Everything was fine in my marriage until the last 8 hobbling years.
Unfortunately, divorce proceedings started in the 25th year of our union. Once the dissolution was finalized, I told people how I was happily married for 15 years, yet married for a decade more than that.
And though I found my response somewhat cheeky, somewhat humorous, it is indeed sad upon further reflection. Let’s add the word ‘delusional’ into the mix.
The term happily married is subjective.
Of course, the word fine is subjective, also.
So, too, is the word blame.
The early years of ‘happily married’
I believed I was happy so, therefore, I was.
The first 15 years were filled with proper distractions. I loved raising our three kids and found being a wife and mother all I could ask for out of life. My days were busy managing the household, the kids’ schooling, activities, volunteering in a couple of different capacities, and working outside the home upon need.
One child had consuming mental health challenges, and juggling appointments became second nature.
I lived what I knew marriage to be without knowing that I could redefine the areas that mattered to me, my soul, and even my personality.
Successful marriages are not built on a cookie-cutter concept.
One-size-does not necessarily fit all.
As long as I fell in line, didn’t make waves, and played the dutiful wife, everything was just fine. We had fun and some great experiences as a couple and as a family.
I blame myself for following those unwritten rules, though, year after year. Through time, I lost my voice. Funny how a behavioral pattern can become so habitual that you stop seeing it.
The difference melts into the commonplace.
Until, one day, you recognize that you are no longer recognizable.
The awareness in me was not earth-shattering but more of a slow-growing light inside.
An accidental awakening
Painstaking measures were taken by me each year, on Father’s Day, his birthday, or Christmas, to surprise him with something that he could cross off his bucket list.
From a bi-plane ride to driving a race car on a speedway, hot air balloon ride, and even flyboarding with water jetpacks were all celebrations of him and his desires.
One day, I surprised myself by asking him a single question, out loud, that I didn’t realize had rattled around in my brain.
“When do we start working on my bucket list, and do you even know what’s on it?”
I startled both of us.
He had no answer. Then I realized, neither did I. I no longer remembered what I wanted to do. Somewhere, under the pile of taking care of everyone else’s dreams, I had forgotten my own.
Once I had cracked open the seal, found my voice again, I slowly started bringing my head back up to the surface of the water. I wanted the air; the fresh breathing of my past was calling me, teasing me, and inviting me to rejoin the invigorating life I once knew.
Self-discovery and rediscovery are very personal. Everyone who finds themselves on this journey knows it comes with individualized timing.
I slowly created boundaries and watched the calendar. I set milestones, by months or years, for regaining self-respect and reclaiming my voice.
Reminding myself that I have value beyond what I can do for others was a painstakingly slow process.
Year by year, I was diligent in gaining traction. Slow and steady, and non-threatening was my preferred method. Communication is my forte so guessing games didn’t exist. Yet, I smelled stagnation. Not from me but him.
There was a missing component to the assurances my husband was throwing my way. The missing element was action.
Words are powerful and can also be meaningless. Empty promises are easy to believe when you want them to be true. Eventually, even the most dimwitted will have to face reality.
My future was screaming in my face.
It became impossible to disregard the truth.
There would be no reciprocation of behavioral changes.
His words and actions would not be marching hand-in-hand.
The expectation was that we would still prioritize him the way we always did. The old way that had suffocated me, excluding my wishes, thoughts, and disregarding my desires, would stay as the norm.
I should be happy with gifts that flashed and sparkled and had nothing to do with what I wanted or needed. Talking about caring should be enough for me.
It became glaringly apparent that emotional support would not be forthcoming.
My choices were obvious and I would have to pick one.
I could assume the role of a martyr and carry on stifled, or I could make a break for it and start celebrating ‘me.’
Who gets the blame?
We both are responsible, for very different reasons, for the demise of our marriage.
I set the pace, as a natural caretaker, to see to my family’s wants, needs, and desires. I waited so long, inadvertently grooming my husband I suppose, that once I asserted myself as a human there were repercussions.
He was incapable of letting go of the control. He was quite comfortable with our routine. Not only did he resist meeting me halfway, he simply wasn’t capable. I should be content sitting on the shelf until he wanted me to dress up and play happy wife.
After all, he worked hard to buy that really nice shelf.
We both lost balance, and neither way was healthy.
Lessons for a lifetime
What did I learn? Better yet, what do I want my adult kids to understand about their value and the keys to finding happiness?
1. Being a woman does not equate with being a victim.
2. No one is lesser than another or incapable of having and achieving goals.
3. Never build your house on sand.
4. Authenticity matters.
5. Marriages are a partnership.
6. If you don’t value yourself, you cannot expect others to value you.
7. Boundaries are healthy. The people that balk are usually the reason you created them.
8. Be true to yourself, your heart, morals, values, and your integrity.
9. No one is required to conform to another just to keep them happy.
10. It is okay to let go and move on.
11. It is better to be alone and healthy than sick with someone else.
12. The people who love you will understand and support you. They will want the best for you and support your wellness.
13. The people who respond with anything less than love and support were never your people anyway.
I’m okay. You’re okay.
Lisa Gerard Braun is a nonfiction and fiction writer and mental health advocate. She is a top writer in Feminism, Fiction at Medium.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.