Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing until you’ve already done it.
It would have been my fifteenth wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t, though, because right before our tenth anniversary I told my husband I wanted a divorce.
I don’t regret getting divorced – I’m not big on regrets in general, and I think we’re both happier now. But when I look back, I’m aware there are things I could have done differently that might have saved my marriage.
Here are six things I don’t recommend doing if you’d like to keep celebrating anniversaries.
1. Bringing up topics you know will start a fight
No relationship is conflict-free, obviously, but what kinds of things do you fight about? We used to have lots of small, stupid fights – the kind where you can’t remember later what they were about. That’s because those little explosions were the result of big things that went unspoken. Fears about the future, conflicting dreams, long-buried resentments – those were things we didn’t bring up. For us, it was much easier to make a cutting remark about something insignificant and act surprised when it turned into a huge, nonsensical argument.
2. Confiding in your friends instead of in him
I love my friends. I love talking with them for hours about every little thing, and going for long runs together, and trading advice and insights about our most personal struggles. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with confiding in your friends or asking for their input on your relationship, but when you’re talking to them instead of to your partner, it’s not a good sign. In the last year of my marriage, I started going on 6am runs with my best friend several times a week, and I regularly exchanged 5000-word emails with a long-distance girlfriend. Maybe I should have invested that energy in my marriage.
3. Rekindling relationships with your exes
I actually managed to escape this one, probably because no exes happened to stick their heads out of the ground at the right (wrong?) moment, but I’ve talked to enough people to know that this happens… a lot. An ex-boyfriend sends you a friend request on Facebook, your spouse hurts your feelings/pisses you off one night, and before you know it you’re exchanging flirtatious messages and wondering why you ever broke it off with that high-school flame.
4. Posting cryptic messages to his Facebook wall
When I was feeling sad one night towards the end of my marriage, I watched this video and started to cry. All those happy couples, all that snuggling, all the loving looks. I remembered when my husband and I had felt like that. Or had it only ever been me? Instead of talking to him about it, telling him how much I loved him and how much I wanted to mend our relationship, I posted it to his Facebook wall. “Was that a joke?” he asked me the next day. Needless to say, he didn’t ‘like’ it.
5. Making a half-hearted stab at couples therapy
That’s what you do when you’re having trouble, right? Then you can at least say you gave it the old college try. Suggesting it, hoping he’ll say no; maybe he can be the bad guy instead of you. When he agrees, going along with it, secretly knowing you’re already checked out and nothing will stop you from being mad. Holding on to that righteous anger; telling yourself no-one is really capable of change. Surprising yourself by cultivating bitterness, even though it feels foreign to you. Feeling good about telling people you went to marriage counseling, like you checked a box on the ‘getting divorced’ to-do list.
6. Deciding you don’t want to be married anymore
Sometimes you’re the last one to figure out what’s happening. In therapy – individual therapy, which I actually went to willingly, with sincere intent – I’d been saying for years that I’d never get divorced. I was the child of messily divorced parents, and I always swore I’d never do that to my kids. When my therapist suggested that maybe, just maybe, I could get divorced and it wouldn’t have to look like my parents’ divorce, I started to cry. In that moment, I knew what had been obvious to her, and probably everyone else, for a long time. I was done.
Sometimes walking away is the right choice. It was for me. Just be sure you know what you’re doing before you do it.
Comment: What are your views on divorce?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.