I was the last of my friends to get married, and the first of my friends to get divorced. I do tend to do things ass-backwards. So I don’t know how much stock anyone wants to put into my advice on relationships. I can offer empathy, however. I’ve had practice, because unfortunately, since my divorce, several of my friends have as well, or have voiced serious problems with their relationships whereupon the dissolution of the marriage is a very real, and a very sad, possibility.
One such friend is really struggling today. She’s working hard to make things work. She and her spouse have been together for a very long time. They’ve each grown a lot individually and as a family. As in any relationship, the reasons why they’ve reached this crossroads are numerous. As they work through their issues, she oftentimes feels overwhelmed and confused. What should the focus be–working on her stuff, his stuff, couple stuff? How much weight does she put on each part of this puzzle that makes up her life? She is fully committed to this, but who is she doing this for?
“Some days it is for him. Some days it is for the kids. Some days it is for protecting all we have and all we have built together for all these years. And some days, it is really for me,” she says.
And I say this to her: Yes.
This. This, what just you said, my friend, this is what we all do for any relationship. It is never just one thing. Or two things. It is all of this mess, all these moving parts in all of our lives. For you, for him, for the kids, for the abstract and concrete life you’ve built. For the days ahead. For the days past. For today. For all of that. For all of you. None of it can live in isolation.
I tell her she is over-thinking. Making this harder than it is. For now, she is doing it all for the right reasons, at the right mixed ratio that changes by the minute. These are the next right things. Just as she’s doing it. In her confused, angst-ridden way. This. This is the joy of life. The sorrow of life. The complexities of life. The crux of life.
There is so much there. Yet, it is all there is.
We can’t compartmentalize life and our relationships and our selves into neat little silos, and ration out proportions. No, when we live, really live, we bleed outside the lines. Our bright neon, intensely hued parts of ourselves bleed all over ourselves and others. So it’s all of what she’s concerned about, tossed like a salad. And all of those pieces make up who she is. You cannot pick one and ignore the rest. You can not focus on only one priority.
Some people might urge her to think about the children. Some people might urge her to think about her spouse. Some people might urge her to think about herself. Some people might urge her to consider the quality of the life they’ve built, and it can’t all be that bad to throw it all away, right? Whose needs come first? Whose needs are the most important?
Everyone has a point. The children’s well-being is paramount. How do we minimize negative impacts on them, yet role model healthy, respectful relationships? The spouse has coped with a lot through the years, he’s a good man. We must consider his sacrifices and his love and his grace, all of which are immense. Don’t forget that we are also taught to put our oxygen mask on first before helping others. If she loses herself and doesn’t tend to her needs again, then others suffer, and does the relationship really work out in the end?
I can tell her about the angst and confusion and visceral pain I felt for the longest time as my own marriage disintegrated. I can tell her how for the longest time I stayed for the children. I can tell her how for the longest time I stayed to preserve the sanctity of marriage. I can tell her how for the longest time I lost myself and tended to everyone else’s needs first. I can tell her how I wavered every moment of every day for the longest time about what the next right thing was. I can tell her how one day, in one moment I will never forget, I knew how this story would end. But this is her story to write, not mine.
I don’t know the ending to their story. They sure as hell don’t either. But placing the added pressure of making choices based on the “right reasons” is not going to help them write the end of their story. So long as she is considering all of these issues, there’s no right or wrong answer. Each day, the proportions of each consideration will wax and wane. And it’s in this changing landscape that offers no certainty and no clarity that she must live. It is in the patience she must muster up that she will be able to feel what decision resonates. It is in the ability to sit still and just be in this mixed, tossed salad of life that she will be able to discern what the next right thing is for her, for her spouse, for their children.