Last week I received an email from a reader whose marriage is struggling. “No one ever talks about offbeat divorce,” she said. “I know you’re a wedding blog, but I can’t be the first offbeat bride to have a struggling marriage.” She’s right: she’s not. Over the last four years, we’ve removed several wedding profiles at the request of couples who’ve emailed to say the partnership has ended. Heck, there was one bride whose wedding we were about to feature, but when we emailed her, the marriage had already ended.
Nontraditional marriages end, just like traditional ones do. That in mind, I decided to ask a recently divorced friend to share some of her thoughts on divorce. This may not be what y’all planning weddings want to think about right now, but it’s good information to have. -Ariel
Hi, my name is Kate and I failed. I had a somewhat offbeat wedding, was married for 8 years, ultimately failed at it, and got divorced. I’m starting this way because it’s not something you hear people say very often. After a marriage falls apart (or serious problems are worked out), it’s swept under the rug, put in the past, and never mentioned. This might make the newly-divorced feel better, but it creates a false impression that most people are happy and have never had these problems. When my marriage was exploding, I felt so alone and so defective in a world full of (apparently) shiny happy people.
In this post, I want to pass on a few of the things I learned while my marriage was struggling, before we decided to separate for good.
TALK TO PEOPLE
My initial instinct was to keep my problems to myself, for fear that people would judge or pity me. But I didn’t want to perpetuate that illusion that marriages never struggle, so I summoned the courage to talk to my friends about what was happening. I didn’t tell everyone all the details, but I gave at least a broad outline. Far from being judgmental, every single person I talked with was supportive and sympathetic.
To my surprise, three of my friends had previously been divorced that I hadn’t even been aware of! Sharing my story led them (and several others I already knew about) to share their stories with me. I’d forgotten that it is struggles and challenges that bind friends together. During the hardest time of my life, I found myself blessed with a number of deeper friendships.
One word about this: everyone will react to your story through the lens of their own experience. If they struggled but made their marriage work, they’ll assume (even if only subconsciously) that that’s the best outcome for you. And vice versa. If you know this going in, you won’t see their perspective as judgment; they’re trying to help. I learned that everyone’s situation is different, and nobody can know what’s best for anyone else.
HANDLING THE GUILT AND ANGER
Chances are, one person in a struggling relationship is wrestling with guilt and the other is wrestling with anger. I don’t want to share too many details about my situation, so I won’t say which I was, but it was often unbearably intense. I had to learn to handle the feeling, both within myself and in my partner.
Just accepting that my partner was feeling his guilt/anger was a first step. I tried not to poke at it or make it worse. He did the same for me. But there’s only so much we could do, and I had to come to terms with the fact that neither of us could make his negative feelings go away just by trying really hard. The emotions had a life of their own, and needed to run their course.
I’m going to ask you to bear with me as I use a couple of buzzwords: empathy and mindfulness. During my difficult times, I read two books about them that I found very helpful: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and Radical Self-Acceptance by Tara Brach. Yes, the titles both sound kind of weird and new-agey; don’t let that turn you off. They have a lot to say, but the very heart of what I got from them was that I needed to empathize with myself and my partner, and that means just HEARING what needs to be heard without trying to change it. And mindfulness is accepting and making room for the negative emotions instead of ignoring or fighting them. Letting them pass through. That may sound counterintuitive, but it made the difficult stuff seem smaller and more manageable.
ONE MOMENT AT A TIME
Beyond this, all I have to give is sympathy. When your life feels like it’s falling apart, maybe permanently, it can be excruciating. In retrospect, I don’t know how I kept my life functioning on a day-to-day basis. Cling to whatever things help you get through the moments. Some of the things I relied on were: a single song I must have listened to a thousand times, vodka, mundane housework, my job, writing things down, and walking on my slackline. Time moved so slowly that I often experienced a week’s worth of emotions in a day or even less. But life went on, somehow.
Eventually, we decided to call it quits. In my next post, I’ll share a few things I learned during that part of the process.
Be sure to read the second half of this series, Offbeat Divorce, Part 2: The Separating.