How to NOT Get a Divorce
If you’re going back and forth, maybe read this
I sat up in bed, chin sagging to my chest, tears making pools into the blanket. I howled like a wolf with its leg caught between the gnashing metallic fangs of a steel jaw.
Nevermind that I had the flu or food poisoning or some other thing.
Nevermind that I had been sick for the better part of a month.
Nevermind, because my heart was broken.
And I had broken it.
I wailed into the quiet air of midnight, content that no one would hear me, with the wind clattering against my windows, screaming into the chimney pipe, a storm raging outside.
As within, so without.
I cursed and slammed my fists into the covers, had myself a proper temper tantrum and, once thoroughly exhausted, I sent the text.
I let rage, stuffed down pain, and curses fly.
Hell hath no fury like a woman with intimacy issues, bulletproof walls and a fever.
And his reply, as it had been for months, was a pleading — I know I was a fuck up, but please give me the chance to prove to you I can become a better man.
I fell against the pillow, the ache in my sternum like a gunshot wound, I threw the phone and tried desperately to sleep through fever and my own battered mind.
What followed, after I had demanded he leave me alone and that my decision was final, was a mess of days in which I broke, chewed off all my pretty fingernails, piled dishes up in the sink, and I wrote.
And so it went.
What a winter it has been.
I walked to the edge of divorce with my husband. The court likely as tired of my lack of decision making skills as I was. Six-months of aching back and forth, like the slow motion shatter of the good china you keep on display.
Turns out nothing that perfect looking is safe.
But there is a miracle in the breaking.
It’s a miracle because when I broke, I softened, like leather going supple with months of my saltwater tears. You see, I didn’t really know how stiffened to life I had become. How protected I was, safe in a thick coating of concrete trauma, scar tissue turned rigid.
Which might seem strange, considering how easily and poetically I wave my dirty laundry for all the internet-strangers to see. But even the writing, even that is a blockade. I can hide there, behind my words and wit, and reflect on my past imperfections, implying I have somewhere, along the way, found wholeness.
But it’s not true. I am no more whole than anyone else. I’m just a writer, loudly expressing my experience. There’s a difference.
The ache that was uprooted in the last year of my life, as I walked through the hellfire of divorce and separation, is tremendous. You could say I’m covered in dirt clods.
And what do you get when you mix the dirt of trauma with the tears of grief?
And that, my friends, is about as clear as this last season of life has been for me.
I spent many months emotionally and verbally shoving my husband away. I talk a lot about emotional reactions in my articles, and minimizing them. But in reality, when you’re really in the gauntlet, especially with someone as close to you as your significant other, it gets messy.
My therapist says that we pick partners who know how to push our buttons. She says we do this so we can heal our traumas. Pro tip: don’t remind people of this when in the middle of fury.
So my emotional reactions to him were on a hair-pin trigger, my trauma playing its hand, unbeknownst to me.
There was a part of me, deep down, the innocent, untraumatized part of me, that so desperately wanted to believe in him, in our marriage. I wanted to forgive and love so badly.
And no sooner would I let my guard down, to let him in again would something— a comment, a fight, a feeling of not-enoughness — hit my trigger and send me clamoring for the safety of divorce.
The safety of washing my hands clean, shoving all the mistakes and heart ache and those handful of years of our relationship into a hallway closet, never to be opened again.
I wanted it to be past tense.
I hated the mess of it. I hated the vulnerability of it.
Again, my trauma playing its hand.
Months ticked by, with a small part of me pushing the divorce paperwork with the court off, extending what should have been a clean cut 91 day process, into six-months.
I was having visions of turn-key husbands. Older men who had already dealt with their shit, maybe divorcees, as I pictured myself being.
Perfect relationships, filled with ease, grace and preferably lots of late night conversations about life underneath the stars, maybe some twinkly lights, whilst draped on top of a fabulous sheepskin rug.
There would be giggling and canoodling — think that scene with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler and the animal crackers in Armageddon (minus the asteroid, because that’s the stuff of my literal nightmares).
I was looney with these fantasties. I wanted so quickly to shove the divorce-situation into the back of my life experience closet, and never think about it again.
I wanted to be new. To get on with my life. To start over, for goodness sakes.
But, as you well know, life does not just “get on” with it. Oh, no, cupcake.
And that’s the point. As Holly Whitaker says: “The moment you want to run, is the moment the real work begins.”
What a winter it has been.
It wasn’t until, through the time and space provided by email communication, my husband and I began talking — actually talking — that something in my traumatized little heart shifted.
This was something a therapist had long ago suggested I try with my husband, when we were both struggling with that little thing called communication that they say is SO IMPORTANT to marriage (*cough* they’re right): it was to write to each other about what’s going on, talk to each other on the page, not in real time.
To put some space and a breath or two between us.
I didn’t take his advice then, but I’m glad I had it in my back pocket.
When I had broken my own heart, told my husband to leave me alone, and sobbed and screamed and got really sweaty and unshowered, I broke.
I broke enough to feel again.
I broke enough to hurt and be softened, and remove the callus of I’m right, and you’re a fool, and you should be ashamed you’re not as emotionally evolved as me; as good at words as I am.
(You laugh, and maybe roll your eyes and hate me for saying that, but think of your own self-righteousness. The flavor is the same. Bitter, wrapped in unresolved pain.)
I broke enough to become imperfect. To start binging again, to chew off all my nails, to make my cuticles bleed, to devour bags of salty chips, and Hershey’s kisses, and gain what feels like 10 pounds, and not workout for months.
All my perfectly curated ways of not dealing with this came crumbling down, and I was as small and weak and trembly as a baby lamb. But with bloody cuticles, a mop of unwashed curls, and mascara streaks.
And it was at the bottom of my brokenness that the small untraumatized part of myself — what I think is ultimately the divine residing in my messy humanity — was able to step out and say, you are messy and broken and flawed and loved, just like he is. So love him.
My self-righteousness shriveled like a snail in salt.
And it was at the bottom of my brokenness that I was able to build a bridge, via email, and say hey, tell me about yourself, dear husband of mine, the one I thought I knew but actually don’t because I’ve been hiding behind my fear and intimacy issues, and years of binge drinking and bulimia.
Tell me who you are.
And he did.
He told me of his childhood, of his struggles, he showed me his emotional scars and showed me where the duct tape was losing it’s sticky, and falling off. All the ways he was trying to hold himself together, but couldn’t.
He showed me all the ways he was hiding, too.
There might not have been twinkly lights, or a sheepskin rug, but we were talking about life — actually talking.
And I saw him for the first time in a long time. And I understood why for the first time.
And it did something that is kind of miraculous: it put me right next to him.
I wasn’t walking ahead of him anymore, frustrated and impatient, with clenched jaw and stamping foot, demanding he catch up with emotionally evolved me, as I had been doing in the year prior.
I wasn’t walking behind him anymore either, afraid of being seen in all my mess and flaws, and all the ways I distinctly did not have my shit together.
Instead I took up the only healthy place you can walk with someone through this life — by his side, hand-in-hand.
In my brokenness, I learned I was no different than he was, that the traumas I had experienced in life shaped me, and were dictating my life and our marriage, just like his were.
And I decided, because he had never wavered, never stopped wanting to try, and had stood the storm of my rage, my back-and-forth, my months of frustrations and divorce paperwork and confusion, that I would dedicate myself to learning along with him.
I submitted a motion to cancel the divorce.
I signed us up for marriage counseling because you wouldn’t conduct open heart surgery on yourself, you hire a professional.
I got my own therapist.
I took session after session of energy work, and got a massage.
I am bringing awareness to my trauma and how it manifests itself in my marriage, and gently saying no thank you, or at the very least stalking off into a private room and beating the shit out of some pillows, instead of yelling my face off.
Because, rage. And because, I’m still learning too.
But above all, I realized all the ways I had been keeping us stuck in the painful ruts we were in.
I got my ass kicked. I got my nose rubbed in it.
And it made my heart more gentle, and my spine a little straighter, and I cracked enough to let love back in.
And let me tell you, my friends,
What a winter it has been.
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