With the new decade looming ahead, like fresh snow in the meadow, I’m ready to set new tracks. This is especially true in my marriage.
Last year, I faced a crossroads in my marriage. After navigating almost 30 years, two kids, lots of built-up bad habits and unresolved emotional disconnection, not to mention a sexual desert, my marriage was in crisis. Most people want better marriages—maybe a nip and tuck of fun, respect, some affection here and there. But my marriage needed jumper cables. I felt angry, unfulfilled, small, tired. I wanted “to be married,” but I didn’t want this marriage. I wanted the man I married, but not this man. The vows of “till death do we part” had me thinking of hiring an assassin.
I considered three options:
- Divorce. This path was risky but also offered the chance to start over, either alone or with another. Could I find a partner who was better in tune with the woman I’d become? I have happy friends in second relationships. But there was so much invested in this marriage—time, children, knowing each other. Divorce seemed too risky and required too much courage for me, a woman in midlife who feared being alone in a desert of a different kind. Beyond fear, I also felt the warm embers of a once easy and loving partnership deep inside me. The marriage was broken but something worth fighting for.
- Separation. This option was less dramatic and offered the opportunity to experiment. In this scenario, we would be free to date, become publicly independent, and even untangle some finances. But, we would have to tell our kids, manage the fall-out with friends and family, forgo holiday traditions, and risk one of us getting angry, resentful, and defensive–so hurt that the situation might be irreparable. If the goal was to stay married, “separating” came with too much baggage.
- A Break. This third option came to me out of desperation as a solution to both experience relief and to strengthen our marriage. It was not a “break up” but a “break” in routine, a time to take a pause, a breather, a chance to reconnect with each other. I decided to quietly distance myself from my husband, not to end our relationship but to heal it so we could stay together.
So, last fall, the day after we became empty-nesters, I left our beautiful house. I rented a little apartment and moved some of my clothes, pictures, meditation pillow, incense, candles, and journals. I went into “a quiet space,” took a sabbatical from work, and focused on myself and my husband. I started each day by meditating, practicing yoga, and writing. By 9 a.m., I was ready to “work” on projects, research, reading, crafting. At night, my husband and I sometimes dated, had dinner together, talked, and then I’d return to my little apartment. We worked within our boundaries, went to marriage counseling, where we explained our expectations, desires, fears: topics that seemed out of reach before “the break.” We decided to tell almost no one. We didn’t want the questions, judgments, shame, gossip. Mostly, we wanted to protect our children as we worked through our relationship. The secrecy felt like its own kind of intimacy.
No one knows a marriage except the two people in it. Every marriage has its own personality and needs. In the end, I decided that I wanted to protect my investment in my marriage rather than start anew. On the one hand, I’d married a good man, a man who has integrity, is loyal, smart, handsome, a good father, a dutiful spouse, trustworthy, kind. On the other hand, he and I had to find a way to reconnect on every level. In the end, I decided to value the positives over the negatives, accept him for who he is and what he offers, and work on the rest.
So how did The Break work out for us? I moved back into the house in time to decorate for Christmas. It was the best gift we’d ever given each other. Bring on 2020 and the new path forward!
This essay was featured in the February 9th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.