Or something to that effect. The quote comes from Winston Churchill, I believe. (Edited to reflect the correction of an eagle-eyed reader, thank you!) I’m rushing to post this, and it is (yes) another digression, because a comment on my first post for this blog (in which I describe the day we told the children we were separating) just made me quite sad.
The commenter states that he or she is miserably married, but that fear of the very thing I described–that awful day, when the children wept and my ex-husband glared at me and I thought I’d never be happy again–holds him or her back. People often say the internet is a great tool for bringing everyone together, and while I agree wholeheartedly most of the time, when I get a comment like that it kills me not to know the person in real life. Not to be able to invite him or her over for a cup of tea (and perhaps a shot of something stronger), sit him or her down, and say this:
No one wants to get divorced. No one. Yes, it is hard on the kids. And it is dreadfully hard on the parents as well. But if you are miserable in your marriage, that’s a pretty big deal. If your marriage is devoid of friendship, of sex, of laughter, of companionship–and it need not even be devoid of ALL of those things, and not even all the time–then you are dooming yourself to a great deal of unnecessary pain if you do not try to change your life in some radical way. Perhaps the marriage can be reworked. Perhaps the unhappiness can be channeled into other outlets, or compartmentalized in a way that makes it bearable. But perhaps not.
You get one life, one chance at things. Marriage is a very big part of life–we place such a premium on it. We are expected to be monogamous with our spouses, best friends with our spouses, perfectly complementary co-parents with our spouses. We are expected to socialize in groups with our spouses. We are expected to merge into their families seamlessly, as they are expected to merge into ours. We are expected to grow old in tandem, and care for one another as we sicken and die. Putting it bluntly, marriage is simply massive. If your marriage is unhappy, you will be unhappy. And you will be unhappy until either your spouse dies, or you do. It’s that simple.
God knows I am not urging people to rush out and get divorced. Divorce is horrible. But when I look back at the end of my marriage, to the years when I was utterly desolate, when every cell in my body was saturated with misery? (And, for the record, even then there were nights my ex-husband and I had what felt like a normal, peaceful evening. Supper. A DVD. Sex. The tipping point from tolerable to unimaginable is very, very difficult to locate. The trajectory of a marital breakup is not linear–it swings like a baffling pendulum, from “What am I thinking? This is fine, just fine,” to “I can’t take another year of this, I simply can’t,” often within a single day.)
But I can tell you that the pain of moving on is nothing like the pain of staying put, of feeling trapped and without options.
If one person in a marriage is unhappy, the other person is unhappy too. That’s two lives, right there. And they won’t get them back again.
Please, please, if you’re miserable in your marriage, do something. Stay and fight, or make the leap of faith to get out. You’ll walk through fire either way, but be brave. A good friend once told me that he’d resisted pressure to marry several girlfriends by reminding himself to “be a warrior for my own happiness.” Be a warrior for yours. Life can be full of many many sadnesses we are powerless to change. But this particular unhappiness can be fixed. Here, read this. It might not help much–it might even put you off the whole thing. That’s fine, too.
Just don’t think that you could never bear the pain of divorce if that’s what you really want to do. You can bear it. Lots of people have. Your children will still love you, and still love their other parent, too. You can even be friends, in a weird post-apocalyptic way, with your ex-spouse. Life won’t be a smoking ruin forever, I promise.