“When people divorce, it’s always such a tragedy. At the same time, if people stay together it can be even worse.” – Monica Bellucci
I find myself lately asking the question, is this it for me.
I’m 38 years old and married with two beautiful daughters, who are 17 and 10 years old. I’ve been with my husband since I was 21 and 5 months pregnant. A few months later, he had his first affair with a family friend. We went through the normal ordeal after infidelity and worked things through. Obviously, it was devastating, but we gave it a shot.
Then, as the years went by, he had his 2nd affair when we were 7 years married. Also a close friend of ours. I was completely heartbroken. Our second daughter had just been born and there I was still dealing with this. As you can imagine, I had all this anger and resentment in me. I hated him. I then made the decision to divorce him.
I sold the house and moved back to my parents. When I went back to work after maternity leave, I found out the person I trained to stand in for me was now my Supervisor and I had been put out of my office.
As I’m going through a divorce, demoted at work, I still had a 7-year-old and a 7-month-old baby to raise and living with my parents again. I really didn’t picture my life like this. Then, everything settled and I found myself in love with a guy at work. Everything was amazing. He gave me back my self-worth and I could see out of the dark again. I had hope for the future again. But as things progressed my ex-husband started coming around again. I never kept him away from our girls.
The next thing I knew, I was hiding my “new” relationship from my ex. I don’t know why I was so afraid to let him know that I had found someone else. You see, he has always been a jealous, possessive, and passive-aggressive person. Then we bought a house together again to raise our kids in. We got married again 3 years later and my then-boyfriend decided also to move away from all the drama. So here I am back again with the man I hate and letting go of the guy I love. Why did I sabotage my own happiness like that?
Well, 7 years into the new second marriage, I find myself on a path I grew to hate him for. You see, I have recently started seeing someone. He is everything I always wanted in a man. He is everything my husband is not. He makes me feel brave, beautiful, in love, happy, safe, content, vulnerable. Everything I thought I would never feel.
My question now is, do I pursue my own happiness or do I stay in my loveless and dead marriage? I know it’s not as simple as that. If only life was that simple. But I can’t just make a decision like that without hurting my girls. And knowing me, I’ll probably end up doing the right thing. Ending it all, before it even began. Because that is what a good wife and more important a good mother does, isn’t it?
Life is cruel. It will present you with all these opportunities to be happy but at the worst possible time. My wish for myself is just to be happy and free. To be loved and loved back in return. I love the person I am when I am not around my husband. But as soon as he enters a room, I have my guard up and I become this edgy, strict, and angry person.
I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to let go of all this anger in me. I want to let go of life’s shackles and live my life. Why is it so hard for me? Please help and guide me to make the right decision. Because I feel I can’t just make a pros and cons list and start making a decision. I can’t live in constant fear of the unknown anymore. I am so scared of what the future holds in store, yet some days I feel like I am so brave and ready to pack my bags and start fresh all over.
Sometimes I even see myself in my own flat alone and my girls living with him. And then I feel guilty for thinking like that because they are my world. Then I curse myself for wanting to give up everything and do what? Just for some fun and freedom and happiness? I don’t think I could live with that guilt. But I need to get out, but how without hurting them?
Mom At A Crossroads
Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Husband Won’t Divorce You, Even If You Are Both Miserable
Dear Mom At A Crossroads,
Let’s have a chat about powerful women. About applaudable, admirable moms. Moms who, beyond being loving and comforting and available to their children, are decisive in their emotional lives, are bold and not meek.
And even more admirable, the women and mothers who were meek and who then grew up, stood up, and chose to brave an uncertain world where loyalty is never guaranteed to us but can be given faithfully by us, where vows can be overturned and, to some, only beautiful in theory. An uncertain world where you don’t know how you can heal from your ex if you see him every day when you look into your child’s eyes.
Do you know the kind of mother every child grows up wishing to come home to? A mother whose face doesn’t twist into a knot every time their father walks into their home. A mother who doesn’t reserve her body, her heart, or her future for a man who abuses her with his jealousy and possessiveness, his cheating and scandal.
I know this may be overwhelming to hear—and even frightening to accept—but every little girl, even those who turn into teenagers who roll their eyes at their mothers want—no, need—their mom to be happy, to be proud, and feel safe with the decisions she’s made for herself.
An admirable mother, a mother who children are guaranteed to respect, is not a woman who stays in a marriage just because the timing is bad and she made a commitment and has zero faith in her opportunities to be happy. No.
None of us want parents who stay married if that marriage is weakening any one of them over time if that marriage is turning them into shadows of themselves if that marriage is making them lock their bedroom doors and meltdown into their beds as if their sanctuary had suddenly turned into some graveyard.
Because not only does that break a child’s heart and provide them no example of what it is to be strong in love, but because the burden is too great, is too risky for any child to carry.
Listen, the choice to stay under conditions like these is how a family winds up perpetuating a cycle of hatred. Parents who stay together for the children but grow to hate each other through the act of staying and raising children who hate their own existence because their existence is why their parents stayed together and lived miserably in a home where their father cheated and their mother’s face twisted into a knot every night he sat down at the table.
You see, sometimes the sanest, most motherly choice to make is to leave her marriage, is to send her children back and forth between two homes. Because if one of those homes can be healthy, at least there is a chance the children will discover love there and, at the very least, peace.
Listen, if you think this is easy for me to say, it’s not. If you think I’m encouraging you to divorce your husband once and for all because I’m a breakup coach and my whole mantra is leave, that’s not the case either. The truth is, I’ve always been so anti-divorce.
Related: 5 Situations When Divorce Is The Best Parenting Decision You Can Make
My twin sister and I talk about it to this day. She remembers being seven years old and in the car with our father, begging him to divorce our mom. I remember standing in the garage, watching him back his car out, and saying I would kill myself if they left each other.
For most of my life, I’ve been so proud that my parents sided with me. Proud that out of all my friends, I had a family who kept it together.
Part of this pride came from believing I would be one of the protected ones. You know, someone who wouldn’t grow up with commitment issues or some aching sense of abandonment—symptoms, so often, of separation. I think I wore their marriage as a badge of honor as if it declared me safe enough to love, to trust as if them staying married meant I wasn’t a potential flight risk, that I didn’t come from a family where the parents just ran away, where anyone just gave up.
But divorce isn’t the only way a child can see their parents give up.
As a kid, and even as a young adult, I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand the potential there was for witnessing an even more devastating reality. I didn’t think there was a more devastating reality than divorce than seeing your father put his clothing in the car, get behind the wheel, and threaten to never look back. But there is.
There’s living with the sight of a mother who’s wishing she wasn’t still there. There’s seeing the way your mother looks at your father. Or, the way she no longer looks at him. The way she checks out. There’s witnessing what she turns into when he’s around. My mom sounds just like you. And the older I get, the sicker it makes me. The more it feels unacceptable. Unacceptable that parents live this way and children grow to see it for what it is more than their own parents do.
The reality is, parents can choose to spend their lives in a marriage sustained by denial. They can bury their feelings in their garden or in their careers and numb out through any vice imaginable. They can cling to memories of the good old days and, because denial is such an intoxicating force, those memories can be a good enough reason to stay. But children don’t get that choice. Children don’t get the luxury of denying what they see. This is the problem I am warning you of.
You and I can choose to be in relationships that are breaking our heart and, out of fear of being on our own or starting over again or just letting others down, we can deny that our relationship hurts us, that it cages us in and deprives us of oxygen, deprives us of life on our terms. We can try building walls inside our home which keep us separated, protected, from having to rub up next to the reality of our partners. And we can tell our kids, we can tell ourselves, that we sleep in separate rooms because we just sleep better in a bed of our own, falling asleep to a channel of our choosing.
Related: To The Man Feeling Too Guilty To Leave
When the reality is, it’s not that we sleep better in our separate rooms, it’s that we live better. We breathe more easily there.
The trouble is, while we can deny that this is our reality and that these are our real reasons, while we can create stories that explain away our decision to stay or cover over what we feel inside us, those who are around us can’t deny what they see. It just doesn’t happen. People will always see what we are unwilling to look at because it’s that obvious and oftentimes that painful.
There’s always going to be at least one person who sees through us, who takes one look at us and knows exactly what’s going on. If you let things continue on as they are, you know who that one person will be? One of your daughters.
To protect against that, be one of the brave ones. Brave an uncertain world, your pride, and pain, and see yourself as you really are before everyone else has to for you. See yourself as you are right now and, if you don’t like the way it looks, (God knows, you don’t like the way it feels), change. Do the one thing you haven’t been willing to do. Leave. But really leave this time.
Your daughters will grow to admire you for that, for being a mom who knew what made her feel free and chose to pursue it, to prioritize it, especially when she didn’t have a plan in place. Because in a world as uncertain as ours, the only thing you can really trust in is your instinct, that it won’t let you down.
This is what’s possible if you don’t follow through, your children will end up feeling everything you’ve worked so hard to deny yourself from feeling. They will feel for you. And they will do this because they feel responsible. They’ll feel responsible for your choices. Your resentment and pain. For the way, you’re barely living your life. For the way, you must not want to.
You have to understand that eventually, your daughters will grow up and, if you continue on like this, they will look at you and they will see in your face a story of a woman who once upon a time asked the question, “Is this it for me?”, and let her answer be yes because she believed so little in what she could create and what she truly deserved, a story of a woman who didn’t care enough about herself to live as happily as she could.
This is the hardest advice column I’ve had to write because I can’t just sit here and speak from this place of being some relationship expert. Right now I’m sitting here and writing to you as a daughter, a daughter who lived so much of her life thinking that divorce would ruin her. That it would ruin me and my family. That it would ruin my mom the most. But after living with their choice to stay, and after growing into a woman myself, I wonder if staying was worth the discomfort that came with it. I wonder if my sister was right all along.
Related: 7 Tips for Communicating with Your Children About Your Divorce
I don’t know how serious my threat really was back when I was seven years old. I mean, I don’t actually believe I would have killed myself. I just felt at the time that their divorce would feel like the death of me and obviously the death of us. What I didn’t expect to live through though was, in many ways, a much slower death and therefore a more agonizing one. To be clear, it’s not that I’ve watched my parents’ love fade and that’s what’s eaten into me the most.
That’s not the experience, nor the visuals, that I will remember. The failings of love is not the story that I will live with. Instead, it’s the story of what became of my mother.
I know you’re thinking about your daughters, and I know you want to put their happiness first, but I think you’re misunderstanding what winds up affecting a young girl the most.
You see, having parents who didn’t have the love that you’d wish for yourself is one thing. In fact, it’s arguably beneficial. Because growing up witnessing what you don’t want really is the greatest motivation for going after exactly what you must have. Also, sometimes seeing the worst examples inspires us to be the best example.
But what ends up plaguing and confusing and even hindering a young girl the most is having a mother who let herself down. Not her family down. Not her children down. But herself. Remember, you’re raising daughters here. You’re raising young women. Individuals who live with themselves all day, every day, just like you.
You need to show them how to do that the best they can. This is the reality, the way you show up for yourself every day gives them a gauge on what they can expect for themselves. Not only what they can expect, but what they can allow. And let me tell you, it’s hard to become a woman who knows how to allow her own dream when she witnessed her mother give up on her own.
Related: 7 Reasons People Stay In A Marriage That Doesn’t Work
I never thought I’d say this but maybe the better choice for a family is to give up on their marriage, so there isn’t one more mom out there who gives up on herself.
I believe in you.
PS: My project, “Thank You, Heartbreak” is a series where I interview various female creatives who attribute their professional success and personal reinvention to their breakup. I never imagined that it would turn into a series that spotlights the outstanding transformations post-divorce. I credit this series to opening my eyes to the benefits of divorce, again something I’ve always been so adamantly against. Through it, I’ve given up so much of my judgment, and quite honestly, fear.
These women will inspire you, too. I know they will. Because their stories are just like yours. Your questions have been their questions. They’ve had husbands who cheated and even abused them and, while it sounds like magic, they’ve been able to do it. They’ve been able to leave and heal and look back at their ex-husbands and honestly say thank you. Some day, I want to feature you there.
If you’re in the midst of a love or life transition, book a session or write to Chelsea at Chelsea@breakupward.com to see how she can help.
Written By Chelsea Leigh Trescott Originally Appeared On Huffpost
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