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Last summer, when I told my husband that our marriage wasn’t working, we sat in separate chairs and stared at one another, wondering where to go from there. It seemed impossible to cope with the ending of our seven year marriage, especially with two young kids who depended on us for stability in every imaginable way. Even though I meant what I said, we started going to therapy again — just as we had done several times in the past.
But the terrible truth was, I already knew that our marriage was over. And I think he did, too. Still, that didn’t make the reality of facing it any easier.
The end had felt near to me for longer than I wanted to admit. And through all the therapy, yoga classes, and ranting sessions to my friends, I couldn’t make our marriage work. I tried. I’d been trying for years. But I didn’t know joy in my marriage — or really, in my life — anymore. I didn’t know how not to be angry with my husband, or how to be the wife I should be in order to make our marriage work. And at some point, I think I stopped wanting to know. I just couldn’t ignore the truth or push it away anymore. The only thing left to do was commit to moving forward, which meant moving on.
On New Year’s Eve, after months of looming sadness, all I could think was I can’t start another year of my life — of my children’s lives — like this. I was done and I couldn’t keep it in any longer — not for another hour or another day. Not even because it was New Year’s Eve and we were supposed to be going on our first date in months.
So again, I put all my cards on the table. I said that I couldn’t keep living this way. I told him that going back to therapy would just mean another six months or a year before we returned to the exact same spot with the same toxic arguments. The same small, but grating fights about nothing. The same disappointed, angry, and lonely feelings. I’d been unhappy in our marriage for a long time; and this time I was so upfront about it, we could no longer turn it away.
We sat and cried for a long time before I decided that I couldn’t sit in the house and cry all night. Both puffy-eyed and miserable, we dragged ourselves to dinner. We shared a bottle of wine and I picked at food my turning stomach didn’t really want, but ate anyway.
Truthfully, I’m not actually sure what I envisioned would happen next. Conscious uncoupling? Co-parenting from separate homes? Taking some space, some way, somehow? Maybe.
But here’s what I didn’t imagine: that the end would be more of a slow crawl than a clean break, yet here we are. Months after deciding we were done, we’re still trying to figure this whole separation thing out. We’re still coexisting in the same space, trying to support our children the best we can, while treating our home like two separate apartments. It’s gritty. It’s crushing. And it’s filled with self-doubt, guilt, and so much more.
When you have young kids and finances are an obstacle, saying “I’m done” and walking out the door is just not feasible. Maybe, in some ways, that’s a good thing. Not having the means to simply create two separate homes at the first hint of distress means we gave our marriage everything we had and more. And now, even though it’s painful for us as adults craving our own space, it means our kids have time to adjust to the idea of a physical separation. Still, separation has been a painfully brutal process of going back and forth, leaning on each other, and then pulling away when it doesn’t feel right, all while trying to stand on our own two feet again and again.
Here we are, separated in our hearts, but still coming home each day to the same house wondering, When? How? What happens next? I simply never imagined how much patience this would all take. I never realized just how much I’d have to put on a show, fake a smile, and act OK for my kids when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sob my heart out.
Even though I’m ready for change to come, I know it also means things are coming that I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite ready for. There’s just no way to prepare to saw your life in half.
So we’re trying to proceed with caution with proven ways to help alleviate stress to make the transition as smooth as possible so our kids feel loved and supported through it all.
Samantha Rodman, better known as Dr. Psych Mom, has written about navigating the murky waters of separation with kids. As the author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, she says there are proven ways to begin the process.
Being honest is key. Rodman writes in her blog:
“Make sure that your kids know … that you won’t be reconciling with your co-parent. Additionally, admit if you are sad … your child will likely be upset and this will validate his or her emotions. If you are going to have to change your child’s financial situation or your child may not be able to engage in certain valued activities, be open about this as well, and empathize with this situation.”
This advice feels invaluable right now. Knowing that our kids are on the same page has felt like a small weight lifted. And I know that I’ll try my best to keep being as honest as I know how to be every step of the way.
In addition to gathering the best clinical advice, I’m also reassured by those who say there’s hope on the other side. Renee, a single mother of four who lives in Colorado, says, “The thing nobody tells you is that it’s actually harder to be unhappily married than it is to be single. I was so afraid of what would happen when he moved out. But what actually happened was that we all relaxed for the first time in years.”
The only thing I know right now is that I have to keep being patient. I have to keep planning and coping and taking baby steps forward — even when I take two steps back, or fall flat on my face. But through all the ups and downs, highs and low lows, I do see glimmers of hope; I know my husband and I are committed to doing what’s best for our kids.
Even if my husband and I don’t exactly know what we’re doing, or even how we’re going to do it, keeping our priorities in line will be our guiding light. And right now, I’m walking towards it.