And I Did It By Taking Responsibility
***The catalyst for my divorce was a sudden and shocking revelation of extensive and longstanding infidelity on the part of my ex-husband. However, taking responsibility for my role is where the real healing happened.
This is a letter I wrote to my ex-husband on the day we received our divorce decree.
Six months prior to the writing of this letter, I was so angry that I couldn’t see straight. I felt despondent and hopeless — the ultimate victim. I couldn’t believe the things he had done to me and our four daughters and I couldn’t imagine that the pain of such an intimate betrayal would ever go away…and then I did the hard work of self-examination.
This process wasn’t a matter of excusing his choices or putting blame on myself for the things he did. Let’s be clear — There was and is no excuse. His choices are his to own. Instead, it was a matter of saying to myself,
“Do you want this to happen again, AJ? No? Well, you’d better figure out how you got here and where you went wrong.”
So I did that gut-wrenching, ego-destroying self-examination.
I had fucked up and had choices to own, as well.
Now, the anger is gone. The pain is gone. And, best of all, the attachment is gone. This letter is a product of all of the difficult work I did on myself to get to this point.
My intent in sharing this is that I know so many women who feel trapped in a state of anguish over the circumstances of their divorces. They remain angry, heartbroken, and in a state of grief — still attached to their exes — years, even decades, later. They are suspended in a state of victimhood and miserable because they see no way out.
There is a way out. It involves taking responsibility. The singular choice is this: a life of bitterness and pain, or the sweet release from unwanted attachment and the ability to prevent your subconscious from initiating a sequel.
I love this letter. Thank you for reading.
I feel like 16 years deserves a send-off, however informal. You don’t need to be guarded…This isn’t the angry, blaming, bitter letter like the one I sent to you in the spring. This is distilled and honest and from a place that is grateful for the lessons and gifts of the past, and is looking forward to the future.
It’s about me, not you.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not yet free of anger. I wish I were that evolved. The anger I have these days is directed at myself, although it can bleed into our interactions…it’s frustration with my own short-comings: things I identified in the last six months or so.
- I need to stop expecting things of people when I know they aren’t capable of meeting my expectations.
- I need to accept that I don’t control other people’s feelings or behaviors and that trying to manipulate people into doing what I want is a road to misery for both of us.
- I’m learning, instead, to be okay walking away from people who can’t or don’t meet my needs. They’re not obligated to do so, nor am I obligated to stick around.
- I need to stop with the “shoulds” and just accept what actually “is”.
- I need to stop letting my boundaries be violated and then getting pissed at the person whom I allowed to violate them as if I have no agency.
- I need to spend my precious energy on things that generate more energy, and less on things that drain it.
- I need to stop being afraid of conflict and develop a healthy sense of entitlement.
- I need to do things daily that scare the shit out of me because fear means ‘do it’; Pain means ‘growth’.
Taking responsibility for all of these changes feels so good because it means that I have control over what’s happening to me and that I can change course. Blaming others leaves me stuck with no hope for a different outcome.
Looking back on our marriage, I’m faced with the reality that we were never going to “work” in any meaningful way. We were fucked up, traumatized children (21 and 25), who got married hoping that the other would fix our fucked-up-ed-ness. And we wanted someone who could never leave. I thought we’d be forced to figure it out against the backdrop of feigned, suburban abundance, convoluted with the distraction of child-rearing.
It’s so obvious, in retrospect, as many things are the morning after.
The fact that we pulled 16 years out of it is pretty damn remarkable. We were never meant to be laid to rest together under that tree on the hill. We will have our own trees and own hills. They will be on the same planet, under the same sky, so we will still be connected, however distantly. We will stay connected by humanity and shared descendants, and as two people who thought they were in love once before they learned what love really meant and what life is really about.
I have no business speaking to your experience or your feelings and can only comment on what I have taken responsibility for (and this is not an all-inclusive list):
- I believe that you lived like a trapped rat for a long time with a woman (me) who was chronically disappointed in your ability to meet an unrealistic standard — one that had more to do with healing my childhood wounds than sustaining a healthy marriage.
- I believe you needed me to mother you and that dynamic killed my attraction, which was painfully obvious to you. Our marriage should’ve ended the moment that happened, less than a year in, but I clung to the idea that you could make me feel safe.
- Even after I realized you couldn’t, I held on “for the kids” and because I lacked the self-awareness to understand that it was my trauma that was driving me to be with you, not love or attraction. That is 100% my fault.
We lacked even the most basic elements necessary to build a life together:
— We were both still messed up from our childhoods and placed the responsibility of healing on each other, not ourselves.
— We held different worldviews.
— We had different ideas on parenting.
— We had different definitions of ‘love’.
— We didn’t communicate the same way (or even in ways that would allow us to hear the other).
— We had different hopes and dreams and things that made us feel alive.
— We were never a team.
— There was no real intimacy.
We settled into a shitty dance of anger and disappointment, on both ends. There was a sadness to “us”….in fact, there was no “us”. “Us” was a lie we told ourselves in the hopes that we had found someone that would never leave.
Moving forward as “you” and “I” is far better for each of us, as people. We are on different trajectories and have been for a long time, but we couldn’t get any traction to move forward on our own paths being both begrudgingly, albeit voluntarily, tethered together, and bogged down with the weight of our co-dependent dysfunction.
Today we cut the rope to our respective anchors.
This is a day for grief — but also a day for joy, relief, and transcendence.
Here are the beautiful things I’m walking away with: My 4 beautiful daughters, a fuck ton of self-awareness and knowledge about my wants and needs and boundaries that I am no longer willing to compromise, a strength that sometimes feels superhuman, a keen awareness of my flaws, a desire to fix them, access to creativity that had gone dormant, a sexual identity long neglected, hope for the future instead of a numb resignation to the status quo, and the realization that I am not a victim, nor will I ever be again.
It makes me a little sad to say that I’m happy it’s over, but I have no regrets. My children are my reason for living. I wouldn’t have them without you. I will continue to live for my children and that means doing whatever I can to foster their relationships with you. They will struggle in their future romantic relationships without a reliable, present father. This will be the challenge of your life. I hope you rise to it, but it would be futile to attempt to control your behavior. I will be here for you if you decide to try because there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make those girls’ lives better.
Take care. Thank you for my girls: the loves of my life, and for the lessons that brought me some really profound personal growth. I am truly happy with myself for the first time…maybe ever. I wouldn’t feel right not expressing my gratitude to you, our marriage, it’s slow burn, and its ultimate demise that brought me to exactly where I need to be in this moment: right where I am.