How to Deal With a Near Divorce
After 20 Years
My husband and I got married 20 years ago. I'm not sure what I expected, but I certainly wasn't prepared for the roller coaster that it has been. From the beginning of our marriage we were determined to not give up too soon. His parents divorced after about eight years of marriage and mine split after 17 years. That didn't mean we were willing to put up with absolutely everything the other person might do, but we didn't want to jump to divorce as an automatic solution to our problems.
Last summer, I found myself calling it quits. I had been to this breaking point several times over the past 20 years, but this time was different. Instead of happening after some specific event that upset me, this was just an overall feeling of being "done" with this marriage. Not wanting to be impulsive, I prayed a lot and talked to my closest friend about how I felt. Confident that this was the right decision to make, I prepared myself to make the split.
Knowing how ugly divorce can get, I decided I should make some preparations before talking to my husband. I set up a separate bank account and transferred some money into it so I wouldn't be left penniless. Several friends offered places to stay should the need arise. I also made sure I had crucial numbers saved in my cell phone and kept my cell phone with me as I went in to talk to my husband.
When I told him, he was shocked. Because there was no precipitating event, he was confused. The conversation that followed was one of the toughest I've ever had. Even though I didn't want to start discussing nit-picky details about what I was unhappy about, my husband still deserved answers to his questions. I had to steel myself against caving in to his pleas for another chance and assurances that he would fix what was wrong. The problem was that I didn't want to wait for him to fix things. I wasn't even sure he could. I just knew that I was very unhappy and had been for some time.
Eventually, I offered up a compromise. I wanted to separate while we worked things out. I would move out and we would try working on our relationship and try dating again so we could see if we could work it out. Why me move out? He admitted that if he moved out and then came over to visit, I might have a tough time sending him away if things weren't going well. In my mind, moving out would give me the first step toward freedom and would make it easier to end things if needed. Our next step was to talk things over with our pastor. It was my husband's idea - surprising since he wasn't big on attending church. The pastor was initially worried, but we assured him that the goal of separating was to work our way back together. He was happy with that and gave us his support. He also lined us up with a marriage counselor.
Like most guys, my husband hates the idea of seeing a therapist or counselor. It meant a lot to me that he would see one to save our marriage. We started going every other week to see the counselor. Our discussions with the counselor brought up a lot of tough issues and I couldn't help notice how different our views, priorities, and needs seemed to be. One of the "homework" assignments he gave us was to individually figure out what our physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs were and discuss them with each other. I discovered that each of us was doing things that we thought were good, but that didn't meet the other persons needs at all. One of the biggest was to make my husband happy is to fix him breakfast. I came from a "fix it yourself" kind of family when it came to breakfast, so I managed to disappoint my hubbie regularly. I like to be hugged, held, and touched without things being sexual. That was something my husband didn't seem to be doing at all until we talked about it.
So what happened to us? There was no magic solution, no quick fix. We went to the counselor for several months and had a lot of difficult conversations in that setting and at home. We started dating again - going for walks, playing games, and simply enjoying our time together. Both of us had to learn to show our appreciation better and be more open in our conversations. Instead of being scared to bring things up, I learned that it wouldn't kill me to let him know what I felt. We could disagree without it being the end of the world. Instead of putting my effort into things that had no meaning for him, I learned to direct my efforts to things that met his deepest needs. In turn, he did the same with me. Why did we wait so long to have these kinds of conversations and get to know each other like this? I'll never know the answer to that one. Perhaps we were too distracted in our youth to take the time to develop our relationship properly. Once we started having children, the marriage was moved to the background. Perhaps it was because our own parents didn't have good marriages. Whatever the reason, our marriage was neglected for those first 20 years. I'm just glad we were able to do the work to improve it before it was too late. I won't say that things are perfect - because they aren't. We still find bumps in the road and have to work them out. What I can say is that we are both willing to do whatever work is necessary to stay married. Had I rushed out the door that one night, neither one of us would have grown like we have.
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