My ex and I split up after 13 years of marriage. Our initial separation was a long and exhausting period – the most challenging two years of my life without a doubt – filled with moments of gut wrenching stress, anxiety, failure and loneliness, alongside feelings of new-found independence and strength. Most importantly it has been a time of personal growth for myself. Only just now, after two full years, do I feel strong enough emotionally to be able to both write about my personal experience and share it with others.
Due to the nature of our separation, I consider myself fortunate to be able to empathise with both those who have initiated separations and those who have been left by their partners. Although it was my ex who initiated the split at the beginning, it was I who later ended up moving on first and who in the end decided I did not want to salvage what was left of the marriage even when my ex decided that he did. The fact that I’m sitting here today typing that statement seems almost unbelievable to me at times.
From as far back as I can remember I believed I would be married forever. I never considered our children would ever know a life like the one they know now. Today we are happy and settled for the most part (I have a new partner and we’ve bought a home together) and I have no regrets about the fact that my ex and I are no longer together but it has been a journey of backwards and forwards – two steps forward followed by one step back (and vice versa) at any given time. As a result of my experience, I am a stronger, more independent person, however I will always hold in my heart feelings of sadness for a life that I started with someone but did not finish. Those who have stated that the end of a marriage is akin to death are not exaggerating. I have literally mourned the loss of my marriage and the life I knew before this one.
I have found the most difficult part of this journey has been trying to move forward without letting the past drag me down. More than the hardship of initially feeling rejected by my ex, more than the feelings of both physical and emotional exhaustion from trying desperately to hang on to a dying marriage (we continued to live together for nearly 6 months in separate rooms of our home before he moved out – a very bad idea in hindsight), more than trying to grapple with the challenges of being a working single mother, it is the moving on part that has without a doubt been the hardest.
In the early days after the split I felt such a huge sense of relief to have space and clarity away from my ex that I was at least somewhat happier than when in the marriage. The grief I’d experienced having to endure living with someone who barely spoke to or acknowledged me, caused irreparable damage and severed what I feel were the last remaining strings of our relationship. Fortunately we tried to shelter the children from knowing the gravity of the situation – he would go to sleep after them and wake before them so that they weren’t aware he was sleeping in another room, however the silence at the dinner table when we were together was excruciating. I had been burdened by such a huge sense of grief when my ex turned his back on our life together that when he finally moved out and I became close with someone 6 months later (9 months since our marriage had basically bottomed out) I was elated. Knowing someone I cared for found me attractive, fun and interesting, and that I could expect to find love again one day – even if this relationship was not destined to last – was a very positive influence on my life at the time.
Although initially I felt happy and excited about the turn my life was taking (I had grand hopes that this man was my knight in shining armour who had come to rescue the children and I from what was surely to be a lonely road ahead), as time went by I realised the relationship for what it was – an intimate friendship which provided a sense of comfort and security for me during a difficult time when I felt insecure and vulnerable. Although I feel some regret for moving on too quickly, in some ways I wonder if this wasn’t what I actually needed to boost my confidence and help convince me once and for all that I was capable of letting go and moving on. I had been existing in a state of limbo – separated from my ex and certain I could never be happy with him but afraid of saying it was over for good.
This sense of reclaiming my confidence was soon followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt. What brought about this feeling was not my actions themselves but that my ex (unaware of the intensity of my recent relationship) had informed me he had changed his mind and wanted to work things out. I felt immediately compelled to reveal everything but knew that if I did he would likely blame me for officially ending our marriage. Although he and I had discussed the possibility of meeting someone new and he’d even encouraged me to do so, I had been taught and believed that separation is not the same as divorce – I had committed adultery. I am Catholic and to say that this presented some challenges for me to deal with is the understatement of the century. I was so overwhelmed by anxiety that I broke out in hives. I met with our parish priest and a counsellor to try to help sort things out in my head. This helped somewhat. I became acutely aware that unless my ex forgave me I would never be able to forge ahead alone without feeling that I had been the wrongdoer and had ended the marriage on my own. I felt an intense need for him to acknowledge the marriage was not salvageable prior to this event happening. I ended up telling all to him within a week’s time.
Although my ex was hurt by the news, he ultimately said I had not betrayed him – that we both had been free to move on. Ironically though, he wanted more than ever to give things a go again. He told me he wanted us to move in together into a new home and start over again. There I was, being presented with what I had been wanting all along, and yet I no longer desired it. I had cut myself off emotionally from him, for the most part. Over the next three months I moved out to the country to a quiet, peaceful rental where the children and I could decompress after a very long year. Although it turned out to be the smartest move I’d ever made, it was only the first step in breaking free. I had a long road ahead of me and despite the happy times to come in our new life, the past was always waiting, ready to turn up at those moments when all I really wanted to do was forge ahead.