It’s Only After We’ve Lost Everything That We’re Free to Do Anything

It’s my birthday and in two days it will be a year since I was told my marriage of nine years was over. I don’t want to commemorate that day but I’m compelled to contemplate what’s happened to my life in the last year and the time leading up to that day. It has been the most difficult experience I have ever had to face. One day I had a wife that I loved and had been with for nearly 16 years and the next I was dealing with the previously unimaginable reality of divorce.

The reason she gave was that she wanted kids and I did not. This wasn’t the first time this issue had come up. We had always planned to have kids at some point in the future. A few years after we got married I had finally started to effectively deal with my depression. Around that time I realized that I didn’t feel capable of raising a child. Within a matter of weeks of coming to this realization I talked to her about it. It was a difficult conversation. At the end of it though, while she would have preferred to have children, she told me she could live without children for the sake of our relationship. She said at the time that she didn’t know that she would always be okay with that situation, but for the near future she could be.

That situation apparently changed at some point several years ago. When this change happened I wasn’t aware of it. In fact I wasn’t aware of it until the day she told me she wanted a divorce. We had never until that day talked again about having children. As I look back at the last few months leading up to the day I had begun to realize something was off.  I was actually the one who started the conversation that day by asking her why she had been acting oddly. I now see that she had been drifting away for some time. There were reoccurring problems that came up over the last few years we were together. During that time I tried to address them with her. She dismissed with anger and defensiveness my efforts to deal with those symptoms. Those problems turned out to be symptoms of the larger issue I didn’t know about. I take responsibility for not having the courage to push the arguments about those behaviors to a point where her real feelings may have come out. I accepted the defensiveness with frustrated resignation. And I regret that deeply.

When she told me she wanted a divorce as much as it hurt I understood her decision. I don’t hold it against her for wanting what she wanted. But the fact that she kept it from me for years while I struggled to deal with the symptoms of her resentment towards me was something that I wasn’t able to process when she first told me. It would be months before I could actually see what she had done. She had always had a habit of conflict avoidance, but I never imagined anything like this would happen. I’m not able to comprehend having so much fear of conflict that the slow disintegration of one’s marriage is preferable to making an attempt at dealing with the issue. It hurt realizing that the level of commitment to the relationship was so vastly different for each of us. I would have been willing to try to make it work had I known the problem. That wouldn’t have meant staying in the relationship without concern for the cost to each of us, but having the willingness to go to uncomfortable places in the hope of making things work to the satisfaction of us both. Had she been willing to talk to me when she first started dealing with this on her own I can realistically imagine a scenario in which we would now be planning to have our first child. I can also imagine a scenario in which we were still forced to acknowledge we couldn’t make it work with us both getting what we wanted and the relationship ending, but without the hurt, anger, and animosity. She didn’t give us the chance for either.

After people found out about the divorce I was told quite a few times that I seemed to be handling it well. It turned out I wasn’t actually. I was going through the numbness of being in shock which lasted for months before I was able to begin to process the pain I was feeling. The person I had loved and trusted more than anyone else would rather simply walk away from our relationship than have a difficult conversation with me and make an attempt at saving what we had. Once I was able to start processing the hurt her actions caused I became angry at the disrespect she had shown towards me, my feelings, and our relationship. The anger is still there. But it is a hot emotion that I expect with time will cool and fade. I don’t think the hurt ever will. The hurt is something deeper. It is the unraveling of everything I thought to be true over the last 16 years. Everything I have been or done during that time began and ended within the context of the two of us together. I am now forced to rebuild myself from an entirely new context. One that I had no part in choosing.

I feel profoundly alone. That’s not to disregard all the support I’ve received from my friends and family who have been extremely supportive. But throughout my entire adult life I’ve had a close companion who has been with me through everything and now she is gone. And the person I would have normally turned to for help in dealing with what has happened during the past year is not only absent, but the cause of it. So much of me was invested in my relationship that when it ended I lost a huge piece of myself. It feels like an amputation. And now a year later I’m still trying to figure out who I am without that relationship. And as much as I miss that companionship I’m not likely to look for someone else to fill that same space. This loss has nearly destroyed me and I don’t know that I could manage to survive it a second time. I am not so cynical that I feel as though there isn’t anyone who is trustworthy. But I don’t feel capable of the willingness to trust someone to the extent that I trusted her. I don’t have the capacity to take that chance again.

I’d like to be able to say it was all worth it in the end. I loved her. I loved who we were together. I loved who I was with her. But if I was given the chance to take it all back I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t. I cherish all the good memories I have and there are a lot of them. The vast majority of our time together was happy. Even the last year we were together there were a lot of happy memories. But now all those happy memories are tainted by what happened. Her betrayal and disrespect affects how I remember all of the previous years. I can’t look at them without thinking of the eventual outcome. There are days I’m in a worse position than I was on Day 1. I still go to sleep crying some nights thinking about how I went from where I was to where I am. I am damaged to an extent that I don’t think I will ever fully recover from. I know time will make the emotional pain more easily borne, but like a broken bone not set properly I don’t expect to heal well.

Back to the title, a quote from Fight Club: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” I often feel as though I’ve lost everything, but in truth I haven’t. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a hindrance. From the bottom there’s nowhere to go but up. Near the bottom there’s still plenty of room for wallowing. I’ve tried not to do that. As heartbroken and depressed as I’ve been I try to find as much positivity as I can. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It’s a lot of work. But it’s necessary work for my survival. If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of over and over during the last year it’s that change is inevitable. Counting on anything to be static is only going to end in disappointment. And so I am trying to accept the changes that come and make as much good from them as I am able.

2 thoughts on “It’s Only After We’ve Lost Everything That We’re Free to Do Anything”

  1. Your blog hits so many valid points about the many emotional levels of divorce. I have been divorced twice and I recognized the sequence of psychological trauma and healing. Your candid and open essay was wonderful, not fun, but you reveal what so many people feel or have felt.

    1. Thanks Peter. I’m glad that it resonated with you. I hope others with similar experiences can find something useful in it.

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