Ellen is a tall, striking, model-like teacher with a heart of gold and great fashion sense. Just turning 50 this past year, she is the type of person able to light up any room with her contagious energy and infectious wit. Four years ago, she anguished over the onerous decision to leave a 20 year marriage and likened the split to a good friend dying. It was extremely difficult taking this leap for Ellen, but through the tears and the heartache, a decision that she is finally at peace with.
After twenty years of marriage, how do you know when it’s time to leap?
“It took two years of therapy just to get to the point that I knew I had to leave. I still remember where we were standing in the kitchen, when I told him our marriage was over. It was heartbreaking, but I realized that we just weren’t able to show our child that we had a loving relationship anymore. That was always so important to me and after twenty years, our priorities had changed and our marriage had died in the process.
What were things like for you after you made your decision?
“For us it was a long process—a much slower process than with many people because we were forced to live together for a while after the decision was made. (Many call this the “new divorce” when a couple is emotionally apart, but living together in the same home due to financial, health or other issues.) Our financial issues kept us living together, and then I had a horrible health issue where I almost died and Joe actually had to come back and take care of me for several months. It was horrible. Our numerous friends just didn’t understand why we were splitting up. They constantly told me what a nice guy he was. Well, he was and continues to be a nice guy, but they didn’t live my life and newsflash– nice guys can have dead marriages, too! Looking back, our friends were also grieving. They had a difficult time realizing that this needed to happen, which only added to our confusion and the elongation of the process.”
“You have to remember that your friends can’t make your decisions for you. I remember friends scoffing because Joe and I continued having dinner a couple of times a week together with our teenage son. We wanted Mark to keep the idea that even though his parents weren’t married anymore that we could still be a family, an idea that many people thought was unrealistic and unhealthy. I don’t know if this would work for other people, but it worked for us. We needed the break to go slow, it was in everyone’s best interest. We still liked each other and wanted to stay amicable, but we both deeply knew that we couldn’t stay married. It was a huge grieving process and the whole thing was just long, difficult and sad.”
So how is Joe doing now?
“Well, Joe, who is an introvert, was pushed into getting more in touch with himself. He was never the type of person who went out to bars or out with friends a lot. Men have different types of relationships than women and they just don’t connect on close, intimate levels like we do. I think that makes it harder for men to go through things like this. He was forced to get more in touch with himself and become more introspective. As far as dating goes, he is open to the idea, but it’s a stretch for him. Overall, he is growing and doing well, though.”
What about Mark?
“Mark is now 16. I think it’s important to understand that divorce is a dynamic process that is always morphing and changing, especially when children are involved. Parenting kids is tough, but co-parenting kids is even tougher. It is A said to B and B said to C and I’ll meet you up at the top of the coconut tree. Not living together, makes it just that much more difficult to parent consistently. We still have dinners together sometimes, but family events happen less frequently. Mark is driving now, so he can go visit his dad any time he wants. He is becoming more independent so that changes the dynamics of the triad we are in. Tonight, the three of us will be discussing some pertinent issues that have come up with his increase in freedom. It is important for him to hear things from both of us, so he realizes that he has to be accountable for his actions and that he is still being parented by us. Even when we aren’t on the same page, we have to pretend we are for Mark’s sake.”
Ellen, what helped get you through the marathon split?
“I have a large support system and a good job. Without both of those things, it would have been incredibly difficult. Money can be a huge stressor. I have many divorced female friends who are now on public assistance, because they couldn’t get decent paying jobs. You need to have your ducks in row to start this process.
How are you feeling four years after the leap? Any pearls of wisdom?
“I will never be over it. My marriage was so vital to me for so long. I have had to move past it, use what I learned and function without Joe as my husband and without the three of us being an intact family. I just recently was able to focus on moving forward. I am now able to say I’m happy and know it was the right choice, but it was so difficult getting to the decision and then experiencing all of the emotions that occurred during that period. I really think that you know you’ve made it, though, when you can start looking forward to things again. I can honestly say that I’m excited about my future.”