Meet Talia. She's a digital strategist by day, awesome writer by night/whenever else she can fit it in (maybe you've found yourself sucked into collaborative blog, Flock of Broads? She's one of those broads.) Four years ago, she was unhappily married. Today, she's not. Here's why and how she quit her marriage.
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What did you quit & when?
I quit my marriage four years ago.
What did your life feel like before you decided to get divorced?
I got pregnant just after my 21st birthday. My boyfriend and I had been together for a year.
At that time all I wanted was a healthy baby and to prove wrong everyone who said I was too young to be a good parent or that my relationship wouldn’t work. I accomplished the first, but the second was a struggle for the next five years. We weren’t ready to be in a grown up relationship together, and that was the root of our problems. We got married when I was 23. It was the next part of the plan, so we did it. I stupidly assumed that a ring and piece of paper, that taking vows in front of everyone we knew, would change our relationship.
I completely lost sight of myself. He was gone most nights - either at school or out with his friends, because that’s what twenty-somethings do. I worked so hard to try to make him want to be at home with me and Ellie that I stopped doing all the things that made me who I am. I stopped reading, painting, writing, even being around people. There was such extreme jealousy that I didn’t have any friends who didn’t belong to him.
We went in cycles of working on things, fighting, and then not speaking. They were three-week cycles: he was gone for days, I didn’t speak to him, we fought, he apologized and said he’d try harder, and then we started over.
What pushed you to finally quit your relationship?
Things continued on a steady decline, and he was unwilling to speak to anyone about it. He thought a therapist would side with me, a pastor would just tell us to pray, etc., so there wasn’t going to be any working on our marriage with an unbiased third-party. I discovered signs of infidelity for the fourth time. I was the only one working on our marriage.
On the weekends Ellie would climb into bed next to me. There was always a spot open because he was somewhere else sleeping off a hangover. But one Saturday morning he was in the spot next to me. She asked what he was doing there. That’s what it took for me to realize that I was showing my daughter how to be in a really terrible relationship. She was witness to her intelligent, beautiful mother’s daily disrespect. So I decided that at 26 there was maybe still a chance for me to be happy.
Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?
It was both scary and liberating. It was the first decision I had made for myself in years. I didn’t know where I would live, or how custody would work or how money would be split. I didn’t have a lawyer or an accountant. I just couldn’t put Ellie and myself through it any longer.
We worked out a temporary custody schedule and when I wasn’t with Ellie I slept on my friend Jill’s couch. I was exhausted and stressed but for the first time in six years I had hope that my life was going to get better.
Divorce is emotionally taxing. Who or what helped you cope?
My parents have always been incredibly understanding and accepting. I spoke to my mom a few times a day at first. After I announced things to my coworkers I learned that two of them were in similar situations, and we talked about everything from feelings to court documents.
The most difficult thing for me was that quiet time when Ellie was with her dad for two weekends a month. Since almost all of my friends were his friends first, I lost them in the divorce. So I made new ones. I started cooking food that I liked, drawing, reading, planting things and writing again. I had to figure out who I was without the identity of someone else to hang onto.
How did you broach the subject with your daughter, Ellie? How old was she at the time?
Ellie was four. We spoke to her together. We told her that we loved her no matter what, and that she was the most important thing to us, just like the books told me. At four I didn’t know if she would understand what we were telling her, or if it would seem any different since her dad was gone so much anyway.
We split up, moved, and she started kindergarten all within a few months. It was a really emotional time for her. I’ll always feel a lot of guilt for all of it, wonder if she would’ve been better off if we stayed together and I pretended not to be miserable, or if we should’ve split custody differently, or if delivering the news in some other way would’ve made it all make sense to her.
A lot of people don’t know what to say or do when their friend is going through a divorce. What was the most helpful? What absolutely did not help at all?
Some close friends avoided it because they didn’t know what to say, which was not helpful. I think that’s a generational and/or Midwestern thing, the this-makes-me-uncomfortable-so-let’s-not-talk-about-it syndrome.
This might seem odd, but my friends who were really nosey were the most helpful. The ones who cared and let me feel my feelings in front of them, but would also ask the questions that everyone is wondering, “when are you going to start dating, I have this single friend” or “so what is your custody schedule like?” I’m sure people have varied opinions on this, but if I didn’t want to answer I would just tell them.
It’s hard to be a single parent (I hear). But what’s awesome about it?
Ellie watched me rewire the light fixtures in our house and replace the tubing on the washing machine. I mow the lawn and do the laundry and fix the chairs when they’re loose. So I hope she’s learning that those jobs are not inherently gendered - that she can wire an electrical outlet while she’s roasting a chicken (so long as the stove isn’t plugged into that outlet. Safety first.).
I’m in a relationship now, and we live together, so I don’t really consider myself a single parent anymore, and that’s pretty great.
Let’s talk co-parenting. I have no idea where you’re at with that and your ex, but have you found things that work? What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is keeping the lingering feelings (anger, love, bitterness) out of the way. We agreed to a schedule early on, and try to be respectful about changes to it. We’ve worked on finding ways to communicate with each other better; when we’re upset it needs to be an actual phone conversation rather than text messages.
Ellie and I discuss her schedule at least once a month. Does she need more time at one house, how does she feel about the holiday schedule, etc. She is eight now, and likes having input into how and where her time is spent.
Happiest moment since quitting your relationship? Saddest/most frustrating?
It’s been more a general increase in happiness than one defined happiest moment. I’ve had several moments of realization, where I stop and think, “Oh, this is what it’s like to be in a healthy relationship with open communication.”
I’m a better parent now than I was four years ago. I was so concerned about making a misstep and setting him off that I wasn’t the strong, independent person I am today.
Just recently I realized how much control he still gets to have over Ellie and I, because we share custody of her. That’s really frustrating and difficult to deal with. It’s unsettling to be in a constant state of worry about someone else’s next step. To not ever really be able to say “you can’t manipulate me anymore” because that’s just not true.
How has quitting changed your life?
It has changed my life in every possible way. I became an independent person. I became a better parent. I made friends. I entered a solid relationship. I started coping with all the insecurities I had developed in my young twenties.
The person I was at 23 is a stranger to me now. She was trying so hard to be this perfect, “normal” suburban mom who could do it all.
Healing sort of came in three parts. I had to reconcile that the true root of our problems was not my fault, and that I was good enough, both on my own and for someone to be with. I realized that I didn’t actually want the life that I had been trying so hard to achieve. And finally, I needed to start living the life that I wanted with the people I wanted in it.
Advice to someone who’s thinking of quitting their long-term relationship?
Since I started writing about my experiences I’ve had a number of people talk to me about their own situations. Every person is different and every relationship is different, so it’s really hard to give advice and know it’ll be the right advice. Generally, these are my guiding principles in relationships:
Do you feel valued and respected? I mean valued for more than just the food you make or the clothes you wash. Are your opinions and thoughts worthy of your partner’s time?
Do you have open communication? How often do you catch your partner in a lie, and likewise, how often are you lying to your partner?
Do you trust your partner? Are you confident that he’ll come home to you after a night out? Can she keep the secret you told her about your best friend?
Can you talk openly about your sex life? You should be able to speak honestly about your likes and dislikes, desires, past experiences, etc.
Does your partner make you feel good about yourself? Eventually we start to believe the comments about intelligence, wit and body image. Is what you’re hearing positive or negative?
If you don’t think there’s any way to salvage the relationship, try to build a good network of people to talk to. Find a coworker you trust who has gone through something similar. Buy books about divorce. See a therapist. Call your mom five times a day. Your children are not your friends. They have a whole set of thoughts and feelings; so be sure to think carefully about how much you share with them.
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Check out other Quitters here.
If you want to share your quitting story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Things I'd love to hear about: quitting treatment for an illness/disease, giving up a pet, seeking treatment for an illness, puttin down the cigs for good and whatever else you're quitting!