The anger swelled inside my chest, threatening to boil over into a hot lava stream of hurtful words.
I tried to contain the explosion, to extinguish the fire in my belly, and I fought to keep a clear head in what I knew was probably an argument that would blow over.
But that was always the case with us these days. Fighting had become our norm, and I’d had it.
Disrespect, anger, resentment — after 17 years of marriage, I could barely recognize what we’d become. On those days when I was so angry at my husband that I could spit, I would close my eyes and try to remember our smiles on our wedding day. I took myself back to the day when, before our family and friends, we vowed to love, honor, and cherish. “In good times and in bad,” I’d said with tears in my eyes, my pretty veil perched upon my head. It was a fairy-tale wedding, they said.
In good times and in bad. Those words reverberated in my head over the last year or so because I was starting to realize that our bad days were outnumbering the good ones. We’d always had our ups and downs — kids, jobs, and a mortgage will do that to a couple. We’d always weathered those tough times, usually with a small argument, and always with humor when the dust settled.
But we were angry all the time now. And I’d reached a point where I stopped caring whether our fairy tale would have a happy ending.
I wanted out.
And on the day that the anger swelled in my chest, I let the lava flow and unleashed my fury. I said the words I’d never uttered in almost 20 years together.
“I’m leaving, and I think I want a divorce.”
My husband stood there reeling, his mouth wide open, his eyes filled with shock and hurt. I looked at him across the kitchen island, with the dinner dishes scattered on the counter and the sounds of the news on the television. I’d always wondered what that moment felt like for other couples we’d known who divorced. I wondered what our friends felt like in the immediate moments after the words you can’t take back were screamed out in fury and rage.
I know now what it feels like to have looked at your partner and been sure that you don’t want to stay, to contemplate spending your life with someone else. It feels empty. And scary. And gut-wrenching. And liberating.
My husband quietly took in my angry stance, my tear-stained face, and my crossed arms, and said, “So, that’s it? That’s all I get? Twenty years together and you aren’t even going to try to help me fix us?”
I stared at him in disbelief. I was so sure of my anger, so sure of how hurt I felt inside, and so clear in my head that I didn’t see another way out besides separation and divorce. The last year had been stressful with a home renovation, a new job for me, and increased school activities now that our children were older. We’d gone from making each other a priority to getting into pissing contests over whose day was more stressful and who had more on their plate.
We’d forgotten how to be nice to each other. Somewhere along the way — probably between midnight feedings, soccer games, and carpool madness — we’d shoved each other aside, content to marinate in our resentment and anger. When I thought back on all of the ugly arguments and silent nights as we pretended to sleep, I was incredulous when my husband suggested we go to therapy.
“We are broken beyond repair,” I told him.
“I love you,” he said simply. “And we’ll find the right glue to put us back together.”
My husband spent the coming days looking for a therapist. I was dubious. While we’d always known we had issues communicating, I wasn’t sold on going to talk to a stranger about the intimate details of my life. And though I was angry and hurt, I was also terrified that a therapist would call my bluff and say that, in fact, we were no longer compatible.
Deep down, past the resentment and pain, I loved my husband. But I hated what we’d become, and I couldn’t see a clear path to marital harmony. So I made a choice.
Leaving is easy.
Therapy and choosing your marriage is the hard part.
I wasn’t sure I could endure listening to all the reasons I made my husband angry. I didn’t want to go and argue with a referee. We’d already spent too many years of our marriage angry at each other, and I was terrified that we’d be WWF-style fighting in an office with holistic and Zen objects to chuck at each other.
I shared my fears with my husband and we made a pact.
We agreed that we were going to find “the nice” again. No more fighting. No more resentment. Just us, some super glue, and the pieces of our lives that we cherished the most, refashioned into a new, lasting puzzle.
We both realized that we couldn’t be the only couple to have found themselves struggling in marriage. Most importantly, I let myself off the hook and stopped feeling ashamed for needing help to make things right again.
A few weeks later, I took a leap of faith. On a bright morning, I sat on a worn leather couch in a Victorian brownstone and talked to a stranger about our marriage. And I’m happy to report that no holistic or Zen objects were thrown in fits of anger. There was simply talking — real, honest conversation with a man who loved me enough to forgive me for almost giving up. When our therapist told me that I needed to look at him as our marriage coach rather than a therapist, I knew we’d made the right choice.
And as I looked over at my husband and his eyes caught mine, I realized that all of the arguments and hurt had led us to where we needed to be most — right there on that couch, fighting to make us better and whole again.
We don’t have a fairy tale. I know that now.
But we have a story that still has chapters left, and therapy is helping us rewrite the ending.