When the Only Reason You’re Staying Is Because You Said You Would

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I can remember vividly hitting bottom in my first marriage. It’s funny… my flashbulb moment didn’t happen at the time of some big betrayal. I didn’t walk in on something I didn’t want to see. He didn’t get arrested. In fact, my flashbulb moment isn’t the time he told me he used to love me before I became such a bitch — although I do remember that incident well, because it stung. It hurt.

My flashbulb moment wasn’t any of our big rows about money (about how he was spending tons of it and not working — I wanted him to pick one of these and not both). Nothing like that.

Instead, my flashbulb moment is a vivid recollection of sitting on a couch, one that’s long gone, multiple couches ago in my life. And I’m sitting on this couch and feeling numb and overwhelmed. Because at this moment, I’m struggling to think of something my then-husband was bringing to my life that was positive.

It wasn’t that I was mired in the negatives — although there were many. It wasn’t something profound and terrible that had just happened.

It was that I was sitting there actively searching for the positive and coming up empty handed.

And I realized at that moment that the only reason I was staying married to him is because I said I would. Not because the relationship was bringing anything positive to my life. It had become an entirely negative experience for me. He took and took. I gave. I’d become this beaten down, sad person.

And whether you blamed that state of affairs on him being a taker or on me being a martyr and a doormat (both reasonable points of view) — or both, it dawned on me then that something was terribly wrong.

That we were terribly wrong together.

I have another vivid memory in there, one that’s a bit later. After all attempts to get him to go to therapy had failed. After I had announced I wanted to get separated. Where we’ve met up to discuss the situation at a pizza parlor.

I can remember him asking me, “Isn’t there anything positive I’ve brought into your life?”

And my brain seized up at the question, because in that moment I had the hardest time seeing it. I had the hardest time coming up with something. And I could tell in that moment that it disturbed him that I had to think so long to come up with an answer.

Finally, I said, “I learned how to dance.” Because it was true. His parents were both dance instructors, and we took lessons at their studio.

True, my ex rarely wanted to dance anymore. He danced a lot once upon a time, with his ex-girlfriend. They were on a competitive dance team. And there was an accident and injury long before he met me, in which he brought her down wrong on his knee during an aerial that made his professional career untenable — and because of that, he wasn’t interested in pursuing amateur dancing with me. It was a step down for him, even though it was a big step up for me.

Sitting in that pizza parlor, discussing the details of our separation, he stared at me in shock. “Is that it?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

He stormed out. It was the worst thing I could have said. I would think about that a lot later — how sometimes the truth is the worst possible thing you can say. And how if the truth is the worst possible thing you can say, that’s a sign that it needs to end.

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