Rearview Mirror

Quite some time has passed since I went through a gut-wrenching divorce after 30 years of marriage. As the emotions have settled, my new life has gotten onto a healthy path, and the pain has all but subsided, I have begun to ‘see’ things that I hadn’t seen before. As I wrote about in Farmview Drive, menopause, and mid-life crises, if not managed with full awareness, can dissolve even the strongest of relationships. In one article I read this statement, “A mid-life crisis can seem to happen overnight.” In this writing, I will address a single word in that phrase: seem.  As I look back, there were signs, but my love and trust blinded me to the impending storm that was approaching. Several years ago, that storm arrived in full force and my life as I knew it fell apart and I never saw it coming; but I could have.

Mother’s Day

Since I had begun having children, my ex made it a point of acknowledging me whenever Mother’s Day came around. Usually, I would receive a gift and he would make a nice dinner for me; in later years we would go out for dinner to celebrate. However, on Mother’s Day prior to the break up, I remember waiting all day for him to acknowledge the day. It was odd because I was expecting the normal celebration, but it came time to go to bed and he still hadn’t said a word to me. I finally spoke up and told him that I was hurt because he hadn’t done anything for me that day. His response was, “Why, you’re not my mother.” As I recall that memory, I still feel a pang in my heart because he had never spoken to me like that before. I told him that was hurtful and that we celebrated every year, and I didn’t know why this year was different. He said that the kids were older now and he didn’t think it was necessary to make a celebration of it since they weren’t living with us.

As I look back on that day, I have often caught myself wondering how I missed that as a sign of trouble in our relationship. But each time I come to the same conclusion: because I trusted that we had a strong marriage, and that divorce was not a thought in either of our minds. I knew I was in it for the long haul, but I didn’t realize that this lack of desire to even celebrate me as a mother anymore, was pointing to the fact that maybe he wasn’t. If you or your spouse stop celebrating each other and stop doing things to reinforce your value to each other, that is a signal that should spark important conversations that may not only save your marriage but can rekindle that ever so important fire between you. Don’t ignore it when healthy patterns change, but rather, question it; talk about it; work through it.

One thing I had always heard about from older couples was that the Empty Nest Syndrome was legit, and you need to protect your relationship before the kids move out. One reason is because couples can be so wrapped up in being parents, that the marriage relationship can get overlooked and uncared for. Whether you have one child, four children, or ten, it is of the utmost importance not to lose the connection between you and your spouse. Keep dating each other; keep doing special things for each other; keep reminding each other that your Love is still strong, and your relationship is on solid ground. Look at each other, not as your children’s parent, but as the love of your life and do not lose sight of their value.

Three Things

That same year, our children were all going their separate ways after the holidays officially making us empty nesters. I asked my ex to go out to dinner with me so we could talk about how we needed to protect our relationship throughout that process. I mentioned that we needed to reinforce our value to each other and start doing things that would nurture our relationship and he agreed. I suggested that we remind ourselves what we valued about each other, and that we should say three things that we liked about one another. I started the exercise and whipped out three facts fairly quickly. When it was his turn, he looked at me blankly, hummed, and hawed and was unsure of what to say. I laughed a little awkwardly and said, “Is it that hard to find three things you like about me?” He smiled nervously and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” Three things. He couldn’t find three things that he liked about me. I put my head down and teared up, so he paid the bill and we left. I remember that hurting so much, but I came to the conclusion that it was something we needed to address once the craziness of the holidays was over.

That conversation should have been like a neon sign, blinking and flashing brightly, trying to get my attention that something was perilously wrong. But I didn’t see it that way as I was willing to work through whatever we needed to because I was committed to my marriage. What I didn’t know during that dinner was that our relationship was already over. Now as I see it through the rearview mirror, it is plain as day that he had checked out and I was trying to save something that was irretrievably lost.

If the compliments stop, ask why. If you feel devalued, ask why. If you feel lonely in your marriage, ask why. If the romance has fizzled out, ask why. I cannot stress enough the importance of communication in any relationship. Do not let things fall to the wayside unquestioned. Every unaddressed issue will eventually come back much bigger and even harder to overcome. If you don’t keep talking during your parenting years, it can prove catastrophic to your relationship once the kids move out. Relationships require maintenance and communication is a tool that should be applied on a consistent basis.  

When my ex finally got around to informing me that he was “done with the marriage”, it felt like it was coming from out of the blue; and for me it was. But he had checked out long before he spoke those words. There was a new wardrobe, a new bank account only in his name and many other forms of ‘separating’ that I saw through eyes of loyalty and love. But they were signs that my relationship was in peril. Communication along the way could have saved a three-decade long marriage; but I could not speak to something I didn’t know was happening. If you are going through a rough time, or questioning your marriage, it is up to you to raise the flag and communicate that fact. Talking, praying, counseling…all these things are in place to help; but a partner cannot help an issue they don’t know exists.

To be completely fair, I want to be clear about something. For many years I was not the easiest person to live with. In fact, it was a very rocky and rough road for my ex and my children. I brought many emotional and behavioral issues (The Breaking Begins; Nini) into my marriage and family which I should have gotten counseling for. This was a major component in what drove us apart in the end because, no matter how much of my past I had overcome, it wasn’t seen as enough. But even in this there is a lesson to be learned. When anyone says they “fell out of love”, what they are really saying is that they made the choice to stop loving.

In Pressure Perfect, I talked about how hard it is to feel like you are ever good enough, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If your partner has come from an abusive situation, help them get help. As they grow, encourage them forward. As they overcome their mountains, applaud them for it. As they better their lives, admire them for it. Build a relational foundation of true love and dedication. It takes hard work to become better versions of ourselves and those efforts should be deeply appreciated and celebrated often. Respect, honor, and value one another by not losing sight of the person you fell in love with.

Until next time, communicate often and stay safe!

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