I look back on photos from that time 10 years ago and notice how drawn and thin I’d become with the stress of everything. Pictures of my kids’ dad taken around that period reveal the same — the weight of not knowing what life would look like if our marriage continued coming apart.
Our smiles told another part of the story, though, one of two people doing their best with a couple small children, ages five and one. We’d take the kids to the beach and to visit grandparents, documenting these moments of their early years while hiding the hurt and confusion of loving one another but losing our way as a couple.
It’s not easy to live in indecision. That’s especially the case when the question at hand is whether or not your marriage or other long-term relationship will carry on.
So much of how we picture the future for ourselves is tied up with who will be with us. When this piece is in question, it can bring about a kind of suspended animation where you feel like you’re not really living, but rather surviving — and just barely.
I’m here to tell you that whatever way things shake out, you and yours will be okay.
You’ve got company
There are many of us — millions, in fact! — who have been through this very uncomfortable experience and come out on the other side of it stronger and happier.
Let’s be real: Long-term relationships are rarely a cake walk and most couples encounter some bumps along the road. If everybody else were nailing the romantic partnership thing, how could it be that 40 per cent of marriages eventually come to an end?
A good first step for getting through a period like this is to practise forgiveness of yourself for winding up here. No one plans to encounter struggles and find themselves at a relationship crossroads. But plenty of people do.
What about the children?
If you’ve got kids, of course the stakes feel much higher. I get it. My former spouse and I were beside ourselves at the idea of putting our kids through a separation and divorce.
But as I’ll be discussing more in future posts, the impact of divorce on kids is often exaggerated. Language like “broken home” has done us all a disservice by suggesting that a split is always a great tragedy that causes irrevocable damage to kids. It doesn’t.
However things wind up, you’ll be able to respond in a sensitive, child-centred manner, and after a period of adjustment, your family will find a new normal.
Meanwhile, here are some things you can do to make life easier until the way forward becomes more clear:
Attend therapy. If resources allow, good quality couples’ and individual therapy can be a lifeline during these times. The insights and support you gain from having an expert help you explore your relationship dynamics, as well as your own feelings, are invaluable. And the process can give you a sense of forward motion when you’re otherwise treading water. Plus, if your relationship does come to an end, it’s often comforting to know you’ve done everything you can by putting in the work that therapy entails.
Gather your tribe. It can be tough to open up about relationship problems, but this is not the time to try to power through on your own. Call, text or send emails to trusted friends and family. Let them give you company, distraction and an ear. It’s not a burden. You’ve probably been there for friends and family in the past and you will be again. If your support circle needs widening, take action. Ask for an introduction to someone else who’s been through this, or seek out support groups nearby. Although virtual connections are no substitute for friends you see in person, Facebook has groups for just about everything, and these can be meaningful platforms for camaraderie and commiseration.
Ramp up self-care. You know there’s a bunch of stuff you could be doing to make yourself as strong as possible in the face of challenges, but often fall to the bottom of your own to-do list in crisis times. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to let that happen. You need the feel-good hormones released when you get exercise, just as you need the calming effects of time outside and a good night of sleep. So even if you feel hideously short on time, try a six-minute circuit workout from a free fitness app or get out and walk around the block. Give meditation a try and consider writing your worries in a journal to get them out of your head and onto paper. Let the dishes sit if it means you can get your head to a pillow a few minutes sooner.
Put good things on the calendar. You may not know whether you’ll be with your partner in a year’s time. That can leave you feeling like you can’t plan and don’t have anything you can look forward to in happy anticipation. Sure, you might not know the big picture, but you can invite friends over for pizza next week, plan a weekend road trip, or join an activity you enjoy.
Chin up. Everything is unfolding for your highest good.