Susan was with her husband for twenty-two years, many of them very difficult years due to his PTSD and brain injuries. Five years ago, she realized the marriage was unhealthy and she could not continue. I asked her if her marriage vows made it difficult for her to leave her husband who was obviously sick. Here’s what she said:
I did struggle with my vows some but what really turned it around was that I realized he was actually worse with me there. I wasn’t doing him any favors sticking around. For a long time, I thought,
“He won’t be able to manage without me,”
but actually, the stress was terrible for him too.
It just dawned on me one day. It was one of those a-ha moments. He actually really would be much better off out of this relationship too. He was hanging on with both hands. He definitely was not wanting to separate or anything but I could see he would be better off and within a year he agreed. He was much less stressed out.
The whole marriage thing was purposeless. There was no sense in doing it. It was just flogging a dead horse. It was draining both of us and we really didn’t have anything left to drain.
For a lot of years, we were trying to make it work but we didn’t know how and it never occurred to us to ask the question,
“Should we even try to make this work?”
I do believe now that people, at whatever point they are in life, end up in relationships with people who are at about the same level of health as they are. Then, one person is able to turn that around and get healthier, like they stop drinking and get into AA or something or they get into therapy and figure out what it was from early childhood that was messing them up. They are then at a higher level of health and it may or may work.
In my case, the reason why I gravitated toward my husband was I was into fixing people as a way of avoiding whatever it was about me that I could actually have done something about.
I was in this discussion group of Vietnam wives, wives of people with PTSD. The whole reason I was there was I thought they’d have the secret for how to fix him. They kept saying,
“Well, you can’t fix him. You can do something about yourself. You don’t have any control over what he does.”
And, I’d go,
“OK, right, but how do I fix him?”
Finally, it go through to me and I realized I do have control over a lot of things, like what I do, how I look at things and how I handle life. That I do get to control. His life is his life, my life is my life and yeah, we’re married but if a I could just fix him, then he wouldn’t need a therapist. If it was that easy, there wouldn’t be any divorce.
I had spent years believing there was a magic key out there and all I had to do was to find the key to fixing him. Then I found the magic key and it was myself.
The Divorce Coach Says
This is such a powerful message and there’s so much this could be applied to. For example, I was upset for several years that my mother-in-law, who suffered with depression, was unable to interact with her grandchildren (my children) in the way I wanted her to, in the picture perfect, white picket fence way I’d conjured up in mind. Then someone said to me, it wasn’t for me to judge whether the relationship she had with my children was good or bad – it simply was, what it was. It was me that was causing the problem. And I think that person was right because it did become less stressful after I was able to just accept her.
Sara also talked about this message post-divorce. When her ex took their children to a tattoo parlor, she learned things are not always what they seem at first and that she had to trust her ex’s parenting decisions even if they were different from hers. She also learned that could not control her ex but she could start teaching her children how to make good decisions.
As Susan says, people come into our lives for a reason and as hard as it is to accept, there are reasons why people leave. Sometimes it takes us out of our comfort zone and sometimes, it leaves us feeling betrayed. But most of the time with marriages, there’s learning to be done and it usually has to do with us.
Photo Credit: ~Brenda-Starr~ at Flickr