“Yay! Ponerse los pantalones,” my long-time friend said when I called to tell her I was getting divorced.
“Sorry, what did you say?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a Spanish expression (you put on your pants), meaning you finally decided to stand on your own two feet. It’s about time.”
While this reaction was more overt than many of the others I’d received when sharing the news with family and friends, I can’t recall anyone who was shocked or disapproving when they found out I’d decided to end my marriage of 20 years. Apparently I’d stayed in the marriage too long, and everyone knew it, including – if I was honest with myself – me.
From the beginning there were signs of potential problems in the marriage.
At two years in we had a serious disagreement about whether or not I would change my last name, which led me to counseling, which introduced me to the possibility that I might have married an alcoholic. His drinking had already become a big enough problem that I had taken steps to make a safe place for myself in case things got out of hand.
Shortly thereafter, a series of events led him to stop drinking, and I thought everything would be okay.
I wanted to have a child, something that almost ended the marriage after two years. But eventually he agreed, and again I thought everything would be okay. I figured parenthood would make him more responsible and create a stable and loving family environment. (Note: having children to fix a marriage never works, though I’m sure I’m not the first to suffer from that misconception.)
While I was pregnant with our first child, he lost his job. There went the possibility of staying home with the kids. I returned to work part-time, a pattern I continued after our second child was born, and again after the third. We bought a bigger house; both of us were working; our income was rising, and things looked good – at least on the outside.
The next time I considered ending the marriage came at the five or six year mark. I was handling most of the household responsibilities, raising small children, and traveling for a demanding job. We’d had some ups and downs over the years, but at this point things were not working. I read a book (whose title I can’t recall) to try and figure out if I should stay or go. Its main point was that we carry our issues with us, so we might as well stay and work them out rather than move to a new relationship and repeat the same patterns.
Besides, the idea of trying to raise three small children on my own while working was overwhelming. I didn’t think I could do it. So I decided to stay.
After another year a big fight over my work demands and travel requirements raised the possibility of divorce. That led us to counseling which led us to a cross-country move which bought us another seven or eight years of marriage.
In 2004 we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a lovely weekend away, but from there it was mostly downhill. It was obvious that neither of us was happy, though we weren’t very good at talking about the issues or making changes that would help.
The next four years brought a series of financial, personal, medical, and other crises. His drinking escalated, and his income dwindled. I compensated by working more, picking up more of the household responsibilities, and trying to shelter the children from the worst of it all. Thoughts of divorce grew stronger, as did my attempts to manipulate him to change.
One of the several crises we faced during this time brought us close for a year or so. We had what felt like real happiness, and that gave me hope. Sadly, it was short-lived. Alcoholism was running rampant, and it was affecting not just him, but me and our kids. I prayed for something or someone to intervene and fix the problem so I wouldn’t have to take actions I didn’t want to take, but no miraculous intervention occurred.
With three children together and a religious upbringing that looks harshly on divorce, I dreaded bringing that upon our family. I was determined to stick it out, at least until all the kids had made it through high school. I sought help for the kids, and for me, though it took time for me to find the courage to make the changes I needed to make.
Things came to a head about a year before our divorce and, as a result, he stopped drinking and agreed to seek help (which he did for a short time). I found support for myself as well, and I decided to wait and see what happened in the marriage while I worked to recover and heal.
Over that last year I struggled with the decision about whether or not to divorce. But when he began drinking again, I knew I needed to leave despite the fact that everything in my background, upbringing, family, and society said “stay.” I didn’t want my children to come from a “broken” home.
One of the last straws was when a friend from the East Coast visited with her family. They could see the situation and my struggles. My friend said that maybe when the kids were out of high school it would make sense to end the marriage. When I realized that was more than 8 years away, I knew I couldn’t wait that long.
I’ve written about my divorce decision extensively on my blog under the category “Divorce Decisions” and in a recent article here on divorcedmoms.com – “The Long and Winding Road to My Divorce Decision.”
In the end, I don’t regret staying for those 20 years. I knew I had done everything I could. There were no “what ifs” or lingering thoughts about what I should have tried but didn’t.
My kids were old enough (17, 15, 11) that childcare issues were not a big deal. My business provided enough income to support us and offered me the flexibility to work from home so I could be available to the kids when needed. I’d grieved the loss of the marriage long before the official court decree, so recovery was not as difficult as it might otherwise have been.
When my dad told me, a few months after my marriage ended, that despite the church’s stance, he thought I had made the right decision, I appreciated his (unexpected) support. But more importantly, I realized that I already knew I had no regrets. I couldn’t have left any sooner, and I couldn’t have stayed a moment longer. The timing was just exactly as it was supposed to be.
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