I’m overwhelmed with sadness when I think about my unmarried friends who are grieving over the end of long-term relationships. They’re not just grieving the loss of love. For many who merged their lives by living together, a breakup is the loss of identity and — let’s face it — security. They have spent years in relationships without the protection or legal rights that come with civil unions, domestic partnerships, and marriage.
Some remain in toxic relationships because they are financially dependent upon their partners. Some even seem as though they’ve become addicted to the lavish lifestyle that being with their partner afforded them. Others are painstakingly picking up the shattered pieces of their lives after losing themselves.
Recently, one of my girlfriends confided that she knew that her partner of seven years had affairs with multiple women in their circle. I couldn’t hide my confusion when she finished divulging all the details. “But why do you stay?” I asked.
She sucked her teeth. “I’m so ready to leave her! But I’ll be damned if I invested seven years of my life and walk away with nothing. We said we would always take care of each other. I’m going to stay right here until we figure it out,” she declared. “You got financial support after your separation, right? Like alimony?”
Her questions left me at a loss. I softened my tone. “It’s called spousal support. But we were married,” I responded. “There is a major difference. I don’t know anything about common-law marriage with same-sex couples. But I do know that although you’ve been in a relationship for several years, she has no legal responsibility to support you financially because you aren’t married.”
My friend’s situation made me reflect on all the levels of pain, not to mention the practical details, of a breakup. In my case, it was a legal divorce. Getting through the hurt, betrayal, family dynamics, legal maneuvers and other fallout tested every ounce of my will.
It had never occurred to me that divorce is a form of death until I experienced it myself. It is the death of your deepest desires, hopes, and dreams. It is a crack in the foundation of family that can never be sealed. You are pummeled with self-doubt as you go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You may not go through the stages in that order, yet in time, you will transition through all five.
Acceptance was the most difficult stage for me. Yet, it was the stage where I mustered the courage and determination to create a new life for myself. But how do you begin to put your life back together when your wife was the breadwinner and tried to leave you with nothing? It was baffling to me that the person who cheated and lied was the angriest.
I painfully recall how I had continually questioned my ex-wife about her relationship with her “friend.” I cried and we fought as she lashed out in denial. Isn’t it amazing how cheaters rationalize their behavior because they aren’t courageous enough to tell the truth? There is a huge difference between telling your wife you need space versus I’ve decided that I want a different life with someone else. Just say it. Be courageous enough to say it. We all have the right to change our minds. But we must also deal with the consequences of those decisions.
The most crushing part was when I found out, through my son, that she was “marrying” her friend. How cowardly. She wasn’t even woman enough to tell me herself. She had my child tell me, and over the phone at that. My heart ached as I listened to his voice. He sounded confused, hurt and ashamed about something he had nothing to do with. I willed myself not to fall apart until I hung up. At that moment, reality set in. How was she marrying someone when we were still married? I pulled myself together and called a trusted friend who happens to be an attorney. I was relieved when she scoffed at the foolishness I was sharing with her.
“Eh … they’re just having an expensive commitment ceremony. Chile, they might as well be jumping the broom. She is still married to you until you both dissolve the marriage. As her wife, you have rights.” she said.
Her words provided some reassurance legally, but not emotionally. I was in a daze as I thought to myself, what a brazen mockery of the sanctity of marriage! Exchanging vows in front of family and friends while married to someone else is faithless. Whispers of her denials to our friends — “I never cheated on her” –got back to me, and a new flood of emotions resurfaced. People fail to realize that infidelity occurs the moment one spouse starts hiding things from the other: Feelings, phone calls, gifts, and … intimate conversations. An affair might seem exciting and sexy until you’re forced to deal with the hurt and chaos you’ve created.
I can recall her “friend” stating that she wanted the kind of love my wife and I had. I’m sure it hasn’t dawned on her yet that she will never have the love and peace she coveted because of how she obtained her relationship. It took me a while to get to this space, but I do wish them well. However, I find comfort in the old saying, “You will leave a relationship the way you entered it.”
Back on the phone with my friend, I shook those painful thoughts from my head. They are no longer relevant. What is relevant is that after eight years in a long-term relationship and seven years of marriage, I know that I deserve to have the life — and the lifestyle — I enjoyed prior to and during my marriage. In fact, thanks to my lawyer and my determination, I fought for my rights.
When my friend called to tell me she was not leaving her partner no matter what, she couldn’t help but laugh at my response.
“Girl, you better stop playing house and protect yourself! Don’t you watch the Lifetime channel?” I said. “The wife always wins!”
I know. I was the wife.
Monika M. Pickett is a veteran of the United States Army. Her debut novel, PRETTY BOY BLUE is available on Amazon. Pickett is an advocate and activist for the LGBTQ community. For more information on Monika M. Pickett, please visit, www.MonikaMPickett.com. For other inquiries emailinfo@MonikaMPickett.com