It Happened to Me: My Marriage Survived a Separation

Inherently I knew no one -- myself and my husband included -- could tell me what the end looked like, but I at least needed to know what my odds looked like.

Aug 1, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Obligatory wedding photo

"I feel like I'm in a funk," he said to start the conversation.  I don't remember the in-between, save for a lot of tears, but the (beginning of the) end was, "I don't think I want to be married anymore."

It was a punch to the gut. Wait. No. It wasn't really.  Maybe a punch to the gut on the schoolyard after you've closed your eyes and told the aggressor he has one shot. You can sense it's coming, but it hurts and it winds you regardless of how much you've braced for impact.

We had been married about four-and-a-half years, together for six. During the good times it felt like we'd settled into a routine. The increasingly uncomfortable times resembled a rut. He was right. He was -- we were -- in a funk. But ending our marriage? There were no violent fights or cheating. We didn't regularly say hurtful things or have crazy double lives. We went from 0 to 60 in one conversation.

He moved out. He found an apartment not far from our home that he would rent on a month-to-month basis. Until he "sorted some things out." I told my parents and my best friend, only because they would be the ones who would pick up on my sour mood and wavering voice. Other than that, I didn't tell a soul.

Many of my good friends had recently married and some were pregnant. My social media feeds were riddled with declarations of love, 140-character tales of life with a one-and-only, and the lyrics to love songs. Jesus Christ -- the song lyrics! Isn't anyone concerned about copyright infringement anymore? I felt like the only one who was alone.

We talked frequently in a strained everything-is-going-to-work-out-for-the-best-no-I'm-not-crying-I-just-swallowed-an-entire-mozzarella-ball way. We were most honest in emails. We discussed the difference between the messages from our heads and hearts.

A high point: I finally learned to appreciate working in a cubicle farm. Having semi-daily breakdowns in an office would have been downright luxurious, but I was thankful for my three-and-a-half cork partial-wall separators where I could sink down in my ergonomic office chair and sob. Also good for sobbing: bathroom stalls, the open refrigerator in the communal kitchen, stairwells, and freight elevators.

The low point was the night we went on a "date" about a week after he'd moved out. We had tickets to a musical that I had wanted to see for years, ("Wicked," in case you're wondering) and decided to use the opportunity to have a trial night out. The logic was that perhaps a date night might spark some old butterflies. Everything old is new again, kind of thing. I couldn't trick myself into it, though.  

At our pre-show dinner, I started pressuring him for a status update. Specifically, the update I wanted to hear. I'd had a terrible, emotionally draining week, and I was ready to wrap this separation up. 

In hindsight, this heart-to-heart did not need to happen over a Groupon-sponsored dinner of truffle oil tater tots and chicken. He hadn't yet sorted whatever needed sorting in his head, and honestly told me so. I did not take this well. 

I bit my lip through dinner, but cried through the entire first half of the musical, starting as soon as the lights dimmed. We ducked out after "Defying Gravity." 

By the time he pulled into the driveway of the house that I was now solely occupying, I was absolutely hysterical. He walked me in, and I collapsed on our bed, alternating between throwing up and hyperventilating. He alternated between staring nervously, and offering not-so-consoling words in a soothing tone, i.e., "I just don't want to make promises I can't keep." Then he walked out the door and drove away. This was my relationship rock bottom.  

I was heartbroken, and so very scared. We had moved for his job a few times, and I was far from home (in Oklafuckinghoma, of all places), midway through a graduate program and working a shitty job where the ends would not likely meet. I needed to know how this would end, so I Googled. It's what I do.

"Divorced before 30."

"How do trial separations usually end?"

"Why is my husband moving out?"

I am more than a little embarrassed that all of the above are actual examples from my grief-induced Google searches. I still cringe when something I typed during this time auto-populates in the search bar. Inherently I knew no one -- myself and my husband included -- could tell me what the end looked like, but I at least needed to know what my odds looked like.

I couldn't actually find my odds. Turns out, there is not a separation statistician sharing her research in a well-read blog. Facing a divorce is heart-wrenchingly, breath-takingly painful. But, as miserable as I was I just couldn't sustain that tear-stained presence forever. I curbed my sobbing to alone time only and reviewed what Google had taught me.

The one lesson that most resonated was that no one else was responsible for my happiness. It seems obvious, but sometimes life obscures such realities. My husband was questioning the importance of me in his life. This crushed me, but I tried to see it objectively. If I were disposable to him, he (and his decisions) would no longer have power over my emotions. Easier said than done, but I tried my best.

There were even some things I could start to look forward to. I would never have to justify a seemingly stupid purchase ever again. I would probably eat healthier. I would never have to watch another "COPS" re-run. I would have a violet guest room. Maybe I could teach English in Thailand for a year -- or at least spend a lot of time looking at Thailand travel guides. It was the little things that allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

While I was searching for the sunshine, however, I remained resolute in that I wanted this marriage to work. I did not get married because the out was easy. As someone void of religion, I didn't know what it meant to have faith in something until I had to decide -- really think it over, say out loud, and commit to -- whether or not I believed in this union. I wholeheartedly did. And do.

Our separation lasted about three weeks. I know It seems like a very over-dramatic essay for 21 short days. But that time seemed like years. The slow moving kind, if such a thing exists.  

My husband called me on a Sunday morning and asked if we could go out for breakfast. His voice seemed softer, and I was optimistic. On our way for omelets, he tearfully apologized and said he wanted to come home. That we could go to therapy. Or on vacation. Or whatever it would take to get back to normal. The new normal -- whatever that would look like. 

It took a while for things between us to feel organic again, but we began to slowly and surely move back toward the path to happily ever after. Although this time we are painfully aware this fairy tale won’t write itself. It takes work, attention, love, and patience. It includes potholes and roadblocks, and so many other cliché words and ideas. 

We just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, and talked gratefully about that time apart. Marriage takes work.  Sometimes, it's a lot of work. If we're veering toward a rut, we have to care enough to correct course. I can't say that every separation ends in a relieved reunion, but this is our story. I also can’t say my mom will ever answer the phone not assuming I’m announcing my pending divorce, ever again.

And finally, most important for me was the reminder that I need to take my happiness a little more seriously. If I don't want to watch "COPS," I'll find something else to do. We can go to Thailand together. He probably won’t even notice the damn guest room color scheme. I'm a better partner for taking the pressure off my husband to make me happy. I bring my own happiness to the table so our collective energy can be focused on us.  

I'm happier now than ever, but am smart enough to not take it for granted. The memories are painful, but I'll be forever grateful for the lesson.