance to make a change.
Those of you who have to see – or even have a working relationship with – the affair partner, I don’t know how you do it.
I remember the first time I saw a picture of my husband’s other wife. I felt a strange sort of gutted as I scanned this image of a strange woman who had been intimate with my husband while I was kept in the dark. She was unknown to me, yet still played such a major role in my life. And I was lucky – she had no connections to my life and I would likely not have to any unwanted with her.
Many of you are not so lucky. The affair partner is a neighbor, a coworker, a friend (or former friend) or even a family member. You are forced to interact with them or even coparent with them. Every time you leave the house, you have a little tinge of apprehension, knowing that you could bump into them at any time. Or, you dread upcoming events because you know you’ll be trust into the same room as them.
I am in awe of you. You continually resist the temptation to hide away behind closed doors or curse the affair partner when you see them. You find a way to separate your feelings about what happened from your interactions with this person now with the goal of keeping the peace. And you establish boundaries that keep you safe but that also acknowledge their existence in your life.
I am in awe of you, you badass survivors. You amaze me every day!