I was out to brunch with a friend recently, and we got to talking about marriage and divorce. As someone who has been married for over twelve years, talking about the hardships of divorce to an outside party likely seemed crazy, until I told her the truth. We nearly got divorced once. Yes, that’s right, my husband and I actually went 85% through with the divorce before deciding to reconcile. And now, with his support, I’m going to give you an inside look at what happened, and how we overcame it.
Let me preface this by saying when we met I was 19 and he was 23. It truly was a crazy twist of fate that turned a chance meeting into this whirlwind romance (ish). We had moved in together by month two. Month four he told me he loved me and month nine he asked me to marry him. We were married a little more than a year after we met.
Now, it sounds romantic and fairytale like, but the truth is, it was anything but. We had a hard time fully letting go and trusting each other, we had outside sources that caused issues and we often found it difficult to fit together in a cohesive way. We rarely communicated with each other about how we were feeling, with me turning to my mother and him turning to the hairdresser next door. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “ugh, that’s toxic!”, and maybe it was, but we were too young to know that.
Moving on. Around three months before the wedding, amid all our planning, we’d had an enormous fight. This was so much more than any other fight. It felt like the relationship was done, the wedding was over, and I was left to work on being okay with that (since it was his choice to end it I can only assume he already was). Three weeks later, I found out I was pregnant, and I told myself, it’s time to walk away for good. Read that again. I was ready and willing to walk away. The last thing I wanted was to bring a child into unhealthy circumstances, no matter how much I loved him and wanted it to work. I had a family that loved and supported me and was willing to help me along the journey. But alas, that’s not what happened.
The idea of a child created a renewed vision in my now husband and be it his own thoughts or the persistence of an “old fashioned” family, he wanted to make things work and get married. I was hesitant at first, but also, I was young and in love, so we got married. Things actually became really good, blissful, you might even say. We found a groove in life. He worked well beyond a 9-5 as a Navy Recruiter, so we didn’t see each other much (and that may have helped) while I stayed home, a 21-year-old with a baby.
By the time our daughter was around seven months old, things got hard again, they got ugly, and we never stopped fighting. To be fair, I’m loud and I don’t back down, especially when I feel particularly strongly about something. He is far more reserved and prefers not to confront anything. We had come this far though and worked so hard to create a life together that I couldn’t let this be the end. So, I suggested counseling. It took some convincing, but I finally got through, and we went. I thought things were getting better…
Fast forward a few months to Halloween. A day that I will never forget (and not because it’s my favorite holiday) because an unexpected bomb dropped on me and blindsided me that day. Mid-morning, I’m in the living room playing with the baby when someone knocks on the door. I open the door to a stranger carrying a manila envelope. Instinctually, I knew what it was, and I broke down before he said a word. I can vaguely recall him shoving the folder at me and simply saying “I’m so sorry”. My husband wanted a divorce.
You probably saw that one coming, but I honestly didn’t. And I certainly hadn’t expected him to fight for full custody of our daughter, who I spent every day with. It was a hellish day, to say the least, and I struggled big time. Within twenty minutes of being handed those papers he called and said, “how’s your day?” like it was no big deal, like nothing had happened. Keeping myself calm through that, knowing somehow he had wanted to get a rise out of me, was hard, but I had to.
Now, I’m not going to dive into full detail about the next few months. Battling each other through attorneys but having to stay civil in person (we had to live in the same house due to our daughter) was incredibly hard. My husband had (from his perspective) family pushing him to do things a certain way. Lies were being spewed and hate seemed to be the only emotion coursing through either of us. But through that experience I had learned to stand up for myself and what I wanted and needed. I wanted to stay with this man, someone I loved so much, but it was time to let him go, and I knew that.
I’m still not sure when things changed, but our relationship was completely different. Gone were the fights and the yelling, and here were the civil and enjoyable moments, despite (or in light of) knowing there was no future for us. And then one night, he told me he’d made a huge mistake, and that he didn’t want a divorce after all. Hold up. What? Why had he suddenly changed his mind? Why did it have to be his choice? I had become so comfortable with the situation, having grown and learned to be content in what was to come, that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go backwards. So, I asked for time.
What came next wasn’t easy by any means. I was so confused as to how he could go from “I don’t love you anymore” to “I made a huge mistake”. I had been beaten down, lied about, accused of abuse, and treated like I was nothing for months. We had some hard conversations, and some fights again as well. I didn’t like feeling as though I was a puppet and he was controlling my strings. And so I bore everything that I was feeling, what I wanted, what I’d accept and what I wouldn’t within our marriage from that point onward. He opened up about what had pushed him in the first place, the role his family had played and why he felt we should try again. And then we came to an agreement, and decided we were willing to put in the work without letting anyone intervene anymore.
That was eleven years ago now.
I will say that it hasn’t been easy. We still fight, like everyone does, and we still struggle from time to time with communicating and being open with each other. There have been moments through the years that I’ve worried about being too much of anything because I might get blindsided again. There have since been situations where other people try to insert themselves between us, but we’ve learned to stand together and stand up for one another. We have thrived through more than 12 years of marriage, three children, three deployments, depression and anxiety, military workups and every other up and down life has thrown our way. We took those young kids and we grew them into a beautiful couple who work together and still challenge each other.
How did we do it? That’s a bit more complex, like any relationship is. A whole lot of trust, communication and honesty. We had to learn how to be honest with our feelings and open enough to talk to each other without fear. We knew what we wanted but it took both of us working together to accomplish it. I also had to work on maintaining a bit of calm in my frustrations (let’s blame my temper on being a red head, okay?) while he had to work on speaking up and willingly discussing our issues. And of course we still slip from time to time, and there have been moments where uncertainty looms ahead. Over the past year and a half we’ve grown apart a good deal, thanks to deployments and geobaching. It has been one of the more difficult times in our marriage, especially because we don’t have a lot of control in the situation. But in these moments we step back and remember why we are here and how far we’ve come. We love each other and we remain committed to each other and our marriage. We are constantly learning and growing, and I think that’s the most important part.
I never could answer the question of why though, why stay with him after everything that happened and how he made me feel? I’m not sure, except that I loved him enough to know I wanted a life with him, and I was willing to put in the work if he was.
Marriage is so much work, and thanks to society and the media it can often seem like it’s easy and carefree. But it’s not, and sometimes, it sucks and you hate it. Most of the time it’s an adventure that creates beautiful memories if you let it. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay, because it absolutely doesn’t have to be! I wouldn’t change my story, but we got a beautiful outcome that’s still in progress. Nevertheless, I encourage my own children to find themselves before they worry about finding someone else. And if that someone happens to show up when they least expect it, it’s their choice on whether they want the relationship or not. But most important, always make sure they don’t settle for less than they deserve.
I’m obviously no expert here, and I’m certainly not going to tell you what decisions to make, but maybe our story will inspire you to give yours another shot. And if it inspires you to walk away and choose a different path in life, may that be your best one yet.