Today, I’d like to introduce you to Susan who has been separated from her husband for five years now after being together for twenty-two years. They have two children who are now seventeen and nineteen. It was not an easy marriage – Susan’s husband had combat PTSD from the Vietnam War but with hindsight Susan can see she stayed in the marriage trying to keep the family together and that may not have been the best decision. Here’s Susan:
[contemplate1] The PTSD he had from Vietnam was completely untreated. It wasn’t recognized back then. The men were just happy to be out of the Army and they didn’t realize that this was something that was going to follow them for the rest of their lives.
It became more of a problem after we had kids because I didn’t have the time or energy to devote to basically a big kid. I had to take care of the real kids. Plus I think men get so pressured by the responsibility of being THE man with kids, it really did eat him up. As much as he really loved and enjoyed having the kids when they were little, it was very difficult for him.
Then in 2000 and again in 2003 he had a car accident that left him with brain injuries. He became disabled. That was a blessing in a way because he was in a job that was very stressful and brought untold stress to our family. The car wrecks at least got him out of that really bad work environment.
The head injuries definitely played a part in ending our marriage but it was clear to me probably five years earlier, when the children where very young, that this wasn’t going to be a forever thing. However, I thought,
“If we can just hold things together until the kids are up and out ….”
Then, everything seemed to happen at once; both my parents were sick, his mother was dying, and my brother was really ill and had to be put into a facility. All those things plus trying to earn a living and just trying to raise the kids. It really was hugely overwhelming and our marriage just couldn’t take that pressure.
Had I been healthier in my thinking at the time, my opinion would have been to get the children out of there as soon as possible but I was stuck on,
“don’t split up the family,”
without actually paying close attention to what that environment was really like for a kid to have to live in.
Well, right after we told the kids we were separating,my son said,
“Well, it’s about time.”
My daughter cried for a few minutes and then went and talked to her best friend. Within a month or so, she was OK with it. Both of them started saying things like,
“You and dad are so much happier now.”
At that exact same time, there was also a critical change in my thinking. It went from,
“I’m the healthy one who’s really a victim of this unhealthy husband and marriage,” to
“Being functional is not the same as being healthy.”
I may have been the functional one but I stayed in a really sick situation for a lot of years and that, by definition, was not healthy. I wanted to do whatever I had to do to become mentally and physically healthier. Whatever I had to do, I did it and no questions asked. If a plan presented itself and it looked like a pretty viable plan, that’s what I would do. So I worked really, really hard to turn the whole thing around. I was really afraid of ending right back in a similar kind of relationship again and I just couldn’t do that.
Susan’s struggles with her husband’s PTSD and brain injuries reminded me of Lori’s story of how bi-polar can break a marriage apart. Lori and Susan are also similar in that both have been separated for a number of years and have not yet filed for divorce – Lori is scared of filing for divorce. Susan is OK with the present arrangement and will share why in a coming post.
As Susan and I chatted about this, we talked about the pressure that the concept of “marriage is for life” puts on couples to stick with a marriage when truly all parties might lead better lives, if husband and wife parted. Susan made the point that sometimes we’re so focused on “marriage for life” that we forget to ask first if the marriage is something that should be kept together.
I know from the comments to the Denver Post article about ‘gray divorce,’ in which I was featured, that many people do believe that marriage is for life, period. There are no valid reasons for divorce, that divorce is selfish. I don’t believe that and nor do I think it’s possible to give a list of so-called legitimate reasons for divorce. For me, what is more important, is how a couple works together after a divorce for the good of their children. What about you? Do you think there are circumstances when divorce should not be permitted?
Photo Credit: Ilona Meagher at Flickr