They say that breaking up is hard to do but if, like me, you’re in a long-term relationship, I’d have to say that staying together is harder to do.
I swear there are some days that I look at my husband of 30 years and I think, “Why are you chewing so loudly?” There have been days where it felt as if nothing he did, said or thought sat right with me. Sometimes I’ve sat in my marriage for weeks at a time wondering if this was the guy, the life, the until-death-do-us-part person for me. And before you get upset thinking that I’m dumping the deepest, darkest, dirtiest parts of my marriage out here on the internet for thousands of strangers to read and hanging my lovely, wonderful and sensitive husband out to dry, I’m not. I’m simply painting a picture. You don’t have to worry about him – he feels this way about me too. And OFTEN. Such is the ebb and flow of making and keeping an intimate relationship going day in day out, year in year out, decade in decade out.
It takes work. A whole lot of it.
I, for one, am a lucky woman in that I’m in a committed, exclusive partnership where my other half is committed to working through those “I don’t know if I can do this with you anymore” days together. He’s willing to get his hands dirty, to own his shit and to apologize for it and make the changes necessary to move forward, to grow, to evolve and deepen as a couple.
I say that I’m lucky because I have four close girlfriends who have recently come to learn that their forever person is not that sort of person. They don’t want to get down to the nitty gritty, to cry, to right a wrong or to emotionally expand so that the relationship can go to the next level. They have found themselves in relationships with partners who are the “tapped-out” sort.
And as a girlfriend, I’m at a loss as to how best support them through this time in their lives. I mean the obvious reaction is the one of disbelief and going low because who doesn’t want to tell their friend all the things they actually never liked about the man who walked away? It’s oh so easy to sit with a glass of wine and unload all the reasons why she will be better off without him. But what if she’s still at the point in the break-up where her love for him – because I mean I’m talking relationships that were pushing into the three-decade marker timelines, so you know there’s still love there – has her hoping that he’ll come back? Chances are that deep down in her heart and late at night when she’s all alone there is some thinking and hoping that it will all work out. That they will come back to them and they can begin anew.
This is where, and why as a girlfriend, one must tread lightly. So rather than trash-talk the ex-partners of my sweet and wonderful friends because (1) who knows if they’ll end up back together, and( 2) it’s sort of insulting to attack the person they once loved and maybe continue to love so dearly simply because the relationship has come to an abrupt halt.
And my friends, it seems, are far from alone. Not only is the divorce rate on the rise among younger couples ( some sources report it to be sitting around the 40 per cent range ), “grey divorce” – meaning baby boomers who are divorcing in their 60s after more than 30, sometimes 40 years of marriage – has also seen a sharp increase in recent years.
This I find shocking. (Mind you, with one of my friends being in this precise demographic, should I really be all that surprised?) And truth be told, my friends, if you don’t do the work on your relationship while you’re raising your children, trust me when I tell you one of you will be walking out the door when the nest becomes empty because you will have nothing in common except for a relationship that was neglected for the decision of putting your children before your partner. Children always leave. That is nature; they are supposed to leave the nest. I’ve written an entire section in my parenting book about how not to ruin your marriage or your kids by making them your No. 1 priority.
The best way to not break up is to give your relationship the devotion, honour and time it needs to stay together, because trust me, if you think breaking up, or staying together is tough work, let me tell you that reconciling was no walk in the park either. It wasn’t easy, but fourteen years back in, I can definitely confirm that the fight was worth it. Sure, we spent hours in counseling rebuilding trust, learning new ways to communicate with one another. We had intense coaching with helping us to dismantle the walls that we had built around ourselves during our separation, and we had many days of doubt wondering if we were going to actually be able to build it better than we had initially.
But with the daily commitment to one another to choose love every single day, to not spiral into “this is never going to work” mentality during the unavoidable tough days and giving one another space to process and heal, I’m proud to say that we are, in fact, here better and stronger than I would have ever thought we would be.
The gratitude that I feel being on the other side of my break-up with my husband while supporting my friends through theirs is twofold. I have hope that they might work it out; it’s still early days into their separations and it’s not crazy to believe and pray that the leaver snaps out of it and comes home ready to save all that was good in the relationship in the same way my hubby and I did.
And then there’s also a tremendous amount of guilt I feel for being in a partnership with a man who recognizes that a committed relationship is a constant shifting work in progress. That it is an organic live organism made up of two complex and independent human beings with different outlooks on life, different sensibilities and desires. I’m fortunate to be the difficult, outwardly challenging A-type personality in my marriage with an incredibly patient, gentle and understanding spouse.
We’re yin and yang, we’re oil and water, that often seems to work best when you shake it vigorously.