People always say, “I don’t know how you put up with it for so long.” As I sat next to my ex at our son’s high school basketball game last week, I pondered that very thing. How was I married to this guy for so long? The truth is that I wasn’t married to this guy. I actually married a completely different guy. Oh sure, he looks exactly like this guy sitting next to me in the bleachers, but he wasn’t so unhappy and mean and negative. He was happy and fun. He had a positive energy that I wanted to be around. The guy that I married was dang near perfect.
No, really, I swear. I used to tease him that he must have kept a “Book of Lines” in his back pocket because he always knew the right thing to say. He made me laugh. He made me happy. I loved that guy. So I stayed married to this guy and endured ten years of hell because I remembered being married to that guy for those three short years of heaven. I was just waiting for the real guy to show back up. I just knew that he would. He simply had to!
When he didn’t show back up on his own, I figured that I needed to help him find his way. I tried to say all of the right things, do all of the right things, and be just the right person to make this guy happy. To make him want to be that guy again. Any tiny glimpse of that nice guy made me try that much harder. I just knew he still existed beneath the surface. I just needed him to break through. I would have done just about anything to make that happen.
When he said that I didn’t decorate the house enough, I ran right out and spent money that we didn’t have on throw pillows for the couch. When he said that I didn’t clean the house enough, I stayed up for hours scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush. When he told me that something was wrong with me for being tired all of the time and not wanting to have sex daily, I made an appointment with my doctor to get a prescription for testosterone to boost my libido. If only I wasn’t such a stupid, fat, lazy person, he would be nice and love me again. I just needed to try harder to be the person that he married and was proud of, and not such a constant disappointment to him. This change in him had to be all my fault. Why else would he change?
The night he punched me in the head, I sat on the bathroom floor, replaying the scene over and over again. Did that really just happen? It couldn’t have. He wasn’t that person. I hid the bruises and went along with his story about our young son accidentally head-butting me. I didn’t want people to think he was that person.
I look back now and the only explanation that I can give for staying so long is shock and denial. It happened so gradually. I never saw it coming. There was no reason for the change, so it had to be temporary. I just simply didn’t want to accept it. To be honest, even after the divorce, acceptance was a far-away target. It wasn’t the goal that I wanted to achieve. I wanted my life back. I didn’t want to move toward a new life.
I wish my story was one of those where I woke up one morning, saw the light, and filed for divorce. I didn’t. Not then. I filed for divorce as a bluff. He was having an affair, and I wanted him to know that he was dangerously close to losing me. The gambling hadn’t driven me away. The drinking hadn’t driven me away. The abuse hadn’t driven me away. I wanted him to think, though, that the affair would drive me away.
I was devastated when he took that opportunity for freedom. I spent two years mourning the loss of a marriage that I should have ended years before. Then I spent a few more years in the other phases of the grief cycle to finally arrive at this place of acceptance. My marriage ended. My marriage needed to end because it was bad. This man sitting next to me in the bleachers is not the person that I married. He never will be. He will always be this abrasive, mean person that makes my children feel bad and tries to make me feel bad.
Here’s what I’ve gained with acceptance, though. I don’t have to feel bad. I don’t have to try to be someone else just to try to avoid his negativity. It will be there no matter what, so I might as well just be me. I don’t have to try to explain my actions or decisions about the kids. When he gives his negative opinion, or an entire basketball game worth of negative opinions, I don’t have to listen. I don’t have to take what he says as a statement of fact. I can simply ignore him. Just lean back and smile, while daydreaming about seeing this guy tumble down the bleachers.
And you know what? I think that guy I married would find that imaginary scene funny, too. Because this guy is a total…donkey.