As a child of divorce, I grew up wanting a different life. I swore I would never have a family and put them through that mess. I would do whatever it took to stay with my spouse for my children.
One day, when I was running errands with my kids during a particularly horrible rough patch with my husband that felt like the end, I was deep in thought about how to fix our situation. Then I saw something that cut right through me: Mutual friends of ours, who were going through a divorce, were in a gas station parking lot, trading off their kids. Their pain was palpable. After witnessing the way they looked at each other, I thought, That can never be us. I wouldn’t be able to bear it.
We dug in our heels for another six years. We tried and tried and ultimately failed to repair our marriage. My ex and I found being together more unbearable than trying to stay under one roof for the kids.
When we first talked about separating a year ago, the room felt heavy with guilt, regret and shame. If I am being honest, I still have lots of guilt, even a little regret. But I had to let go of the shame. I needed to stop taking other people’s advice: “Try this counselor,” “Take a vacation together” or “We went through tough times, too. You’ll get over it.” It felt like a form of shaming. Maybe it wasn’t … but maybe it was.
Through the process, I realized everyone’s relationships were different. I haven’t told anyone every single detail as to why my marriage was falling apart simply because I didn’t want to. And that is OK. I don’t owe that to anyone.
As a writer, I have been very open about my divorce, although I initially didn’t think I would be this way. I figured I would only tell a handful of people and try to keep it quiet as best I could because I was ashamed. There is nothing that feels more personal than a marriage that didn’t last.
I changed my mind one evening after walking through my ex’s new condo. While I was trying to get used to my new normal, I felt the need to reach out to other women who had been through the same things I was going through.
I realized I needed support and in order to do that, I had to give my shame the middle finger and try to move forward with some grace. I had a story I could share and I wanted to say the words to other women I so desperately needed to hear myself: “You are not alone and you are going to be OK.”
Sharing our personal trials and tribulations can be scary, whether we are telling five people or sharing with complete strangers, but no one lives a life free of dysfunction and difficult times. And feeling ashamed for your struggles isn’t helping you in the least.
Conversely, you don’t have to divulge every detail, either. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about the deep dark places in your marriage. That’s between you and your spouse. It’s not your job to convince anyone you made the right decision to end your marriage. If they aren’t fine with it, don’t waste your energy trying to make sure they are fine with it.
But don’t hold back your feelings or refuse help if you really want it because you are embarrassed about what is happening in your life. I found the more I let go and talked about my pending divorce, the more I let people in, the stronger I felt.
Ultimately, I knew I would be more ashamed if I kept living a life that wasn’t right for my kids and me. And thankfully, so did my ex-husband. And in order to salvage the relationship we had left, we needed to end our marriage. People still say, “Stay together for the kids”—but we separated for our kids.
So, if you are going through a rough patch in your marriage or thinking of ending it, just know that whatever you decide to do is your decision—no one else’s. They don’t have to live your reality, you do. You should never feel ashamed or less-than for doing what is best for your family.
We all have struggles and we need to forgive ourselves when life doesn’t turn out the way we thought. It’s so much healthier than beating yourself up.