We hear a lot about how real couples make marriage work. We hear about the people that pushed through bad situations to a better one. We hear that marriage is hard, but people are worth it. We hear criticism of celebrities that run through marriages more frequently than infants go through diapers. We hear longing for the good ol’ days when people stuck it out.
What we don’t hear often is a story like mine. Now, this is not your typical divorce story. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon church. We believe that marriage is something divine that should last forever. When we get married in our temples, we promise to be together for a literal eternity. It’s a big deal. I still hold to my belief that marriage is eternal and divine, but this belief made it that much harder when my young marriage was just not adding up, in spite of all my efforts.
I got married at age 21. I felt nervous, but ready. I told myself that I would never let divorce even be a word in my vocabulary. We were young and still in college. We didn’t have very much money, but I had faith that we would could make it work. I held onto that belief, even during the hard times, until it got the point that my husband and I had exhausted every other possible option.
When I filed for a divorce less than a year after I got married, I felt like a complete failure. I had to have my best friend drive me home from the lawyer’s office because I was too devastated to manage a vehicle. I was in the middle of a semester and my grades were slipping because I couldn’t function enough to do homework. I had to take time off my job that I loved. I looked at my life and didn’t know what to make of it.
I had planned to hold his hand forever. I had planned to someday have his babies. I had planned a life that was no longer an option. I believed in our forever. I had prayed and felt like I was supposed to marry this man, so I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working out.
I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted out of life. I had formed an identity with someone else who was now out of the picture, leaving a massive hole behind. It was hard to hold onto my faith in God, love, or relationships.
As melodramatic as all this sounds, it was a reality for me, which I mostly coped with by eating too much chocolate, watching insane amounts of Gilmore Girls, and doing jigsaw puzzles, because even if I couldn’t piece my life together, I could at least put together a thousand-piece photo mosaic of C3PO and R2D2.
When so many things that I had worked so hard for started spiraling out of control, I sunk into a depression.
I am normally a competitive, determined person. At the gym, I am racing the person on the treadmill next to me, whether they know it or not. I get straight A’s out of sheer willpower instead of ridiculous smarts.
I tackled marital problems the same way. We would make it work. We had to because we loved each other and we had made a promise to each other and to God. I stuck with it for a long time, arguing with myself for hours that divorce was not an option. Marriage was not something you just threw away, and I wasn’t about to give up. If this were a rom-com, he would come running and give a speech and tell me it was worth it. But it was the cold, hard, brutal side of real life, and he didn’t.
As much as we glorify not giving up on someone, I had to realize that marriage was hard, but it wasn’t supposed to be this hard. We were so focused on fixing his problems that no one was taking care of me. I had to realize that I wanted a better life and that was OK. I had to realize that we had exhausted all of our resources, but I couldn’t force him to stay.
Even then, I thought that I was tough enough to handle it. I could hold our marriage together myself and make it work. Then my sister asked me what I wanted for my future children and family. I had to look at my future and realize that I wanted a better life for my future children than being raised by parents who stuck together out of obligations to a shell of a marriage.
All around me I saw glorified videos and blog posts about people who stayed to work things out, even when major tidal waves hit. I saw people who remained in a loveless marriage with major marital issues by working together. And I cried because I felt like, maybe if I was just stronger, I could be like those people. Maybe if I held on and worked as hard as I could, we could make it. But I knew the difference between them and me. I knew that he was trying to piece his life together from scratch and wasn’t ready to try to fix our marriage. And after shouldering both sides of a marriage myself for months, I wondered if I should move on.
People accused me of giving up. They told me that the first year of marriage is hard and I should just hold out for a couple more years to see if it would work. I tried marriage and personal counseling. I tried talking to religious leaders and appealing to people I respected. I prayed to have our marriage miraculously be saved and work out. I tried to understand and support my husband. Finally, I realized I had done enough and that it was OK to expect a marriage to be a marriage. It was OK to not spend the rest of my life in this awful situation.
At first I was nervous about telling anyone because I was embarrassed. Many of my friends share my beliefs. A lot of them know and like my ex-husband. I knew that I wasn’t a failure, but I was worried that they would see me that way. I also hated to speak ill of the man I married, even under these miserable circumstances. I didn’t want to place blame or spread unnecessary rumors. I just wanted to move on. I had put in every effort that I could think of and tried every possible solution. And it didn’t work. That didn’t make me weak. I didn’t mess up. I wasn’t unforgiving or vindictive. I was just strong enough to walk away and demand something better from life. I never gave up, but I did get on with my life. I am not damaged goods; I am a human being.
Now, I’m figuring it out. I’m healing. I’m holding onto my faith.
I am divorced, but I am not failure.
Image courtesy of Hilary Clarq.
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Beautifully written. Thank you for writing this Jenny.
I am a 26 year old Mormon who is in the throws of divorce, and this was so important for me to read. I spent my whole life picturing and working towards the white picket fence Mormon dream, and feeling like I’ve failed has been an incredible blow to my faith and self worth. Thank you for sharing your story, and for bringing me comfort on this rainy Wednesday afternoon.
I’m a nevermo, so perhaps an outsider’s perspective would help here. We (Americans) don’t shame people who’ve had a business fail to nearly the same extent that society (and, I gather, especially Mormon society) does for divorced people. Many people start businesses with the hope that that will be the rest of their working life, taking up as much time as a marriage.
Yet, when a business fails, we assume people have learned things, even if it takes time for those lessons to sink in. We don’t assume the same about divorced people, which is weird.
Failure is a big part of how we grow. We learn that we needed something we didn’t have, and we learn more about how to achieve that. We learn to avoid the same mistakes, and we learn what our blind spots are.
I’m sorry you’ve been through all this, and I hope you find the happiness you deserve.
Jenny, I am a 23-year-old, LDS, divorced woman. I, too, got married with the understanding that “divorce” was simply not an option. I married my best friend. My family adored him. So did my friends. I prayed deeply about him and felt an undeniable confirmation that saying “yes” to that question he asked me that day on the beach was exactly what I was supposed to do. He was hilarious; he was spiritual. People he had taught on his mission adored him years after his return home. He was so smart; the top of his class in a very challenging major at BYU. He was fun. He was full of adventure. He was athletic and driven. We got engaged, and we got married.
And then, the abuse came. So much emotional abuse. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Verbal punches, silent treatment, criticism, gaslighting. All day, every day, over things that I had no way of predicting would be problematic to him. I started living every moment of every day at peak anxiety levels because it was like I was walking blindly through a mine field, never knowing which step was going to set off a bomb. I remember dropping (and breaking) a ceramic plate one evening after he’d gone to bed and crumbling to the floor in a panic attack because I was so afraid that I’d woken him up. All the while, he was as charming and wonderful around our families and friends as he’d always been… so what was I to do, or say? There was one instance–only one–when the emotional abuse became physical abuse. It’s been nearly a year, and I still have panic attacks every now and then when I remember that horrible, horrible night.
I don’t know what happened in your marriage, and don’t need to. I read all of your words and they all resonated with me, and I believe that I was also able to read in between the lines. I miss the life I thought I had signed up for. I miss the babies I’ll never have, who were supposed to look like him. Even while I still have days when I tremble at the thought of him showing up at my new house (the address to which he has NO idea), I still miss his voice and the feeling of holding his hand. Because when I said yes in that sealing ceremony, I meant it. I gave him my life. My future. My soul. My eternity. The severance of those eternal promises was a tear I felt deeply within my soul and spirit–how could it be any other way?
I imagine you may feel the same way.
Yet, how grateful we can be together that, in addition to His gift of marriage, Heavenly Father loved us enough to give us the gift of divorce. Every day, I notice how beautiful the nature is around me. I so appreciate it when strangers open my door. I speak kind words. I take opportunities. Because I feel very much like I got to have a second chance at life and at happiness. I survived, and my divorce gave me a second life. My mom said to me, when I was struggling intensely with filing for that divorce: “if Jesus Christ were sitting next to you, can you imagine that he would ask you to stay where you are, where you keep getting hurt?” Of course, the answer was “no.” Some day, I tell myself, we will finally be able to understand. Until then, I thank you for sharing your experience.
You are strong and courageous. It’s a blessing you escaped now. No, you have not failed, but have succeeded with the likelihood of healing and a happy future. Thank you for the unspoken reminder that we have no place in judging one another, as we can never have complete understanding of another’s struggles. Love and hope of all eternal joy for your future. God will be by your side, and bless, and lead your path.
I think I’m the church we marry too fast sometimes. Not knowing what we’re getting outselves into or who we’re getting into it with. Even a righteous priesthood holder can be a lousy husband. And that’s hard for people to understand.