Letting go of a marriage gives perspective that holding on could never offer. When you let go, you step away and look anew. Evaluate. Consider. Wonder. And, hopefully, try to learn.
What surprises me, nearly a year after leaving, is the nothingness I feel for my former spouse. I’m not angry. I don’t miss him. I realize I just don’t like him. And I haven’t liked him. For years. It’s a sobering revelation.
Many times he said to me, “You don’t even like me,” to which I’d reply, “Of course I do! I love you!” What else could I say? What else could I think? Despite his growing list of shortcomings, irresponsibility and poor character, he was my husband. Everyone knows marriage is hard and mine was nothing if it wasn’t hard. I figured what I felt must be the hard love to which years testify.
Each day I made a choice to love this man for that is what I was taught to do. He is whom I chose; he is whom I was obligated to love. Anyone who works hard enough can find good in everyone. God loves him, why was it so hard for me? I decided (and he concurred) my struggle to love him was my problem. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I keep the distaste and resentment at bay?
Now I understand.
Love and respect are earned. They are gifts developed through time. They grow because there is reason for them to grow. Proof. A history of trust. Honor and character.
Love isn’t something we just get. At least not from humans. If we want friends, we need to be friendly. If we want our spouse to love us, we need to care about them as much as or more than we care for ourselves.
This didn’t happen for me. I didn’t like my spouse because he wasn’t a very nice person. Instead of building his case, he spent years whittling away his own short list until I had little left to hang on.
But admitting that meant labeling him and I despise labels. Besides, if I labeled my husband a jerk, I had to then address what I would or could do about it and if I thought that far, I came up empty. Marriage classes teach we shouldn’t expect to and, in fact, can’t change our spouses. So then what? Certainly he had already demonstrated his disinterest in changing. I could only conclude if this is who he was, it was my burden to bear him. So I covered and coped and called it love. Why?
First, it was the only love I knew.
And second, more than anything else, I didn’t want to be divorced and I knew at some level, the combination of his behaviors and my resentments were on a certain path I would avoid at nearly any cost. I allowed myself to be treated poorly to avoid my greatest fear. When I finally admitted that fear and thought about what divorce might really look like, the idea of it lost some of its darkness. It still seemed scary but not as catastrophic as I’d always imagined. When I became willing to accept divorce as a possible outcome of addressing serious issues, I moved from powerless to proactive.
It turns out my greatest fear came true. The man I didn’t like decided to remain that person and I decided I didn’t have to pretend to like him anymore. Our choices were each our own.
I’m no longer bound by confusing obligatory love overshadowed by sheer and justifiable resentment. To be able to let go of the double-mindedness—well, ironically my greatest fear offered a freedom I cannot explain but surely know.