When a long-term marriage comes to an end, it’s an opportunity to let go of the life you thought you wanted in order to manifest the life you truly deserve. In getting to this stage, you must be prepared to let go of the illusion of the fairytale.
Sometimes, A Frog is Really a Frog
Despite the woman’s movement taking us out of the kitchen and into the world of equal opportunity, it seems that even the strongest, most independent and intelligent of us women, still manage to become needy and dependent when love finds its way into our hearts. For me, it was 1986 (some 30 years ago, but who’s counting). It started with an unconscious recreation of the Cinderella complex – a term I made up – but essentially it’s an inability to distinguish fairytale from reality. A belief that no matter how bad you’re relationship is, it will get better because your love for him with prevail. Just like in the fairytale. And because we are not strong in our belief that we are whole, that we are enough, we place a great deal of onus on our “not so charming prince“, to fill us up. And when this isn’t happening, we do everything we can to make reality” fit” with the fairytale. It’s exhausting. And futile.
Back when my husband and I were dating, there were some obvious early warning signs that I had not found my knight in shining armour. But as many of us women do, I assumed that his general aloofness and fear of getting too close to me was a product of the losses he’d suffered in childhood. In time, I reasoned, he would feel safe enough to open himself up to me. But that never happened.
Robin Norwood (author of Women Who Love Too Much) correctly nailed it when she said…. “We see him as damaged, and readily take on the task of making up for all that was missing in his life long before we ever met him. As in all fairy tales, we want to be the one to break the spell, to free this man from what we see as his imprisonment. We take his emotional unavailability, his anger or depression or cruelty or indifference or violence or dishonesty or addiction, for signs that he has not been loved enough. We pit our love against his faults, his failings, even his pathology. We are determined to save him through the power of our love.”
Throughout our 30years together, I kept adjusting my self to make every intolerable situation fit with the image of how I imagined my partnership should be. Even I came to believe the lie I was living. And for the longest time I lived happily in the lie, finding plenty of excuses for why I was feeling so lonely and miserable much of the time. One of these excuses was that I must be lacking in some way. What else could it be?
After all, I’d married the perfect man, had the perfect family, and lived the perfect lifestyle. And so I lived in the hope that at some point, I would finally have the ingredient to make my husband love me. And there it is… I changed myself so much that in the end, I forgot who I really was.
Again, Robyn Norwood suggests that women who love too much will do anything to keep a relationship from dissolving out of fear of abandonment. We become so accustomed to a lack of love in our personal relationships that we are willing to wait, hope, and try harder to please. We are also willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility, guilt, and blame when things are going wrong.”
So how does it happen? Childhood conditioning and an unmet need to feel truly loved and wanted? Or could it be karma – are we pre-destined to enter these partnership agreements in order to learn something about ourselves? Probably both would be my guess. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Essentially we enter relationships with the best of intentions, and along the way it goes awry.
Is this tale starting to sound familiar? Perhaps it’s your story too.
What’s Wrong With Me?
When I met my husband, I was 24, he 29. I actually thought I had married above me…. he was intelligent, successful, and handsome. And because I felt privileged that he’d chosen me, everything he did became a symbol of my worth to him. I alone had imbued him with that much power. And I ended up feeling worthless much of the time. It was Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) who said that one of the most unkind things you can do to somebody is to put them on a pedestal because very soon, inevitably, they’re going to do something that’s going to knock them off it, and then you’re going to have a lot of trouble with that because you really needed them to be something else.
The goal of any relationship should be that you both grow as individuals. If only one partner is growing, they will either accept the differences between them, or they will drift apart. Over the course of our marriage I believe I outgrew him, especially on a spiritual level. But I was completely in love with my fairytale and wasn’t prepared to let it go. So instead, I dutifully dumbed myself down.
As the years passed, my discontent grew. We had both developed a co-dependence. Both feeling equally responsible for each others happiness. And both rebelling against the onerousness of the task. He by becoming more distant, and I by becoming more desperate to please. The flip side was the constant arguing over little things – or kitchen-sinking as its often refered to.
His desire to sweep everything under the rug built up a hidden hostility in both of us. Because I was never permitted to discuss the real issues, I complained constantly about minor trifles. He use to say that I was a fight looking for an argument. But all I wanted was to be heard and acknowledged. Validated. And despite his posturing that ‘he thought everything was just fine’, his hidden anger manifested in passive aggressive behaviours of being controlling and vindictive.
There’s Always Warning Signs. Always.
You must know that these things never come as a surprise. There are always warning signs early in a relationship. Signs may be overt behaviours that you choose to ignore, or something subtle that your gut instinct tells you is ‘off’. But we generally ignore the signs early on because we’re still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, and because we think he’ll change when he realises we love him so very, very much. As I said, there were signs even in the first months of our dating that something wasn’t right with my relationship.
For starters, he’d been having an affair with a married woman when we began dating, and he continued this dalliance even after I thought we had become more seriously committed. At first I reasoned that it was his way of avoiding commitment. But although his affair eventually ended (at the womans request, not his), his lack of commitment remained for the entire marriage. At one point I had I gingerly asked why he was still sleeping with her, he replied “I’m just getting some of my own back“. I actually didn’t know what that meant at the time, but later discovered he was ‘getting even’ with me for something he thought I’d done which upset him. Instead of just communicating that to me, he got even instead! And I said nothing. My fear of abandonment yelled out “don’t rock the boat.. don’t act like a jealous possessive girlfriend. He might leave you!”
Signs of Passive-Agressive Behaviour
For his part, this was classic passive-aggressiveness. It’s a behaviour that undermines the very foundation of a relationship. It is recognisable by the disconnect between what the person says and what they do, but sometimes it can be so subtle that you question yourself instead (which is another way the passive-agressive person derives a sense of control over you). Essentially, passive-agressive people have an inability to express themselves – especially when they have a grievance of some kind.
Indeed, he used this form of punishment a few times during the course of our marriage, so I lived on edge all the time, worrying about what I might accidentally say or do to offend him, and what he might do to ‘get even’. For instance, once he told a lie about me with the intent of embarrassing me, because I said something previously that hurt his feelings. And so again I learnt to be silent. Don’t rock the boat.
I will hasten to add that while he never touched me physically, emotional abuse carries wounds that take just as long to heal. I found myself always monitoring everything I did and said. I’m a Sagittarius too, which means I’m quite blunt and tactless at times, so it was emotionally exhausting trying to navigate these waters.a
The Dreaded “I” Word – Infidelity
The worst of it began when we moved into our second home and I was pregnant with our 3rd child. By this stage, we’d been together about 10 years. My husband had developed an addiction of sorts. He’d spend hours on the internet looking at porn while I lay alone in bed. Added to this was strip clubs with a private lap dancer. And as with any addiction, you eventually need more and more stimulus to satisfy you. Hence, it wasn’t long before this progressed into massages with happy endings, which then progressed into renting motel rooms and engaging high priced hookers for oral sex. Before long, all physical pleasures were occupying his time simultaneously.
Everything he did was focused around gratifying his addiction, and he completely shut me out of his life on every level. As with many people who are living a secret life, he took the focus away from himself by blaming and accusing me of all manner of things. I struggled daily with wanting his behaviour to stop, and wanting to escape my feelings of hurt, abandonment, and powerlessness.
I knew something was going on but didn’t know what. But I suspected it had something to do with women. His demeanor towards me worsened progressively over that 7 year period while he tried to live a double life. Often times he was downright cruel with the things he’d say. My self-esteem and sense of self as a woman took a dive for the worse. My health suffered, and my mothering suffered. I yelled constantly at my beautiful children, and felt little desire to spend time with them having fun. He on the other hand became everyone’s best friend, and the best father in the world.
I resented so much that people thought so highly of him when he treated me so disrespectfully behind closed doors. He started being a saviour to any women in distress, and yet I was left alone with mine. As far as fairy tales go, I looked at our ‘perfect family’ portrait that we were presenting to the world and often thought to myself …. “This isn’t right. This is too perfect. Something is very wrong”. I would often wake from disturbing dreams where he would be in a room full of women, all pawning over him sexually, and they would all be laughing at me.
Making the Choice to Stay
Why didn’t I leave? Well.. like many women with children, I feared my ability to raise my 3 little ones as a single parent. Certainly I would not have had the opulent lifestyle which I had enjoyed due to staying in the marriage. I enjoyed the financial trappings that came with being married to a successful man. I was free to choose whether I worked or not, and this gave me a great sense of freedom and independence which I loved.
On an unconscious level, my fear stemmed from my mothers beliefs being instilled in me after her own marriage breakdown. My parents divorced at a time when there was little financial help from the government. She repeatedly echoed the belief that “it’s hard being a single parent” and on an unconscious level I took this on. It’s a reason many women stay in marriages that are very psychically violent. Mum actively encouraged all of my siblings to stay in abusive marriages because of her own experience with hardship as a single parent.
And why did I subject myself to 7 years of torment without saying anything? The problem with confronting a partner with your suspicions is that if the truth comes out, you must be prepared to act on it in some way. Even if that meant leaving. He was already used to walking all over me, with my permission of course, so unless I was prepared to leave, there was little point speaking up. I had already come to know that anything I said fell on deaf ears, so it was strangely less painful to say nothing then it was to speak up and feel ignored. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t speak your truth.
In the beginning I wasn’t ready to leave, and this added to my despair because I truly wished that I was strong enough to do so. And another part of me still wanted my marriage and my husband. In hindsight, I’d say I had become addicted to him. Or addicted to the drama at the very least. But at this point, I reasoned that everything would be good if only he would change. But we cannot change other people. We can only look at why we are allowing ourselves to be treated a certain way. What were my limiting beliefs about my self-worth that would make me think there was no alternative? I still believed that I must be doing something wrong.
By the time that I finally did confront my husband, I had done a great deal of self-analysis and was now prepared to do what was right by me. After being confronted, he said he was relieved that it was finally out in the open, as he was “out of control” and didn’t know how to stop. And so I chose to stay.
I still believed I was in love with my husband, and again I created a new illusion…. if I stay, surely now he will see that I love him so much, and now he will want to be the partner I have dreamt of. Indeed, his dalliances stopped, but our relationship continued along the lonely path that it had always been. Only this time, I carried an even greater sense of myself as ‘not being enough’.
Although not present in a physical sense, the high class, young, athletic hookers were ever-present in our bed on a psychological-emotional level for me, and I never trusted him again. On a daily basis, I couldn’t let go of his betrayal, and the residual effect left from the emotional abuse I endured over that 7 years. I was filled with mistrust, anger and resentment, and continued to stuff it down inside. I never had closure. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t speak your truth.
The Beginning of The End?
It’s now November 2013 – our 25th wedding anniversary , and some 7 years have passed since we left the prostitutes behind us. He took me to Noosa for the weekend to celebrate such a big anniversary milestone. It was the first time in 20years that he hadn’t done something to sabotage our wedding anniversary so I was in seventh heaven. We had gone for a romantic dinner, and finished with a nightcap in the bar. And then it came …. “Just for something different” he said, “why don’t we hire a hooker to come to our room?“.
I felt as though I had been kicked in the chest with a steel boot. The pain was incredible. My heart was literally breaking. He could see that I was visibly upset but he didn’t understand why. My response “Your passion for prostitutes nearly destroyed our marriage, and me. What part of that experience do you think I want to introduce back into my life?“.
He suggested that if I wasn’t over the past yet, then I should see a psychologist!
I went to bed with the pain still in my heart, and woke with it in the morning.
When You Won’t Make the Move, the Universe Will Give You a Push
In 2012, when we started talking more and more about our pending retirement, I began to fear what that would look like. For our entire marriage, I felt like I was second-place to everything else in his life. His work, his golf, his golf friends, hiss sexual addiction, and the kids. Nothing more than a housekeeper. I began to dread the loneliness that I saw waiting for me up ahead. Right about the same time, I felt him pulling away even further.
Then, soon after our disastrous 2013 wedding anniversary, my husband grew increasingly emotionally and verbally mean. He treated me like he couldn’t stand to be alone in the same room as me, didn’t want to spend any time alone with me socially, and was easily angered at the very sound of my voice. I thought perhaps he was back to his addiction, and I just couldn’t live through that again.
I started questioning my life’s purpose, and in desperation began a daily chant to the universe… “Please give me an answer. What am I to do? Help me find my way again.”
The universe heard. And they responded. I endured his hatred of me for 6 months until finally demanding to know why he was treating me this way. He responded with a text message (such was his complete lack of communication skills).
Said Text Msg: “For now, I still love you. But I’m not in love.”
Two things struck me right off the bat. First, I felt he’d kept me at arm’s length for our entire marriage, so I also never really felt that he was “in love” with me anyway. Not truly. And second, well, his use of the term “for now”. For now? That was a red flag pointing towards a more uncertain future. Or one that clearly guaranteed more hurt.
And so, without a moments hesitation, I made the choice to leave.
Andrew G Marshall (I love You, But I’m Not In Love) talks about the 8 stages of love that relationships experience. Many couples fall out of the “in love” phase and simply exist in the familiar “love” zone into old age. Its comfortable enough there and has many practical benefits regarding family, friends and finances. However, he adds that when couples reach a stage of hating each other, this is a deathnell on a marriage. By all accounts, my husband had reached that stage, and I was devastated. It just felt like all the work I’d done, all the sacrifices I’d made, all the forgiving I had to do…. it all amounted to nothing.
A Renewed Sense Of Power
Such was his belief that I was completely dependent upon him for my very survival that he never thought I would go. Naturally he would think that. That is the very person I had become. I was completely dependent upon him financially and emotionally. That’s the reason I stayed 20 years longer than I should have.
But he underestimated just how lonely I’d been in our marriage. And for how long. And just how exhausted I was from always trying to make him happy so that he’d open himself up emotionally to me. The years of hurt were piling up and couldn’t be stuffed down any further. He forgot too that before we married, I was carefree, fun, independent, and I was now soooo desperate to get back to that me again. I had no intention of hanging around to see what came after “for now”.
We’re Nothing Without Hope.
At every stage of our marriage I hung onto the ‘hope’ that one day I would have my fairytale. ‘Maybe when the kids finish school, finish uni, leave home’, turned into ‘Maybe when we retire’. Many family members and outsiders assumed I left the marriage simply because he told me he wasn’t in love with me any more. The fact is, once he admitted that he wasn’t in love with me, I realised that all ‘hope’ that our marriage would improve was now lost. And without hope, there is nothing. And there was simply no forgiveness left in me.
The thing I grieved the most was the loss of the fairytale. I truly grieved. I had hung on to that fantasy for so long. It reminds me of an old saying….”You must give up the life you thought you wanted, in order to have the life you truly deserve“. I fully get that now. And I’m living it!
In Greg Behrendt’s book, He’s Just Not That Into You, he advises “Don’t spend your time on and give your heart to any guy who makes you wonder about anything related to his feelings for you”. But I continued to do it right throughout our marriage. I actually thought that over time this man would see how much I loved him, and how valuable I was to him, and he would come around. He never did.
Finding Self Again
In a nutshell, through my marriage I lost my voice. When you lose your voice, in any situation, you stop living your truth. I learnt early in our marriage that it was easier to not ask for anything and to never express displeasure about anything. Things ran smoothly as long as I was silent. But every time I stayed silent, a little part of me died inside. There were so many times that I felt invisible. To feel like he was a single man and I was tagging along for the ride.
I didn’t really know myself before I got married so how could I expect to ever get what I deserved. My boundaries were flimsy and easily penetrable. That is why I must share some of the responsibility for what went on in our marriage.
Since separating, I have worked lovingly at re-discovering who I am. Really who I am. I’m learning to fully love and honour all that is me. Considerable time has been spent getting to know what I do and don’t want in my life, and I don’t drop my standards now for anyone. Now that I know what I want, I believe I deserve all of it!
It’s a long process, but I can say truthfully that I now feel Powerful. In control. Sexy. Vibrant. Passionate. I feel visible. During the period of time when I chose to stay in the drama, I was chosing to abandon all those things. I won’t settle for less ever again.
Moving on With Love
Do I hate him? Never. Hating him would be dismissive of the really wonderful times we did share. Nothing is ever all bad. And we have 3 amazing children – born of the love between us, and in spite of us. Both of us still cherish what it means to be “family” and we enjoy getting together often. The kids (all late teens and beyond) adjusted very well to the breakdown of the family because of the way we handled it.
Also, taking responsibility for the choices I made has allowed me to stay focused on love but admittedly, I struggled with the anger for a couple of years after leaving. It had been buried deep down for 30 years and took many cathartic episodes to dislodge it.
If there’s one thought I can leave you with it’s this. It’s an important point, so don’t miss it…. I didn’t leave because I hated him. I left because I loved myself more. I’ll say it again….. I didn’t leave because I hated him. I left because I loved myself more. That’s what it means to take responsibility for yourself.
Moving to that place of inner peace and personal empowerment involves doing whatever it takes. Letting go of people and situations that don’t serve your highest good. Keeping journals to express and let go of anger and grief. You may need to look back to childhood conditioning, which is very powerful for setting up unconscious belief systems that can hold you back from being your best self and living your best life. I can recommend a great book “My Mother. My Mirror, it’s a good place to start.
Learning From The Past
During my marriage, instead of using so much energy trying to make my husband to love me, I could have put more energy into loving and respecting myself. My husbands behaviour towards me was simply a reflection of my own insecurities and beliefs about myself, my own belief that I wasn’t worth more.
So if you’re currently navigating your way through a fairytale into a deeper reality, for now, just B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Don’t forget to BREATHE. One step at a time, do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. That’s the secret to life no matter what path you’re on and why. See your separation/divorce as the best gift you could have received! This will come with time – after you navigate your way through the grieving process. When you realise that you have a chance to change the future course of your life and gain control, your life will suddenly take off in unimaginable and joyous ways.
In June 2016, 18 months after leaving, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. It’s hardly surprising with all the anger that had been festering for 30 years. In the time since making the decision to leave, I have moved from strength to strength emotionally so despite my diagnosis, I continue to strive for the kind of life, and love, that I fully deserve. Cancer has only made my resolve stronger. He actually spent the last 2 years hoping that I would return, but even with my cancer, I’m happier continuing the journey on my own. To say he has many regrets is an understatement.
My cancer has devastated him. My 6 months of chemo treatment has given us an opportunity to talk about our marriage for the first time. Really talk.
While I accepted the fact that he was now dating a few different women, it also stirred up many emotions in me. So two years after separating, and now faced with cancer, I unleashed all that anger on him. For me, the new girls in his life triggered all the feelings of being abandoned many times over in our marriage. It was a crazy time, and not pleasant for either of us, but boy did it feel good to really let go!
Being permitted to voice all the hurt I had experienced, and have him genuinely listen and apologise, was very healing. We’ve now come to a really great space that allows us to honour each other and ourselves, and most importantly let go of the anger, negativity, and guilt of the past.
Moving on With New ‘Friends’
I see the path he is on with these new woman and recognise how much it replicates the way our own relationship started. Hindsight hey? Like many women, his new girls settle for the scraps he throws them. They think eventually he will be emotionally healed and he will be glad they are in his life. He won’t. And so, as the new women in his life take up the baton, another fairytale makes its way into the history books.
If you’d like to continue following the journey with me, be sure to check out all my other blogs. ♥
Need help navigating your own journey towards finding yourself. Why not check out my workshops page or book a 1-2-1 counselling session.