Offbeat Divorce, Part 1: The Struggling

Guest post by Kate Leroux
I Want To Hold Your Hand

Last week I received an email from a reader whose marriage is struggling. “No one ever talks about offbeat divorce,” she said. “I know you're a wedding blog, but I can't be the first offbeat bride to have a struggling marriage.” She's right: she's not. Over the last four years, we've removed several wedding profiles at the request of couples who've emailed to say the partnership has ended. Heck, there was one bride whose wedding we were about to feature, but when we emailed her, the marriage had already ended.

Nontraditional marriages end, just like traditional ones do. That in mind, I decided to ask a recently divorced friend to share some of her thoughts on divorce. This may not be what y'all planning weddings want to think about right now, but it's good information to have. -Ariel


Hi, my name is Kate and I failed. I had a somewhat offbeat wedding, was married for 8 years, ultimately failed at it, and got divorced. I'm starting this way because it's not something you hear people say very often. After a marriage falls apart (or serious problems are worked out), it's swept under the rug, put in the past, and never mentioned. This might make the newly-divorced feel better, but it creates a false impression that most people are happy and have never had these problems. When my marriage was exploding, I felt so alone and so defective in a world full of (apparently) shiny happy people.

In this post, I want to pass on a few of the things I learned while my marriage was struggling, before we decided to separate for good.

TALK TO PEOPLE

My initial instinct was to keep my problems to myself, for fear that people would judge or pity me. But I didn't want to perpetuate that illusion that marriages never struggle, so I summoned the courage to talk to my friends about what was happening. I didn't tell everyone all the details, but I gave at least a broad outline. Far from being judgmental, every single person I talked with was supportive and sympathetic.

To my surprise, three of my friends had previously been divorced that I hadn't even been aware of! Sharing my story led them (and several others I already knew about) to share their stories with me. I'd forgotten that it is struggles and challenges that bind friends together. During the hardest time of my life, I found myself blessed with a number of deeper friendships.

One word about this: everyone will react to your story through the lens of their own experience. If they struggled but made their marriage work, they'll assume (even if only subconsciously) that that's the best outcome for you. And vice versa. If you know this going in, you won't see their perspective as judgment; they're trying to help. I learned that everyone's situation is different, and nobody can know what's best for anyone else.

HANDLING THE GUILT AND ANGER

Chances are, one person in a struggling relationship is wrestling with guilt and the other is wrestling with anger. I don't want to share too many details about my situation, so I won't say which I was, but it was often unbearably intense. I had to learn to handle the feeling, both within myself and in my partner.

Just accepting that my partner was feeling his guilt/anger was a first step. I tried not to poke at it or make it worse. He did the same for me. But there's only so much we could do, and I had to come to terms with the fact that neither of us could make his negative feelings go away just by trying really hard. The emotions had a life of their own, and needed to run their course.

I'm going to ask you to bear with me as I use a couple of buzzwords: empathy and mindfulness. During my difficult times, I read two books about them that I found very helpful: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and Radical Self-Acceptance by Tara Brach. Yes, the titles both sound kind of weird and new-agey; don't let that turn you off. They have a lot to say, but the very heart of what I got from them was that I needed to empathize with myself and my partner, and that means just HEARING what needs to be heard without trying to change it. And mindfulness is accepting and making room for the negative emotions instead of ignoring or fighting them. Letting them pass through. That may sound counterintuitive, but it made the difficult stuff seem smaller and more manageable.

ONE MOMENT AT A TIME

Beyond this, all I have to give is sympathy. When your life feels like it's falling apart, maybe permanently, it can be excruciating. In retrospect, I don't know how I kept my life functioning on a day-to-day basis. Cling to whatever things help you get through the moments. Some of the things I relied on were: a single song I must have listened to a thousand times, vodka, mundane housework, my job, writing things down, and walking on my slackline. Time moved so slowly that I often experienced a week's worth of emotions in a day or even less. But life went on, somehow.

Eventually, we decided to call it quits. In my next post, I'll share a few things I learned during that part of the process.

Be sure to read the second half of this series, Offbeat Divorce, Part 2: The Separating.

Comments on Offbeat Divorce, Part 1: The Struggling

  1. As a twice-divorced person now preparing for my third (and LAST!!) marriage, I found myself recognizing and nodding along with this article – particularly the part about allowing the emotions to run their course instead of trying to fix right away. This applies ALL the time at all stages of a relationship: before, during and yes… after. *sad sigh*

    Must have been very hard for you to revisit and slightly reopen some of those wounds. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. As someone going through a rough stage of a committed relationship, thank you for this. I literally had to talk myself through letting my anger and frustration go last night because, consciously, I was aware of how little they were helping. I think empathy and communication help at any stage of the relationship, not just the bad ones.

  3. No, this is good. I feel like we’re supposed to have “eventualities” in mind for every other area of life, but with marriages one doesn’t speak of a “what if.” As someone who cannot turn off her “what ifs” in ANY situation, I say thank you.

  4. *hugs Suz* Wow, you sound like me: I’m twice divorced but have now been happily married for longer than both prior marriages put together. Sometimes it takes two or more times ’round the rodeo to get it right, but I think it shows strength and courage to not give up on love. Best wishes to you in your last and best!

    • On the journey on becoming divorce, I am learning it is not a failure, but it is a new chapter of discovery. I have learned a lot about myself, how strong I am. I never knew this person was in me. Sometimes a curse becomes a blessing.

      • I can totally relate to feeling like getting divorced is admitting failure. But you are completely right it is a new chapter of discovery, sometimes it just takes some time to see that. I’m finally seeing my divorce as a blessing because without it I would not be where I am today, and the place I am at today is worth all the heartache from the past. It is my life now and going in the direction that I finally want it to.

  5. Great article, and bravo to you for coming clean about how much it hurts. I am a wedding photographer, and shooting other people’s happy day was BRUTAL during my own divorce (after 13 years and one child). SO, I decided to start doing a little Divorce Photography and let it all play out on my (no longer current) blog: http://www.sunset-pig.blogspot.com. I can’t tell you how many people said that hearing that they weren’t alone in their pain helped them, and it was a super-cathartic experience for me. Hang in there.

    • The idea of Divorce Photography is very intriguing! Are any of your photos still available to see anywhere?

      Thanks (to you and the other commenters) for your kind words about the post.

    • I’m a wedding florist. Brutal is a perfect description of the year surrounding my divorce!

      Through my whole divorce, I kept wishing for a divorce coordinator. Not someone to do the lawyer stuff, but someone to remind me of all the details like getting the utilities switched out of his name and when bills were due.

      Love that you were able to use your skills proactively!

  6. Thank you for writing this. I am divorced, and about to go into my second marriage. I appreciate your words, and I’m sure many other people will, too.

  7. Thank you for posting this. Although I am not divorced myself, a close family member is and although she has never said it outloud to anyone – the line, “I failed” pretty much sums up the way she seems to have felt about her divorce. I look forward to reading the next part and hope that it will help me to better understand how I can help my family member through her struggles.

  8. I’ve only been married a year and a half (and never divorced) and honestly, can’t imagine what you went through (and must still be going through) but I, too, wanted to thank you for sharing this. Marriage, like anything else, needs to have both sides shared to truly appreciate it.

  9. I’d like to echo all the gratitude pouring out in the comments. I’m not divorced, actually I’m newly engaged, and I think these life lessons can benefit everyone. What I appreciated the most is that you focused on what we can do for ourselves during times of relationship turmoil. Usually, articles explain how to communicate with the partner, or how to “make it better.” Those articles completely leave out what we can do to take care of ourselves. So, thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us to focus on our own well-being during times of struggle.

  10. Yeah, I failed too. I think that was one of the darkest and certainly longest feeling parts of my life and unless you go through it, you can’t really understand that feeling of dread and tension that lives in your house with you. Massive kudos for being brave enough to talk about this in the open and for your kind words of advice.

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