The Invisible Sisterhood

When I first asked my ex husband for a separation in 2011, I felt like I was the only woman my age going through hard times at home. Except for one colleague I didn’t know very well at the time who’d been divorced for a few months, none of my friends had gone down this road. Three uncles had divorced, a few neighbors, but no one I could call up and really talk to about it in the sense that they’d been in my shoes. From the outside, everyone I knew was in love and blissful.

But when I started talking to friends about my struggles after they noticed how down and sad I had become, a strange thing happened. Women I knew (or barely knew) started confiding that they, too, had problems with their marriages. There were stories about unhappy wives who were too fearful of a drastic decrease in income to leave, husbands who were jealous and controlling, couples who barely spoke to one another but appeared, to those of us who didn’t know better, to be loving partners and friends.

I knew what they felt like, of course – when I announced I was separating from my husband my friends and family were stunned. We’d perfected the art of the happy facade, an easier task with kids because no one questions why you’re not speaking to each other at get-togethers; you’re each chasing two kids apiece in opposite sides of the house. Each month as my misery at feeling trapped in an unhealthy relationship grew and I realized how invisible I’d become to my husband, the more I wanted to talk to others about it, but I was embarrassed. I felt ashamed to admit that nothing I tried helped fix our relationship and I recalled advice about never talking ill about your husband to anyone else. But I couldn’t hold it in any longer. If Kyle wouldn’t talk to me, I needed to talk to some girlfriends to keep from going crazy.

On one hand I was relieved to learn I wasn’t the only woman who thought about leaving her husband or who was so frustrated with her marriage. But on the other hand I was sad to know that this was the truth about so many seemingly comfortable unions.

The first time I told someone about how serious our troubles were I felt relief but also like I was sharing something I shouldn’t share. What if Kyle found out? I mean, seriously – he had refused marriage counseling in part because he couldn’t handle hearing me speak to someone outside of our relationship in a way that would even imply he wasn’t perfect.

I bonded with a woman in my same profession over our similar marriage and divorce stories. One of my new best partners in crime is a divorced woman I met through a mutual friend – we have the same custody schedule. Another friend confided she tried to leave her husband but he kept stopping her and threatening her with getting full custody of their children – she and I would chat in Words with Friends about it because it seemed safer than emails or phone calls. Now I’m having coffee with an acquaintance this week because she is curious about the details of divorce – I don’t know her well and probably haven’t even seen her in a year or more but she noticed my name change on Facebook and clearly needs a safe outlet to share her situation. I’m paying it forward.

You might assume that I, as a newly and relatively happily divorced mom, try to talk these women on the verge into filing for divorce, but you’d be wrong. My heart hurts for each of them because I know what it’s like. I tell them I’m sorry and instead of giving then Divorce 101 I try to give them the reality of the heartbreak of divorce, even if you’re the one who wants to dissolve the bands of marriage. Not to belittle the decision, but I’m reminded of what I tell people who consider getting a tattoo- “It hurts and it’s permanent. Take a long time to make the decision so you won’t end up with regrets.”

I’m not a bitter divorced woman but I’m not jubilant, either. I made a painful decision because I fully believe that, in the long run, it will be better for me and my children than staying.

As I enter my 40s in just a handful of years, I wonder if there will be more marriages that will be broken among my friends – statistics say yes, but I can hope that they’re wrong. But I’ll always listen to those who are facing that decision or trying to decide whether or not to leap, remembering how much stronger I felt with friends’ ears and words to lift me.

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