We may not have chosen the ending, but we chose the beginning. We had our reasons. Taking a look at why we made the choice that we did is not always a comfortable process.
“Why did you get divorced?”
When someone asks us this, it’s actually code for, “Tell me what’s wrong with you”. We have a track record. Someone has taken us for a test drive. There are reviews.
“Loved it! It was just what I wanted.”
“The parts didn’t fit together. Sent it back for a refund.”
“Doesn’t work the way I needed it to. Would not recommend.”
“Not worth the price.”
“Run while you can.”
Many of us have become skilled at explaining the reason for our divorce because we know the stakes. We mention timing and circumstances, both ways of saying, “I am not defective; please don’t send me back.”
But if we really want to grow and create better relationships, maybe the question we should be asking each other and ourselves is “Why did you get married?”
Maybe, it’s the beginning that matters more. If we want to end up in a different place, we can’t take the same road.
The ending of a marriage isn’t something that we can always control. There may have been infidelity or abuse or we may have been left. But the beginning – the part where we said “yes”, the part where we decided to choose someone to partner with – this was something we could control.
Now, when I listen to my friends’ stories about the arguments and the bad choices and the custody fights, the question I am actually curious about is, “Why did you get married?” I wonder about the time when this was the person they wanted to come home to and when this was the person with whom they pictured sharing a life. When getting married was something they wanted.
So, I asked. And there were some who chose marriage because they truly believed that this was their forever. But I also discovered that for others, there were signs that marriage might not have been the best choice for that relationship. Here’s what they shared.
“It felt like the next thing for us to do.”
When I was in my late twenties, everyone around me was either in getting engaged or married. There were two seasons on the calendar: Winter and Wedding Season. “When are you two getting married?” and “You’re next!” were normal things to say once two people were dating for any length of time. Getting married was simply the next step. We had our careers, most of us no longer lived with our parents and some of us even owned our own homes. When we were in long-term relationships, it made sense to think about marriage. Wasn’t it the next thing to do? We’d met families and friends, navigated holidays and been on vacation together, all without major cracks. As the weeks turned into months and years, marriage seemed like the next step. Many of us chose marriage, not because we were necessarily convinced it was the right thing to do, but because there wasn’t any logical reason not to do it.
“I knew it was wrong, but I was in too deep.”
The invitations had been sent. The deposits placed. Both of your names might have been on a mortgage. You were in it. And at the time, it felt like too high a cost to back out. Maybe you convinced yourself that it was just nerves. Jitters. It made sense; this was a huge commitment. You didn’t want to let people down. You didn’t want to hurt anyone and backing out seemed impossibly cruel. You convinced yourself that it was just cold feet, that everything would be better once the wedding craziness settled down. You went through with it, but eventually realized it wasn’t nerves. It was your intuition.
“I didn’t want to start over.”
When you have invested years in a relationship and are ready for the next phase of life, the thought of leaving and starting over can be overwhelming. Going back the beginning is frightening — dating, then spending time building another relationship and, finally, getting to the point where both people are ready marriage – it all takes time. It’s a gamble, too. It can feel like the chances of finding happily-ever-after are slim. There is no guarantee that the next relationship will be more successful than your current one. And what if you invest in someone again and end up breaking up? Fear is powerful, especially fear of the unknown. It can cause us to stay safe, to avoid the riskier path. So we chose the familiar, even if it wasn’t what we dreamed it should be and hoped for the best.
“It happened too fast.”
You met and were instantly a couple. You went from single to living together quickly, excited by the prospect of having met “the one”, the person who seemed to check all of the boxes and who made you feel exactly the way you always wanted to in a relationship. Weekends were spent living in a blissful bubble together. When friends and family cautioned you to slow down, you thought they just didn’t understand. You had success stories on your side, the ones about couples who were married on their third date and lived happily ever after. Why couldn’t this be your story, too?
We may not have chosen the ending, but we chose the beginning. We had our reasons. Taking a look at why we made the choice that we did is not always a comfortable process. It’s hard to go back, especially knowing now how it will all turn out. Those raw moments where I wonder how everything went wrong are not moments I want to be in often. But I know that it’s important to do it sometimes.
I’m not going to pretend to know the lesson in your story. Maybe it’s about not being afraid to start over or being better at trusting your instincts or feeling more comfortable with taking the slower route. Or maybe it’s about choosing yourself and not settling for something other than the person who wakes up every day, unable to imagine being with anyone other than you.
I do know that we can’t go back and change our choices, but changing the past isn’t the point. The value is in giving ourselves the tools to create better relationships and to make different choices for our lives. The power is in our self-awareness. Because we can’t know where to go next unless we challenge ourselves to take an honest look at where we have been.