Although divorce is incredibly prevalent, some still manage to hold to the belief that marriage is forever, a commitment meant to be unbreakable. For others, that commitment is finite. Even upon entering the marriage, there are certain conditions mentally in place–even if subconsciously–that determine what it will be strong enough to endure. The mindset that if life together gets too hard, too stressful, too much of a financial struggle… If the spouse becomes too irritating, changes too much, doesn’t change enough… If the love doesn’t stay romantic enough, passionate enough, sexy enough… Well, then, divorce is always an option.
In contrast, those that believe marriage is forever have no underlying conditions in place. They believe the circumstances which break the feeble and less committed will prove for themselves and their true love to be opportunities for growth, becoming stronger, and improving individually and as a couple. The good times in life will be wonderful and cherished and the hard times will be endured until the good times come again. Live and repeat. Period.
Such a mindset may seem grossly naive, eye roll-worthy, meant only for fairytales, not sustainable in real life. But I believed it was perfectly realistic. Those beliefs developed from childhood, over a lifetime of hearing “families are forever” in my home and in my church. From having the goal at a young age to marry in an LDS temple where ceremonies are done in such a way that we believe marriage is not “till death do us part” but “for time and for all eternity.” From being part of an extended family where divorce is very uncommon. From being a lifelong perfectionist who doesn’t like to quit or fail at anything, who likes to be “above average” in as many ways as possible. From making right choices, living well, being a good enough person that I surely deserved adulthood’s most basic pleasures–a happy marriage and family life. From believing I was better than divorce.
So when the word “divorce” leaked its way into my mind a couple years into my marriage, got plugged up for a while, came back as a steady trickle to be stopped up only temporarily once again… It was still just a word in my mind. Not an action I ever intended to follow through with. Because obviously, marriage is forever. The thought of divorce was just that–a thought. A coping mechanism, really, the recognition of a reality that could be mine if I ever got desperate enough. But I never expected to. I couldn’t allow myself to. Yet for claustrophobic me, who gets anxiety from any sense of physical or emotional entrapment, identifying the form of my potential exit provided me just enough relief for a long time. Even when “divorce” became a weekly, daily, hourly stream of thought, I only became more and more concerned with my inability to stop it, to get the thought away for good. While it may have been a direct result of particular circumstances, I believed those circumstances could and would change. And the first step was to rid myself of all negativity and any opportunity I was mentally allowing myself and my spouse for failure.
Looking back, it took a very specific and timely chain of events for me to begin the switch, the reworkings of how I’d been wired, the transition from “marriage is forever” to “marriage is finite, and sometimes rightly so.” It wasn’t an easy or quick process to go from considering divorce in imaginary terms to realistic ones; it took most of a year of inner conflict, continually contradicting myself, and beating myself up for being so dissatisfied and not even knowing for certain what would appease me, if anything. Divorce still felt to me like failure, but circumstances kept undeniably nudging me toward it, telling me that “giving up” was perhaps part of my plan.
There was a conversation with a friend in which I shared some things I’d never shared with anyone. Her response felt like a slap in the face, but it brought a sense of reality I hadn’t experienced up to that point. There was a series of emails with another friend who opened up to me, relating to me in a lot of ways, while sending advice and thoughts that I read and clung to like a lifeline providing me with strength and courage and understanding of myself. There was the seemingly random idea to start praying for my spouse regarding something specific, but rather than seeing a positive result of my prayers, I was struck to observe the opposite. There were the physical health issues that came as a result of bottled up stress and inner turmoil that I didn’t release to anyone. There was a miscarriage which taught me humility and that things in life don’t always go as we think they should or how we feel we deserve, but we deal with them and learn from them nonetheless. Also, more kids and the pursuit of the ideal family and home life don’t fix an irreparably cracked foundation. Finally, there was a succession of incidents in a short period of time that made it impossible to deny that something had to change for the good of my son and the betterment of both of his parents. Plans were made to stay with my parents during a separation, and somehow I followed through with them.
The months that followed only got harder. One thing helped me get through them, though. In separating, I had discovered an amount of bravery and independence within me I never knew existed. No way had I summoned up so much courage out of a place of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and resignation simply to cower back where I came from, as if it was all for nothing. No, my uncharacteristic courage would be a catalyst for change. I didn’t yet know what that change would look like, but for once my mantra to get through life would not be an unwavering “marriage is forever.” Instead, my mantra became “find my lasting happiness. Period.”