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 thank you thank you. It really is wonderful to hear the other side of life. All I can say is thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for this. My husband dropped the divorce bomb on me last weekend, exactly two months before our anniversary. I am having to take everything day by day by day by day… Some days I have been strong and kickass and fuck-him, other days I have cried, today I wanted to puke all day because I think he’s been cheating on me and I have no way to find out… Who knows how tomorrow will be? I know that he is not good for me and every day I see how his energy contaminates mine on contact and poisons it.
    I am trying very hard to inject some sparkles and cupcakes into my attitude, so here goes: we never had a wedding (of course, he uses that to rationalize it) and I never got to wear my grandmother’s wedding band.… I am trying to get him out of my life and out of my head so I can focus on the important stuff and maybe meet my future Offbeat Husband in the process! <– selfish? maybe. But I need every bit of "on the bright side" that I can get. And right now is a "do me" time and I have every right to it.

    • Hang in there. Every day your husband spent with you not wanting to be married to you was a waste of your limited time on the planet. If you can be thankful for anything, be grateful he told you he wanted out now and not 5 miserable years from now, during which time you could have turned yourself inside out trying to fix things. I have a friend whose husband almost left after 4 years (he actually moved out briefly). But then he came back. Six unhappy years later he left her for another woman. She feels like 10 years of her life were wasted and she wishes he had just had the courage to really leave her at the 4 year mark.

  3. I just want to say thank you for sharing your feelings, and the reason I say this is because 1 year ago I took a pregnancy test on what turned out to be the same night my partner was unfaithful to me, which I found out 5 days after having an abortion. The unbearable pain which ensued over that year was undoubtedly the worst experience of my life, one from which I thought I could never emerge. What does this have to do with your post? The grief and loneliness you experienced during your divorce was the same grief and loneliness I experienced — and what countless other people in terrible, heart-wrenching situations are experiencing. The most valuable thing we can do for each other is reach out, and let each other know that we are not alone in our grief. If by just reading someone’s story of pain, one person can realize that grief is truly a process, and can stop feeling alone even for one second.
    Sharing your story is so brave, but I want you to realize how kind it is as well. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I know it’s not easy, but you are very brave. And, you did not “fail”. People change. Life happens. I’m sure you did the best you could. Just yesterday I began looking for pre-marital counselling books in order to help my partner and I communicate better. Our wedding is coming up this summer, and although I feel very happy about it, I come from a divorced family (my mother just finalized her 3rd divorce) and I have to face the reality that problems do come up. Thank you for your book suggestions. NVC is a really useful tool. Good luck to all the future brides.

    • If you find any good pre-marital books, let me know! I’m another engaged woman from a divorced family who has been petrified of the institution of marriage (thus my first marriage coming at age 36!). I agree — I’m happy and excited about my wedding, but I am also scared! I have to remind myself that sometimes in life you have to take a leap of faith…but I wouldn’t mind a parachute 🙂

  5. Thank you for posting this. I was married for the second time 6 months ago. I first got married when i was only 22 (way too young for me) and it lasted all of 2 years, but started to fall apart almost immediately. We seperated over 5 years ago and to this day i still feel embarassed and ashamed and racked with guilt. I didn’t even tell my parents until at least a month after we seperated as i felt so guilty that they’d paid for our wedding & now i was walking away from it (they were 100% supportive) The most difficult part for me was our mutual friends virtually desserted me when i needed them more than ever, they thought i was fine & didn’t need support as i was the one who ended it so they thought i must now be happy. They didn’t understand how much i was hurting. To this day i don’t always admit that i’ve been previously married. The big reason our marriage fell apart was lack of communication, that is my advice to anyone getting married, make sure you can communicate with your partner about anything & everything or it just won’t work.

    • I could have written this whole comment. I got married at 23, we made it work for about 2 years, and it just fell apart. I was the one who walked away, and I was the one who made my new relationship public first (he was right on my heels, though), so our mutual friends pretty much abandoned me. Being the one to leave meant I was clearly the bad guy, because it’s all very black and white, right? I also felt horribly guilty because my parents paid for the wedding, and they were very supportive (having just gone through their own divorce). I think I might have ended things sooner without that serious wedding cost guilt, which is a terrible reason to stay married to someone.

      It’s nice in a weird way to see that I’m not the only one who felt that way. Hell, I *also* omit the fact that I’m going through a divorce when I meet people now. Your comment is reassuring, and I appreciate you sharing your experience because it makes me feel a little less weird and embarrassed. 🙂

  6. Somehow Offbeat Bride always has what I need to read. We aren’t getting divorced per se but after a long engagement and a six and a half year relationship everything is over. This is what I needed right now…this is the direction I needed to turn my mind in. Thank you

  7. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. My parents just finalized their divorce and my father is about to be remarried later this summer. My birth mom is divorced. My dude’s parents probably should be divorced. A couple friends very nearly were divorced. After seeing all these relationships that did not work or had serious problems I have had to contemplate that it could happen to me. I know we will have hard times so it is helpful to hear someone admitting that they got through and it was hard, regardless of whether the marriage continued or ended. I may not have many examples of successful relationships, but I certainly have examples that you can come out the other side and survive.

  8. Thanks for posting this. Like many who have already commented, I’ve been divorced before and am going down that proverbial aisle soon. Your thoughts about guilt and anger were spot on for me. We were married for 10 1/2 years, together for over 14. It’s really tough to come to terms with a failed marriage, but that was the better choice for me rather than living with misery.

    I wish everyone here good healing from their past mistakes, and remember, to love someone, you really need to love yourself first.

  9. THANK YOU for posting this! Judging by the comments, lots of us have been through this and are glad to hear of others. Thanks for exposing the taboo! (yet again) 🙂

  10. My would-have-been two year wedding anniversary was in March. I found out my former husband was cheating on me on my birthday in 2010 after a year and a half of marriage…we were trying for a baby…thankfully, we failed. My parents were completely unsupportive…and when I moved accross country…I lost everything. He even took my dog. The last ten months have been insane and overwhelming at times, but when you’ve lost everything, you figure out just how little you really need. Staying strong isn’t easy, but it’s easier than staying in a failing marraige.

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