I am a planner by nature. I have several months of FabYOUlous Life posts planned in advance because I like to have plenty of time to do my research and gather my thoughts.
This post is not one of those planned posts. In fact, I had pretty much planned to not write this post…like ever.
However; I was recently contacted by one of my FabYOUlous readers and I simply cannot ignore the question that she asked me and frankly, even though this post wasn’t planned–it is one for which I have done plenty of research…we’re talking years of research.
My sweet reader had read my About Me page and wanted to know how I knew that it was time for me to leave my first marriage. Her question wasn’t cloaked in any judgement or condescension–in fact, I could sense the genuine struggle in her email as she told me that her own marriage has been on rocky ground for a while now but she just can’t decide whether or not she should stay or leave.
I so appreciate her willingness to reach out to me and I want to give the most honest and thoughtful answer that I possibly can–she deserves that. I also however need to stress the fact that I am NOT a marriage counselor–the answers that I give do not come out of any particular counseling modality or school of thought. These are simply the thoughts and decisions that guided me through the most difficult time of my life and that have led me to a life that is now far more FabYOUlous than I (at that time) could ever have imagined. I hope that my insights on this subject are helpful but I also want to make it very clear that the choice to leave or remain in a marriage is one that can only be made by the individuals in that particular marriage. Each marriage is unique and must be approached as such. I love the institution of marriage and I would never want a marriage to fail. Sadly though–I do believe that there are times when relationships are so toxic that walking away is the only healthy option.
So…for what it’s worth–here are my honest (though admittedly not very organized) reasons for leaving my toxic marriage and why I absolutely believe that it was the right decision.
1.) I was not allowed to be myself. My ex-husband was only happy with me when I was wearing a mask that prevented the real me from being seen . Things were fine in my marriage as long as I was thinking the way my ex wanted me to think, behaving the way my ex wanted me to behave, dressing the way my ex wanted me to dress, listening to the music that my ex wanted me to listen to, participating in activities that my ex wanted me to participate in…you get the picture. The problem was–so much of the person that my ex wanted me to be WAS NOT the person that I truly was. I had spent so many years (over a decade) trying desperately to fit into the mold that my ex expected me to fit into that I lost touch with my true essence. The person that my ex wanted me to be DID NOT exist–she was just a facade who was too scared to let her true personality reveal itself because of the repercussions that she knew she’d face.
To be fair though…I have to take a lot of the blame for this situation. When I met and fell in love with my first husband I was young…like, a baby. I was only 22 when we married and I had no clue who I truly was. I was in the process of learning who I was and who I wanted to become but that process got thwarted when I met my ex. He was handsome and charming and because he was several years older than me he seemed so much more sophisticated than the boys I had previously dated. Suddenly I became far more interested in attracting him than I was in discovering myself. That’s when the problem started. Rather than becoming more of the person that I truly was, I got busy trying to become the woman that he wanted me to be. Sadly–those two women had very little in common with each other and the only way that one could exist was if the other ceased to exist.
The thing is though…you can only bury your true essence for so long before something cracks. For me, that crack came in the form of a dangerous eating disorder that I used as a coping mechanism for dealing with the total lack of control that I had in my life. Ironically, it was this very eating disorder that eventually ended up saving me. The therapy that I received as a part of my treatment protocol helped me to recognize the fact that I needed to learn to embrace my true identity and live my truth regardless of whether or not anyone liked or accepted it. I needed to find my voice again and have the courage to use it. Well…the more I began to find my strength and sense of personal identity, the worse things got in my marriage. My ex was no longer able to call the shots and this INFURIATED him. He wasn’t sure how to deal with a woman who didn’t always agree with him, who had preferences that differed from his and who had opinions of her own. I was belittled, spit on, pushed around, threatened and in a few instances, knocked around enough that I ended up with a bloody nose or lip. That’s when I knew that I had to get out.
I now (after a lot more therapy) understand that my ex’s need for control was born out of his own insecurities and this makes me extremely sad for him. However; I could no longer be the one responsible for keeping him happy (at the expense of my own emotional well being) nor could I force him to address issues that he didn’t want to admit existed.
As painful and humbling as my “crack” was, it was essential for my recovery. Additionally, as a result of it, I have come to discover that the real me is a lot of fun and a genuinely good person. I’m certainly not perfect (far from it) but I do have a lot to offer and thankfully, by being my absolute, genuine self, I’ve attracted a man who loves me just the way I am. No more facades, no more manipulation or control–just genuine, mutual love and respect.
2.) My ex’s opinions were the only ones that mattered. I loved baseball but he thought it was boring. He liked KARAOKE and car shows–two things that I generally thought were boring. In the years that we were married I can’t even begin to tell you how many car shows I attended or how many nights I went to listen to him sing KARAOKE. I can however tell you exactly how many baseball games we went to…it’s a nice, round number…round as in ZERO. This might seem like a silly reason to leave a marriage and I’d probably agree with that if it were only confined to baseball and car shows. Unfortunately, this disregard for my interests and opinions spanned far beyond past time pursuits. If I didn’t agree with him on a political issue, I was an “idiot”, if I listened to music that he didn’t think was appropriate he’d smash my CD (for the record–the offending CD was Away from the Sun by Three Doors Down–hardly devil worship music but whatever…) The point is, everything in the marriage had to be about him. This led to so much resentment on my part that I’d find myself lashing out and doing silly things (like buying another Three Doors Down CD and blasting it when I was by myself in the car or sneaking off to listen to a baseball game on the radio) just to spite him. Seriously though–if you have to sneak off to listen to baseball so as not to offend someone, that should be a big clue that there’s a problem. I mean c’mon…it’s baseball.
3.) There was no partnership in our marriage. I grew up in a family with a dad who worked long, hard days in all kinds of weather to support his family. Because of my dad’s example, I too am a hard worker. I have no problems with working hard and pulling my own weight in a relationship. My ex and I had two young sons together and I was absolutely committed to providing a comfortable upbringing for them. I wasn’t concerned with being rich, but I was absolutely committed to making sure that my boys always had a roof over their heads, comfortable beds in which to rest, food in their tummies, clothes on their backs and the ability to participate in activities like sports, clubs etc. if they wanted to. I shopped at thrift stores a lot and clipped coupons like a mad woman but I did whatever I had to do (including work 40+ hours a week) to make sure that my boys were provided for. My ex however didn’t have the same convictions that I did when it came to providing for the family. I can’t even count the number of times that he bounced from job to job–always because his supervisor was “unreasonable” or a “dictator”. I once tried to kindly point out that the only common denominator between all of his “terrible” jobs was him but that did not go over well–he was not the problem, everyone else was…as always.
This inability to take responsibility is still a part of my ex’s make-up. He doesn’t pay a penny of child support despite the fact that our sons are with me full time, he still spends more time not working than working and he hasn’t had a stable residence since the day we separated (at one time he was living in his car.) I think this unwillingness to shoulder his responsibilities is the biggest contributing factor to the demise of our marriage. Once I finally became strong enough to voice my opinions and call him on his lack of contribution, things went downhill FAST. I became resentful that the full burden of providing for our family was falling upon my shoulders and I lost respect for him for that. I certainly understand that there are times in every marriage when the weight of responsibility might fall more heavily upon one partner from time to time. Overall though, I couldn’t continue to be in a relationship that wasn’t a true partnership.
4.) I knew the kinds of men that I wanted my sons to grow up to be and I needed to set an example for them. As the mom of two boys, it is SO important to me that they grow up to be men who respect women, contribute to society in a positive way, love their families, shoulder their responsibilities and do whatever FabYOUlous things they were created to do. The volatile environment that my ex and I had created was sadly NOT the kind of environment that contributed to positive personal development and I knew that I needed to get my boys out of the chaos and into a more stable situation. I know that many people will argue that it is better to stay in a marriage for the sake of the kids but I simply do not agree. I stayed with my ex for far too long because I was trying to do what was best for my boys. As it turns out however; my boys were being suffocated under the weight of the conflict and misery.
Now, I am happy to say that my boys are being raised and provided for by their step-dad and myself. They are thriving and have grown into incredible young men that I am so so proud to call my sons. They are currently nineteen and seventeen and when asked, they will tell you that getting out of my marriage to their father was the best decision that I made for myself and for them. They still have (limited) contact with their father and though they love him, they do not want to grow up to be like him. In fact, they regularly try to encourage their father to find work and a regular place to live. Their biggest concern is that they will end up having to support him before they are really even able to support themselves. I hope and pray that that won’t be the case and I’ll do my best to help protect them from that potential situation.
Despite these (and other) problems that were ever present in my first marriage, I don’t want it to sound like there were no good moments in the relationship because there were. I also don’t want it to sound like my ex husband had no positive redeeming qualities because he did. Unfortunately, the chasm between us simply became too wide and too deep to traverse. In spite of all the ugliness however; I do not regret my first marriage. Because of it, I have two beautiful and amazing sons who are the loves of my life and I have grown as a person in ways that I might never have been able to if I hadn’t gone through the difficulties associated with my first marriage. I also feel that the challenges of my first marriage have helped me to be a more authentic and therefore better wife to my current husband.
I love these words by R&B singer Erykah Badu
“I have advice for people–period–who are in unhealthy relationships: Follow your heart. It will get you to where you need to be. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, the places that your heart takes you. But continue to follow it. Where the train leads you–you’ll get there.”
I know that by following my heart, I finally ended up in the right marriage to the right person at the right time.
Regardless of what some others thought at the time, I did not leave my toxic first marriage because I was too weak. Being weak is what kept me in the marriage far longer than I should have been. I also did not leave it because of a lack of love for my ex. I still loved him but I learned that I had to love myself enough to know what was healthy and essential for my own well being and that of my sons. I also knew in my heart of hearts that I did everything in my power to salvage the relationship (including countless hours of marriage and individual counseling.) It is because of these factors that I was able to leave and hold my head high as I did so.
The bottom line is that there is (unfortunately) no clear cut answer as to when/why it is appropriate to leave a marriage. There are those who preach that marriage is intended to last forever–no matter what–and those who treat marriage with no more regard than they do last week’s left over tuna sandwich, disposing of it at the first sign of any unpleasantness. I do not fall into either of those camps and I know that no two relationships are the same. For me, I discovered that clinging to my toxic marriage long after it was past the point of no return was preventing me from growing as a person and denying myself the right to be truly loved, happy and at peace. I wholeheartedly believe that if a relationship doesn’t help to make you a better person or challenge you to evolve into a happier and more loving individual, it is not worth holding on to. If a relationship continually makes you bitter rather than better, it is time to do some serious re-examining of priorities and to spend some time soul searching to discover what will truly allow you to live your most FabYOUlous life.