Separated for 3 Years Before We Said 'Divorce'

I first used the words “my ex” to refer to him in July 2015. And it was exactly 8 days before that the word “divorce” first hung in the air between us (he is the one who said it first).

I’d describe our transition from marriage to divorce in two words: very careful. The whole thing happened so carefully that my ex-husband and I took 3 years to undo a marriage that hadn’t even reached it’s 5 year anniversary yet. 

On one hand, we knew the marriage was broken early on. It was each of our first marriages, and some might (and did) say those are practice marriages anyway. I’m joking, but only in part. We did get a lot of practice in after all.

But why didn’t we just come to terms with our marital failure and move on more quickly? For both of our sakes. We have no children. Our families were supportive either way. Why did we take another ⅓ of a decade to wind down what had barely, in the scheme of till-death-do-us-part, had the time to get started in the first place?

There are the obvious reasons like our love and friendship with one another. We were both changing so much throughout this process that I think we were enjoying who each other was becoming. Not in a way that would save the marriage, but in a way that made us want to stick around to participate fully in the journey.

There was also a functional side of our drawn-out separation. One that included supporting each other through a series of major life transitions that were happening, liquidating joint assets, and a plan to relocate to the same part of the country together (together, but not together).

Then there was a dysfunctional side to our “careful” separation. There was textbook codependence at play. There were my control issues. I tried desperately to control his experience of the demise of our marriage. I needed him to like me - days from now, and decades from now. I needed him to still think of me first. I needed him to not resent me for my role in all this. Me, me, me and my little needs. What a mess I could make of things if I let these still run the show.  

Three years after our initial separation, now that we were all safe and sound tucked away in our new city many states away from where all this started, we both knew it was time to finally make the clean break. The one that was meant to stick. The one where the D word is finally part of the conversation.

And I knew it was time to finally let my husband go in a way that would represent all the love and reverence I had for him and our marriage, while it lasted. In order to let him go, I had to give up my need to control his experience of this. Instead of slowing down the whole process in an attempt to lessen the pain, I had to march forward into my new life as a single woman, and let him do whatever it was he was going to do. And feel whatever it was he was going to feel. 

One day as I was just settling in to my new apartment on my own, I knew that this was it. It was my time to bring to life what the situation demanded of me. I had to diligently attend to my thoughts and behaviors during these coming weeks, lest I act out unconsciously and create more of the dysfunction that kept us from moving on many months ago.

Moments of loneliness were going to show up. This I knew. I had to decide in advance how I was going to respond to those feelings. I made some decisions in advance - before trouble hit, because it would be harder to do later. I decided I couldn’t invite him over for dinner at the last minute so I didn’t have to eat alone. So he didn’t have to eat alone. I decided I couldn’t text him “goodnight” every night, which I was fond of doing as a way to check in and make sure he hadn’t suddenly decided to turn against me. Most importantly, I decided I couldn’t worry about him.

It’s one thing to understand these behaviors are not supportive or healthy, it’s another thing to have enough awareness and fortitude in the moment to actually transmute them and create a new pattern.  

I also decided I could still reach out to him, but only when I did it from a place of strength and centeredness. Only when I did it for the right reasons.

It’s now been two years since we made the final break. We worked out the terms of the divorce in a strand of about half a dozen emails back and forth. We got to file for an uncontested divorce which cost $449 and took 120 days. I took back my maiden name. For those first few weeks, my ex-husband and I would meet for lunch occasionally and text sporadically, mostly to address practical considerations, but sometimes to share a picture of what we made for dinner, now eating alone, each in our own homes.