Recently, my husband and I separated after 42 years of marriage. Little did I imagine when I uttered my marriage vows, “Till death do us part,” what it would take to keep that promise.
Forty two years is a lifetime, a lifetime of change, challenges, surprises and twists of fate. What if during those years a married couple differ drastically in their approach to their life circumstances. What if as the years go by “to love and to honor one another” is the greatest challenge they will face? What if these individuals grow in different directions, so far apart in their outlook on life that there is rarely a meeting of the minds on even the simplest things? How does one sustain a marriage under those circumstances? The answer is with great difficulty.
My husband and I were deeply in love and entered our marriage starry eyed and ready to embrace the dream of living happily ever after. We were only married a month when we found out we had a baby on the way, not exactly what we had planned but we were excited and ready to welcome a baby into out little love nest. Ten months after we walked down the aisle, our son was born and three years later we had a daughter. We were in our twenties, bought our first home, and were well into the American dream. I recall those years as the children were growing up as our happiest. We were blessed with healthy, intelligent, beautiful children and we were filled with hope and promise for our future life together with our little family. The challenges we faced in our daily lives were surmountable and “love and honor” were still very much alive.
As the children got older and parenting became much more of a challenge, so did career choices, financial decisions, health issues, in-law problems, and just plain life happening. This is when we were faced with multiple challenges, yet my husband and I were often at odds regarding the handling of these issues. He was prone to seeing the glass half empty and I tended to see it half full. I saw possibilities where he saw pitfalls. Needless to say, problem solving became a constant struggle. Gradually, our differences went from bickering to arguing to verbal battles. We differed on so many issues throughout the years that eventually communication between us was a test of wills. As the years went by, we grew further apart in our general outlook on life and our view on people and the world around us. In recent years communication between us actually became painful because we agreed on virtually nothing and after years of arguing there were still certain critical issues between us that just never got resolved. We were stuck, like so many couples our age, in a marriage of convenience with financial constraints and other dynamics that held us together.
During the years we had gone for marriage counseling twice, but we were unable to reconcile the differences between us and there remained certain issues that continued to drive a wedge between us. One might wonder what kept us together all those years, a question that I have often pondered. Why when we were both in “our golden years” of mid-sixties did we finally reach the breaking point? First, I would say that our children were probably the main reason we initially stayed together, and thankfully, despite all the friction between their parents, they still turned out to be well adjusted, responsible, loving, caring individuals. Secondly, there were a number of other intrinsic reasons that might have kept us together, like the indoctrination we had both received by our strict Catholic upbringing that “sanctified” marriage, so a divorce was never our first option when our marriage started to deteriorate. Furthermore, like dummies and being both strong willed, we thought we could weather the storms and hang in there. Others we had seen had done so. We had our generation of friends who were old dinosaurs and had apparently weathered their private storms and were still married. Lastly, and most significantly for me, I was afraid to go out on my own. For my husband who was a perfectionist, failure at anything, including marriage, was not something he could easily live with.