Clarity often comes like a bolt of lightning out of the blue.
It’s a shock that opens your eyes to a whole new perspective. A client of mine called hers a miracle. Mine was like waking up – the kind where you sit straight up, instantly awake, and look around not recognizing where you are, even though it’s the bedroom you’ve slept in for years.
My bolt of lightning struck after 9 years of marriage. I was having a reunion lunch with a very dear friend of mine from college. We had gone our separate ways and hadn’t been in touch since well before either of us had gotten married. It was one of those long, catch-up conversations where we tried to cram in as much as possible about the last 10 years of our lives. And then it happened. I saw myself through his eyes. It was the old me that he was seeing. The girl I used to be when I was single, who loved traveling, seeing bands, curled up in a corner reading or staying up late into the night in deep conversation with friends. It was a shock because I hadn’t recognized her. And I realized that that girl was nowhere to be found in the stories I was telling about my life now. I had let her go somewhere along the line. I had replaced her with priorities, responsibilities, burden and pressure. I had unwittingly sacrificed myself trying to be the wife and mother I thought I was supposed to be. That was the moment when I knew deep in my heart that my marriage wasn’t working, that I had been miserable for a very long time and that I would wither away completely if I didn’t do something about it.
Unfortunately, my situation isn’t unusual. As a divorce coach, I hear some form of this story from all of my clients. I had been caught in a common trap of trying to be what I thought I should be now that I was married. We all have ideas of what these roles are from television, magazines and even fairy tales – the wife, mother, cook, housekeeper and caregiver. And while I appreciate the equality gains made on behalf of my gender, the feminist movement swung the pendulum so far to the other side that now we all had to be a wife, mother, cook, housekeeper, caregiver AND executive. So now, Mrs. Cleaver, the stay-at-home mom, became Claire Huxtable, the attorney and mother of five children – both completely unrealistic, but influential characters that shaped my ideas about relationships. And these ideas created my “love language” – all the things I felt I had to be and do to demonstrate my love for my husband.
We all have our own love language. And as with all languages, there can be huge problems with translation. I believed that I was demonstrating my love by taking care of everything, by giving him what he wanted. I made more money than he did, so I shouldered all responsibility for our finances when we got married. We bought a house based on his wish list. We took the vacations he wanted. When he wanted a pure breed golden retriever, I got it for him. Then, when we had our first child, we decided he would stay at home with the baby for the first few months, so he could look for a job closer to home. Seven years later he still hadn’t gone back to work. Even though he was at home, I was the one that cooked, cleaned and bathed the baby. And I paid all the bills doing a job that I hated. I felt trapped and miserable. I was cracking under the pressure of so much responsibility. And I was so hurt that my love language was never reciprocated. I felt completely betrayed that he had never tried to ease or share these responsibilities with me. I know now, as a coach, that he didn’t speak or understand my love language and I certainly didn’t speak or understand his.
Our divorce was final this past July. It’s been a very long, challenging journey, but I can honestly say that I needed this experience. I needed to wake up. I needed to find myself. I needed to ditch my love language and start creating something new. I needed to recognize and acknowledge my authentic self and not take her for granted ever again. Sometimes, we don’t realize how important something is until it is almost lost. I was allowing what I didn’t like in my life and I was hiding from myself. And yet, I can’t help but see both my marriage and divorce as gifts in my life. I cherish my marriage. It gave me challenge and growth, insight and learning that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It also gave me my two wonderful sons who make everything in my life bright and beautiful. My divorce gave me freedom. It gave me the gift of intention, of choosing to live my life wide awake. And it gave me myself, the best gift of all.