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. Thank you for posting this. Divorce and the emotional fallout that comes from it don’t come up in honest discussion enough.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I am about to be married for the second time and I know exactly how each of these things worked. I’ve learned so much from my first marriage. It’s good to have someone put the words “I failed” out there. Some of my friends would get angry when I would use those words but they were truly the words needed. I think it was harder since I have a son and the learning to deal with his feelings too. However, I didn’t just fail I learned and I think that’s the good part of it all.

  3. Currently going through the “legal” divorce (since we’ve been apart in heart and mind for almost 2 years now) with a man I met when I was 18 and didn’t understand the difference between pity and love. It was harsh, and it continues to be so, but ultimately I an happy knowing that we made the best choice for both of us. And had it not all panned out the way it did, I wouldn’t be here reading OBB because the charming British gentleman (that I met soon after becoming seperated) and I are in the “let’s talk about weddings and babies” stage.

  4. Thank you so much for doing this – reading this was a powerful moment of clarifying for me what happened to us. I’ve been surprised how little talk there is in the Tribe, even though so many seem to be preparing for their second marriage. I wish I would have read this while my (offbeat!!) marriage was ending. Because neither one of us would acknowledge the guilt/anger, it became an abusive relationship. I found it so hard to talk about things to friends, who thought we had a model relationship, and a model though incredibly nontraditional wedding that was so tremendously meaningful.

  5. Kate, I applaud you for “coming out” as a divorcee. I failed once, too, and it was so, so hard to admit to people. My husband dumped me, and I don’t know how I got through it. I talked to people I hadn’t talked to in way too long, even though it scared me, and they were kind and wonderful and supportive. I drank a lot more than I should have, and had a short, intense affair with a sweet guy who offered himself as an “excellent rebound” (his words). I moved 600 miles away and met lots of new people and my new husband. Somehow the whole thing still hurts to think about, but it’s easier than it was.

  6. So glad to finally see this talked about on here. As a previously featured Offbeat Bride I think I actually once said out loud “How come there are no blogs for Offbeat Divorce?” I related to a lot of the emotions in this post (and the advice about remembering that everyone will view this with their own lens is spot on). But at the same time I also felt much differently after my separation. I think because I’d been so miserable in the last 6 months+ of my marriage I felt this crazy relief when it was done. Nobody seemed to get that and it made my feel like I was cold-hearted or not processing my emotions correctly.

    But the fact is while a lot of the feelings are universal it’s also different for everyone. You’ll heal at your own pace. Now that I’m planning my 2nd offbeat wedding some friends and family seem to think it’s too soon. But for years I didn’t think I was entitled to happiness. Now that I’ve found it I want to celebrate it and have learned a lot of lessons about making it last.

    • By the time I got to the place where I could file for divorce, I had already grieved the end of the relationship. It was over and there was no going back. To everyone on the outside, it looked like I jumped into a new relationship after only a couple of months, but inside, it was over a year of being alone. Time just works differently during stressful periods of life.

      Even knowing I made the best decision and the right decision, I still (7 years later) feel like I failed. Not that I failed in the relationship, or that I let someone down, but that I failed myself by having to break a vow I made; the most important promise I ever made!

  7. I’m halfway to my divorce (In New Zealand we have to be seperated for 2 years before we can get divorced) in about 2 weeks. Its so strange to think that a year has gone by already. We had a very angry dramatic break up, On the night of a huge birthday party for me. I had to turn up to my party and explain to people what had happened. which took away a lot of the hard stuff of having to tell people individually or let the grapevine do it. I think it almost helped because i could tell everyone exactly what had happened and noone heard dstorteed versions from gossip. Then surprisingly i had an awesome night with my friends. they took my phone off me. made sure i didnt drink myself into a stupour. kept me dancing and eating. i barely even cried. that all came the next day. But looking back i always think it shows how well my friends know me. They know i’m a pick myself up and keep going kind of person. Noone tried to constantly talk about it. They just let me have a fantastic night and ignore it for a while. It really was a time for me to strengthen and deepen what were already pretty solid friendships. But what really bit at the time was noone else was even surprised. i felt like my life had just been one huge joke to everyone else. what could they all see that i couldnt. So yes. Failure was a word i had buzzing around for a very long time. I saw a counsellor at the time who said that that is a very female reaction – what was it about me that was wrong? what didnt i do right? Then my Father told me something that has become so incredibly important to me for amazing reasons. he said to me ‘Men are essentially selfish creatures. Until they find the ones they will give it all up for. You just werent his one’ I look at my Parents who have been together for 34 years and i know my father would give everything up for any one of us. So i found myself a guy like that. 🙂

    • Your father’s words just gave me chills. That is so simple and profound. Thanks for sharing…

  8. A different perspective: I absolutely reject the idea that my divorce means I “failed”. To me, that word implies the possibility of success. But staying with someone with whom you are horribly incompatible is not success. Being married for 50 years but hating each other the whole time is not success.

    A good marriage (or any relationship, really) builds up both people, makes them better in some way than they were before. Owning the fact that people and circumstances can change to the point where you are NOT building each other up, and responding to that by letting both people move on…that was a huge success for me and my ex. I did not fail, at all. I succeeded in moving from a bad marriage to a good life.

  9. Hi Kate, I’m Kathy and I don’t think you failed.

    More to the point, I’m tired of pretending that two people staying together for the rest of their lives is the “norm” when every statistical and personal evidence I’ve gathered is to the contrary. I’m tired of seeing guilt and self-loathing heaped on people during a difficult time. I’m tired of hearing long-running marriages dismissed as “failed” because, after 30 years, the couple decided to part. Oh, the whole 30 years didn’t count because they parted? Pft.

    From my perspective staying married to the same person your whole life is not automatically part of a person’s makeup and you’re not “flawed” if you can’t do it. I like to think of it like singing : some people can do it and some people can’t. Some people can’t but work at it until they can. Some people work at it but still can’t. Some people sing but then later in life their voice gives out. Whatever. Nobody says “I failed” because they can’t sing.

    I know that you’re using the words “I failed” to take the sting out of them, to show people they can admit “failure” and survive. But I still maintain you didn’t fail!

    I reject your failure! LOL…

    • Exactly. When I read her words about “failing,” it reminded me of a chapter in Dan Savage’s “The Commitment.” He writes about how we only measure the success of a marriage on whether or not someone got out alive, ignoring the fact that that one unhappy marriage might be replace by two amazingly happy ones. Kate, you didn’t fail.

      • Absolutely agree with the above 2 comments. Kate, you did not ‘Fail’, nor does divorce necessarily mean failure. I see people like puzzle pieces; some fit with each other better than others. But unlike puzzle pieces, people are not static. They grow and change. And they don’t always grow together or even in the same direction. Relationships evolve and the failure is when people don’t do what they need to to allow everyone involved to be happy. Any child of a divorce will tell you that staying together ‘for the kids’ can be even more damaging to them in the long run. I say that staying together for any reason other than ‘it makes us happy’ can be damaging to everyone involved.

        Kate, thank you for this post. Not merely because it was very brave of you to come forward, but because by doing so you’re making it more okay for other people to talk about what they’ve been through. Your post has the potential to heal many, many people.

        Go you, Kate.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m thankful to read an article speaking openly about divorce. I haven’t been married before, so I don’t know what it is like to be divorced. However, I do know what it is like to have parents who are divorced. My future husband’s parents are also divorced. I struggle with feeling like wedding planning is supposed to be a purely happy process, or at least if I am upset it should be related to planning the wedding. Yet being a child of divorce brings up a lot of internal struggles for me, and the sad feelings I have had more often have to deal with my childhood and the worries that I have about those experiences being repeated in my (future) marriage, despite having a wonderful relationship currently. These feelings are intensified because I feel like I can’t speak to them with anyone. That I am some sort of freak for even thinking so much about it. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when my parents divorced, despite the large statistics of how common it was, I was the only one out of my close friends to not have married parents.) I wish more people spoke openly about divorce, and so I really appreciate seeing that the word divorce does have a place on a wedding blog.

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