One question I get asked by people over and over again – particularly by people thinking of separating from their spouse or long-term significant other – is how I knew when my marriage was over. At what point did I realize it was truly unsalvageable, truly past that mythical point of no return? What was it that pushed me from tolerable unhappiness into unbearable misery? Where was the line for me personally, and how was it crossed? What made me know in my heart of hearts it was time to get out for good?
It’s a complex and difficult question to answer, of course. In the case of a lengthy marriage, there are literally years worth of moments – large and small – events, and interactions that take place between two people as a couple that cumulatively exert pressure and tension on their relationship, and if allowed to fester those moments can collectively become a formidable impediment and burden. This goes without saying. But usually there is a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back type of moment, regardless. An epiphanic, A-HA!-type moment of total disillusionment, where you finally know it’s best for everyone concerned to just throw in the towel.
What was yours? Mine came one sunny Saturday morning in June a few years back.
My ex and I had been having troubles for years, had tried marriage counseling and individual therapy, and failed. Following those failures, we’d spent the winter and spring of that year essentially avoiding the issue of What We Were Doing. To achieve maximum avoidance of The Dread Issue, we starting living all but completely separate lives. Very occasionally we’d make a public appearance around mutual friends and keep up appearances, but beyond that, there wasn’t much of a marriage to speak of. We became at best roommates, at worst two people time-sharing one household. He’d developed a group of friends wholly outside the marriage that were his friends not ours, and frequently stayed out with them well past my exhausted stay-at-home-mom bedtime. We were two ships passing in the night – or in the morning, I guess. Sometimes not even then though, if we could help it.
On the climactic morning I woke up and realized, among other things, that I didn’t know who I was waking up with anymore. That not only weren’t we lovers or in love, but that we weren’t really even friends anymore. Friends like spending time together, look forward to seeing one another, miss one another when they’re apart. And listen, I promise you that I had no illusions when I got married that passionate romantic love would necessarily blaze red-hot our whole lifetime. I would’ve been content with a strong friendship, camaraderie, and familial affection. I would’ve been content with spending my entire lifetime with a good, trustworthy friend, sharing the joys and burdens of adulthood and raising a child together. A true, caring partner. But I realized that morning that we didn’t have anything even close to that. Not even something in the same general ballpark. The truth is, we didn’t even really like one another anymore, and we both knew it.
The night before he’d been out late with his friends again, while I stayed home alone with our daughter. He was sprawled on the living room couch, still in the clothes he’d had on the night before, when I came downstairs. I looked at him and in that moment forced myself to confront the dreaded What We Were Doing issue head-on for the first time in a long, long while. I forced myself to see how things really were, not some conveniently edited-for-television, prettified, sanitized version – not the version of our marriage that we’d present to others in public, but the unvarnished reality. And I knew. I just knew. I felt my heart physically drop into my stomach.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I said. “We need to stop.” He nodded in agreement.
And that was it.
It was a moment years in the making for sure, but a solitary, singular moment in time nonetheless – an important and life-changing one. It’s a moment that as long as I live, I’ll never, ever forget.
What about you? When did you know for sure, and how did you reach that conclusion? Did you know before or after your ex – or did you both come to the realization together? Did something happen that pushed you over the edge in an instant, or was a it a slow dawning? What made you believe things were unsalvageable and that it was time to finally move on? I’m all ears.
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com