I sit on the plane heading back home, embarrassed as tears stream down my face. I am a mess!
I spend seven hours of this flight scribbling furiously in my journal – every thought, every fear, every concern, written and rewritten. I am so scared I will forget. I am so scared I will avoid all of this… again.
In the past week a perfect storm of events has me reconsidering my marriage, and right now I want out, and I want it badly.
Nothing that transpired over this week was news to me. This reaction is the response to small conversations, innocuous questions, and retold stories of marital frustration. I think the time was right for me to finally face what I had known for a decade or more – I had changed, I needed new things out of my relationship and life, and I wasn’t getting them in my marriage.
I am terrified, because I feel so desperately stuck. I don’t want to make a mistake. I’ve been through some milder version of this before, and every time I chose to ignore and rationalize my fears.
I am terrified because any choice I make – to stay or to leave – will impact not only my life, but the lives of those I love, including my husband.
I spend my first week back wrapped up in my misery. Any chance I get I write down my thoughts in a journal. I want and need to confirm, and sort through, all the crap that is going through my head. I want to act. I need to do something, but I don’t trust myself to know what is right for me.
In the past I made things work because that was the right and responsible thing to do. The woman I am today cannot do that. She refuses to just go with right. She knows it will only lead her down this same path 10 years from now.
Every waking moment is spent thinking about what I ‘should’ do. Every other moment is spent in an exhausted and fitful sleep.
My first insight lead me to panic. There were things I didn’t like in my marriage, I had known that for years; there isn’t a person out there who will tell you that they love every aspect of their partner or their partnership. That is not what bothered me, what terrified me was realizing that I had been willfully ignoring those issues out of fear and obligation, and I could no longer be that person anymore.
My second insight helped me calm down. I realized that there was no rush in jumping to a solution right away; after all, I had been ignoring these issues for years. Running away from my marriage, without thinking things through, would just be another form of avoidance, another reactionary move made out of fear. My second insight was that although I would act, I didn’t have to act right away. I could take the time to understand what I needed, face my fears and only then come-up with a plan.
I felt a little calmer, but for the next six months I woke up everyday (no exaggeration) asking myself if I wanted to stay or leave, and trying to work out in my mind how I wanted to go about living my life.
The power of fear:
Two things held me back from committing to any kind of decision:
First, I’ve had a nasty tendency of sucking it up and play it safe my whole life. It’s earned me titles like: responsible, the good one, the easy child, grounded, helpful. I didn’t want to be those things at the cost of my own happiness.
Secondly, I’ve had a nasty habit of sucking it up and playing it safe my whole life, and I didn’t want to do something rash just because I needed to break away from that habit.
Fear paralyzed me.
I was scared of hurting my children, my husband, and his family. I was scared of losing all the relationships I had built over the last two decades. I was scared of being broke, of having to move away from my friends and neighborhood in order to afford a decent place. I was scared of being judged. I was scared of making the same mistakes I had been making my whole life. I was scared of making new ones. I was scared of taking action, and sacred of doing nothing.
When you let fear take over like that, you have nowhere to go. At some point you have to give it up, and realize that you will never know beforehand if you’re making the right choice or not. I embraced a quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti as my mantra, “Fear is uncertainty in search of security” and I gave up my need for security.
My third insight came then: no matter what I chose to do, as long as that choice was based on what I needed, and as long as it was purposeful not reactive, I’d be okay. I’m strong, resilient, capable and reasonable. Any choice I made would work out, even if in 5 years later I found out it wasn’t right for me.
The hardest part:
It felt good to finally trust myself, but the hardest part was yet to come; I had to act.
It took me another month after my third insight to have the courage to talk to my husband. I knew he would be hurt and, angry and I didn’t want to deal with either emotion. My words would be like Pandora’s Box, once exposed they could not be taken back.
Once again I was spending every waking hour thinking about how to speak up. I bit the bullet one Sunday night while folding laundry (who said you need a grand scene to have a big conversation). I laid it all out, how I was feeling since the previous November, what was missing, what I needed and what I would do if we couldn’t change that.
I took a stand for myself, knowing that I would be thought of as selfish and callous. He said nearly all the right things. He talked about love, making changes, but also about how selfish and idealistic about love I was being. Then he said he would try to changes.
I believed he meant every word he said, but I didn’t believe he was capable of following through. I told him I’d give him a year to prove me right or wrong, but inside I couldn’t let go of my anger, and the fear that I would once again choose to ignore my needs. It took another four months before I could give-up those emotions.
I now trust that I know what I need, and will have the courage to take action as I see fit and necessary. Interestingly, it took a huge fight about time management to get me to let go of my fears and anger. Something he said during the argument is what finally freed me: “You listen, so you think you’re hearing me, but you don’t hear me, you’re not choosing to hear me.”
He was right, of course. I had asked him to change, and he was making some excellent – although not yet complete – progress, yet I denied him any fair chance, because I was only seeing what I expected to see. I was clinging on to my distress so that I wouldn’t lose the motivation to act.
A brave new world:
Over the last year or so, my views on marriage have completely changed. I don’t believe in the viability of the institution. I don’t understand anymore why we think it so necessary or wise to commit to another human being for 60+ years.
However, for now, I am married, and as of today I feel good about it. For me marriage is a choice, not an obligation or an assumed state of being. Either of us can choose to leave should we find it isn’t working. Seeing this helps us not take each other for granted, or fall back into patterns that have been solidified over 19 years of life together. We are not married by default, but because we choose to be in one another’s life as partners.
For the first time in nearly a year I feel truly happy at home. I think we might just be making changes that are right for us. We are kinder; more careful of how we speak to one another. We acknowledge the struggle that is living your life bound to another person, without full autonomy really ever. We also value the safety, support and (non-financial) wealth that the other person provides, which isn’t so easy to come by alone.
Every choice is yours to make, whether it is getting in or out of a relationship, working or leaving your job, getting up to go to the gym or staying put at home. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you have been forced or forever committed to a course of action. You have a responsibility to take ownership of your choices, because every choice carries with it a consequence (which is why many of us choose to work or not punch rude people in the face).
In the end, you will realize this one truth, you have yourself to blame or praise for the path you take in life. Choice is something we cannot escape, but with choices comes options, with options come possibilities, and with possibilities comes life. Choose your life wisely.