Today is the 20 year anniversary of the day I filed the paperwork for divorce from my first husband. To be honest, I've blocked out most of my first marriage. Time is kind that way. It tends to take the hard edges off memory, leaving me with only a handful of still shots in my mind. However, there are a few memories of that marriage I remember like they were yesterday, and this is one.
It was a beautiful autumn day. We were sitting in the car in front of my husband's office. He was a Navy recruiter, and his duty assignment was about to be up. We were discussing whether or not he should ask to be extended as a recruiter, so he could stay home with our young son longer, or if he should take his next duty assignment on sea duty, gone, away from home for months.
I looked at him, straight in the eye and said it because it was the truth, "Our marriage won't survive another two years of you being home." That was probably a clue our marriage had already ended, and only the two of us knew it was in a vegetative state on life support. But at the end of the conversation, we both decided him being home to be a father was the most important thing. So the inevitable happened. He got his shore duty assignment extended. It was easy. He was a good recruiter. He could sell anything.
What we couldn't do was continue to pretend we had a marriage, we couldn't sell that, not even to ourselves. So as predicted the following spring we started the process of getting divorced, which was much less painful than the process of being married, at least for us.
As I sat down to write this post, I tried really hard to come up with some sort of "love conquers all" feel good angle, but to be honest, I couldn't find one. I know I did the best I could and tried my hardest. I know both the marriage and the divorce changed me, and in a lot of ways defined me as an adult. I learned more lessons than I care to even try to count, and twenty years later, I have one regret.
I regret we didn't end it sooner.
Our marriage lasted three years longer than it should have. We tried to stay together for our child, but when it was all said and done, our son would have been way better off if we'd ended our marriage when it was really over.
I know it's popular to think staying together for the kids is an honorable endeavor. However, in our case, staying together longer than we should have made us bitter enemies and created wounds that never healed. Our son would have been one thousand times better off if we'd parted ways friends or even friendly. But we didn't.
By the time the ink was dry on our divorce papers we couldn't stand the sight of one another, we distrusted each others motives at every turn, and the anger we felt festered for years. Trying to stay together for our kid was the worst thing we could have done for him. Our marriage wasn't savable, and had we been honest with ourselves about that, maybe we could have parted as parents instead of adversaries.
I believe in marriage, and I believe in divorce. That might sound contradictory. It might sound like I'm diminishing the sacred union of marriage by saying I believe in divorce. However, when a marriage isn't sacred anymore, divorce is an honorable choice. I wanted the fairy tale. I wanted, "until death does us part." I didn't want to be a single mother. But the minute a child was born into the marriage, my wants became selfish and should have been secondary.
The divorce wasn't the worst thing that happened to our son. The years that followed were because he was more or less lost a parent in the conflict. For my son, the "father" role was played by many men, friends, neighbors, men in my life, and occasionally his real father, but those occasions were rare.
Believe it or not his father and I might have really been able to part friends and be parents together after the first affair, but what followed in the years after that, and between the divorce was so unimaginable, we created a divide that separated father from son just as efficiently as it separated the two of us.
My heart break happened on the front end of our marriage coming apart. As far as divorces go, I healed pretty quickly. My son's heartbreak was like watching a slow motion train wreck that happened for years.
I'm not suggesting it's right to cut and run at the first sign of trouble. I believe you owe it to yourself and your children to do everything you can to fix a broken marriage. However, when fighting for a marriage devolves into a never-ending battle-zone, there's nothing left to work on and to stay is cowardly. That's right. I said it. Staying in a marriage when it can't be fixed, or isn't being fixed is cowardly, not heroic.
Children need parents who love them way more than they need parents who love each other. It certainly is preferable to the development of a child to grow up in the light of a wonderful marriage, but when the marriage isn't wonderful, you have to weigh and measure the costs.
I don't regret marrying that man. It wasn't a mistake. I certainly don't regret our divorce. That was a blessing. The only thing I regret was not having the courage to do what was right for our child three full years earlier than we did.
I regret the wounds. I regret the resentments. I regret trying to make him a husband and father he couldn't be. It wasn't a divorce that broke our family. It was failing to get a divorce that did. If I could take those three years back, I honestly believe my son might have had a family that never was. We wouldn't have been married, but we might have been united.
Think long and hard before you leave a marriage, but you might want to think even harder about staying especially if the only reason to do it is the kids.
Every once in a while, I see a stranger on my son's Facebook page, and I realize that stranger is his parent. That's not the way things are supposed to work.