Divorce, perfection, and recovery?

It’s been a while since I got divorced. Ten years? It was certainly a life ago.

I think about what my life would have been like if I stayed married. The thought doesn’t last long because I’m certain I’d not have made it. “Unalived” is what the TikTok algorithm accepts.

I’m breastfeeding Georgia, and writing this on my phone. I see my blonde haired, blue eyed daughters twirl around me. Del rubbed my feet last night, and took care of our household when I got glutened today. I have the most boring, domesticated, uninteresting life – and I enjoy that tremendously.

Yet I was feeling this twinge of anger about the past, as the anniversary of my first marriage twirled around. Not jealousy, and I certainly don’t miss whatever that life would have been. I still felt guilty that I never pressed charges, stopped him, or spoke up sooner. If something happens next who is to blame? It feels like a bad person got away with something terrible.

I talked through my sadness with my therapist. I shared the history, the trauma, and where I’m at today.

“But if he never apologized, and if he hasn’t changed – he has to live with himself.”

I’ve lived with this thought for a few days. What is it like to live carrying the weight of many terrible things? Do you hate yourself, hate everyone else, or just live indifferent to the world? What would it be like to not care about anything?

That felt overwhelmingly empty. My greatest joys in life are the people I love, and the people I share my life with. But then I moved to the next step in my path.

“When did you know it wasn’t going to work?” my therapist asked.

“I knew the moment he proposed. But I just kept going because I was worried if I didn’t I’d let so many people down. I was just trying to be so perfect.”

I struggle with perfectionism. I believe that if I fail, am too difficult, or cause too much trouble – I am unlovable. I try to stay small, be self sufficient, and come to people only after my problems are solved. This has created a ridiculous amount of overachieving. If I am great at everything, I will get approval – right? President of this, VP of yadda, yadda, volunteer of the millennial.

How lonely is that? How long have I lived trying to hold it all together, when crumbling would be so nice for a change. Let some other over achiever deal with it, right? The world is burning from so many things. I’m exhausted from COVID, four years of terrible politics, people that deny inequality, and so much more. Wouldn’t it be better to share that grief together?

I diverge from this point. Anniversaries have passed. I’m trying to examine my own life. This recovering perfectionist is trying to start falling apart. There’s nothing to get right in this season. I’m getting away from leading the group projects, and just want to ride on someone else’s coattails. For now, I’m just want to exist for a while. I’m just going to spend some time falling apart. Want to come with me?

On how to help a friend going through a divorce…

The divorce rate has been declining for the last couple decades, and the “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat hasn’t been true for a while (1, 2). Depending on how you calculate it (and the calculations have a TON of differences), closer to 40% of marriages end in divorce (3). The notion that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at substantially lower rates is a convenient myth (sorry, but it is)(4). Although divorce rates are declining – it remains true that – whether you’re a Christian, a member of another faith, an agnostic or an atheist – you’ll likely know someone who goes through a divorce.

I’m divorced. And my current husband also went through a divorce. Prior to that, I believed I had to succeed at everything in order to be loved. Going through divorce helped me learn an important lesson: that grace exists beyond my failing (Romans 3:20-24).

Every situation is different, but I wanted to write about divorce. Specifically, since we will also know someone who goes through a divorce, I wanted to write about how you can help a friend who is going through a divorce.

 1)      Don’t pick sides.

 Marriage is complex, and messy, and tough. There aren’t two sides to a marriage; there are like… a gazillion. While it’s easy and convenient to think, “It’s his fault because he did X” or “It’s her fault because she did Y” – that is overly simplistic. People get divorced because they’re people, and imperfect. Don’t pick a side, it just makes one person feel like crap and the other person feel justified. And the truth is, no one will ever understand what happens in another marriage. So just listen. Just be kind.

 2)      Try to keep in touch.

I have such good friends. When I was going through a divorce they let me call or text as often as I needed. My friends were my life line. They listened to me and loved me when I needed it. If you have a friend going through a divorce, try to keep in touch with him/her. If you don’t want to be overbearing send a text that says, “I love you friend.”

3)      Don’t say, “I’ll pray you’ll get back together.”

People mean well when they say this. They are holding out hope that a friend won’t have to go through the pain of a divorce. But when you’re going through a divorce and someone says this line, what you likely hear is, “You’re wrong for doing this.” It feels like a slap in the face, because you likely already feel like crap for getting divorced. It is also undermining. It assumes that the person getting divorced hasn’t been trying for years to fix their marriage. A better thing to say is, “How can I help you?”

4)      Gossip is the worst.

When I was going through a divorce, I remember feeling like people were talking about me wherever I went. Although I was being slightly paranoid, I’d never felt that terrible feeling before. And despite never asking for gossip reports, things that were said always seemed to come back to me. If you know someone that is getting divorced and you need to talk to a friend about it, do it in private – and try not to be a jerk about it. Gossip has a way of coming back around.

5)      Remember – you could be next.

My least favorite pictures on Facebook are the ones like the below. Divorce isn’t Santa Claus or the tooth fairy – it exists. And unlike Santa, who “supposedly” comes around on the same night each year, divorce isn’t always expected. Today, I’m remarried to a wonderful guy who also went through a divorce. My husband Del and I have had the conversation, “We never thought we would have gotten divorced.” You never know what will happen next in life, or what weird twists and turns may come your way. With kindness I say – before you pass judgment upon someone for getting divorced, remember that it could be something you go through (although I hope it isn’t). And if you ever have to go through it, I hope you’re surrounded by kindness and grace, instead of judgment.

You “don’t believe”?

 (1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/23/144-years-of-marriage-and-divorce-in-the-united-states-in-one-chart/

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/upshot/the-divorce-surge-is-over-but-the-myth-lives-on.html?smid=tw-share&abt=0002&abg=0&_r=2

(3) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/health/divorce-rate-its-not-as-high-as-you-think.html

(4) https://www.barna.com/research/new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released/

 

On how to have a crappy marriage…

A few weeks ago, someone I know was going on endlessly about her terrible husband. Let’s call her “Mrs. Crankybutt.”

“I do everything! He NEVER does this! He doesn’t do that!”

After listening to Mrs. Crankybutt complain for an hour (yes, an hour) about her terrible husband, I told her, “If you want a happier marriage, you can start by trying to be nicer to your spouse.”

That didn’t end well. Mrs. Crankybutt came back at me with, “What would you know? I read your blog, and your marriage is perfect!” I’ve thought for several weeks about that last sentence. How does my blog portray my husband and my marriage? Do people really think my marriage is perfect? Do people think my husband is perfect?

What gets me the most about Mrs.Crankybutt’s sentence is the sheer irony. Maybe instead of listening to all of your friend’s pooptastic advice about how to “fix” your spouse, you should listen to the person standing in front of you that you think has a “perfect” marriage.

Both my husband and I are divorced, so I’ve tried to refrain from writing a blog on “How to have a good marriage,” because it seems exceptionally hypocritical given this is my second marriage. What does not seem hypocritical is to write the opposite; laced with all of the sarcasm I can muster.

How to have a crappy marriage

Publicly degrade your spouse

My ex-husband once had a group of guy friends over. They were playing a board game, so my ex-husband asked me to get the guys some drinks. When I said, “Sure” he looked at the guys and said, “See, didn’t I train her well!”

I was totally humiliated. I am not a dog. He was not my father. If you want a miserable marriage, make fun of your spouse. If you want a terrible marriage, mock your spouse in public.

Megaphone optional

 Hold onto past grievances

My favorite thing to do to my ex-husband was hold onto any error he ever committed.

He forgot my grad school graduation day. I held onto that for at least two years.

He didn’t get me anything for my birthday. I held onto that for at least three years.

I asked him to wash the dishes, and he didn’t. I held onto that for a few months.

Eventually, I held onto so many things that the resentment was untenable. This person I had loved became this person I could no longer stand to be around. If you want to hate your spouse, hold onto everything. Let it burn the inside of you until you melt.

He held onto resentment…

Blame your spouse for everything

During her one hour rant, Mrs. Crankybutt said to me, “I’m grounded. I’ve got my stuff figured out. But my husband – he needs to work on his issues.”

Mrs. Crankybutt. Is. A. F$%@&#$. Idiot.

Everyone has issues. Every person can improve him/herself.

My husband has the habit of leaving his clothing all over our house. I was once going to tell him to pick his pants up, but then I looked down and saw a clustering of my shoes surrounding his pants. I was so focused on what he was doing wrong, that I didn’t see my own stuff cluttering up our space.

If you want to dream of slapping your spouse, live in the ever-lasting denial that you don’t have any issues. Focus on all of your spouse’s flaws, and make sure to rub them in. Never take that log out of your eye, but focus on the stick in your spouse’s eye.

Kermit knows. He knows.

Don’t make your marriage a priority

Without asking me, my ex-husband told me he was going to go to law school. He then moved six hours away, and devoted all of his time to school. If I wanted a date night, law school came first. If I wanted to just see him, law school came first. After three years of not making me a priority, my ex-husband was no longer a priority for me.

I once heard of a couple that got a divorce because the husband wanted to play softball six nights a week, and the wife wanted him at home.

Some marriages are broken by alcohol and others by drugs. But most marriages break because one or both spouses make something else a priority – and they make it a priority for a long time.

If you too would like your marriage to break, prioritize other things above your marriage.

Also available with “I HATE My Wife”

May you all live crappily ever after!

Love,

The girl with the perfect marriage


Addition as of 6/24

Disclaimer: “Mrs. Crankybutt” is a fictitious character compiled from multiple recent events, and does not depict any one person.