We hear a lot about how real couples make marriage work. We hear about the people that pushed through bad situations to a better one. We hear that marriage is hard, but people are worth it. We hear criticism of celebrities that run through marriages more frequently than infants go through diapers. We hear longing for the good ol’ days when people stuck it out.
What we don’t hear often is a story like mine. Now, this is not your typical divorce story. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon church. We believe that marriage is something divine that should last forever. When we get married in our temples, we promise to be together for a literal eternity. It’s a big deal. I still hold to my belief that marriage is eternal and divine, but this belief made it that much harder when my young marriage was just not adding up, in spite of all my efforts.
I got married at age 21. I felt nervous, but ready. I told myself that I would never let divorce even be a word in my vocabulary. We were young and still in college. We didn’t have very much money, but I had faith that we would could make it work. I held onto that belief, even during the hard times, until it got the point that my husband and I had exhausted every other possible option.
When I filed for a divorce less than a year after I got married, I felt like a complete failure. I had to have my best friend drive me home from the lawyer’s office because I was too devastated to manage a vehicle. I was in the middle of a semester and my grades were slipping because I couldn’t function enough to do homework. I had to take time off my job that I loved. I looked at my life and didn’t know what to make of it.
I had planned to hold his hand forever. I had planned to someday have his babies. I had planned a life that was no longer an option. I believed in our forever. I had prayed and felt like I was supposed to marry this man, so I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working out.
I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted out of life. I had formed an identity with someone else who was now out of the picture, leaving a massive hole behind. It was hard to hold onto my faith in God, love, or relationships.
As melodramatic as all this sounds, it was a reality for me, which I mostly coped with by eating too much chocolate, watching insane amounts of Gilmore Girls, and doing jigsaw puzzles, because even if I couldn’t piece my life together, I could at least put together a thousand-piece photo mosaic of C3PO and R2D2.
When so many things that I had worked so hard for started spiraling out of control, I sunk into a depression.
I am normally a competitive, determined person. At the gym, I am racing the person on the treadmill next to me, whether they know it or not. I get straight A’s out of sheer willpower instead of ridiculous smarts.
I tackled marital problems the same way. We would make it work. We had to because we loved each other and we had made a promise to each other and to God. I stuck with it for a long time, arguing with myself for hours that divorce was not an option. Marriage was not something you just threw away, and I wasn’t about to give up. If this were a rom-com, he would come running and give a speech and tell me it was worth it. But it was the cold, hard, brutal side of real life, and he didn’t.
As much as we glorify not giving up on someone, I had to realize that marriage was hard, but it wasn’t supposed to be this hard. We were so focused on fixing his problems that no one was taking care of me. I had to realize that I wanted a better life and that was OK. I had to realize that we had exhausted all of our resources, but I couldn’t force him to stay.
Even then, I thought that I was tough enough to handle it. I could hold our marriage together myself and make it work. Then my sister asked me what I wanted for my future children and family. I had to look at my future and realize that I wanted a better life for my future children than being raised by parents who stuck together out of obligations to a shell of a marriage.
All around me I saw glorified videos and blog posts about people who stayed to work things out, even when major tidal waves hit. I saw people who remained in a loveless marriage with major marital issues by working together. And I cried because I felt like, maybe if I was just stronger, I could be like those people. Maybe if I held on and worked as hard as I could, we could make it. But I knew the difference between them and me. I knew that he was trying to piece his life together from scratch and wasn’t ready to try to fix our marriage. And after shouldering both sides of a marriage myself for months, I wondered if I should move on.
People accused me of giving up. They told me that the first year of marriage is hard and I should just hold out for a couple more years to see if it would work. I tried marriage and personal counseling. I tried talking to religious leaders and appealing to people I respected. I prayed to have our marriage miraculously be saved and work out. I tried to understand and support my husband. Finally, I realized I had done enough and that it was OK to expect a marriage to be a marriage. It was OK to not spend the rest of my life in this awful situation.
At first I was nervous about telling anyone because I was embarrassed. Many of my friends share my beliefs. A lot of them know and like my ex-husband. I knew that I wasn’t a failure, but I was worried that they would see me that way. I also hated to speak ill of the man I married, even under these miserable circumstances. I didn’t want to place blame or spread unnecessary rumors. I just wanted to move on. I had put in every effort that I could think of and tried every possible solution. And it didn’t work. That didn’t make me weak. I didn’t mess up. I wasn’t unforgiving or vindictive. I was just strong enough to walk away and demand something better from life. I never gave up, but I did get on with my life. I am not damaged goods; I am a human being.
Now, I’m figuring it out. I’m healing. I’m holding onto my faith.
I am divorced, but I am not failure.
Image courtesy of Hilary Clarq.