We humans are consistently inconsistent in how we observe the milestones of life.
We celebrate birth, childhood achievements and birthdays, graduations from preschool through college and beyond. We fawn over couples’ engagement and wedding photos and the births of their children. We congratulate colleagues when they begin a new job, close a sale, launch a product, start a company, or have a successful exit. We honor the memory of those who die and show our love to the bereaved.
Other milestones pass in silence: Getting fired, shutting down a business, or divorce. We often learn of these events indirectly through gossip. Details are omitted, embellished, and changed until something that bears no resemblance to the truth becomes common knowledge among a social circle.
Perhaps these milestones pass silently because we associate them with failure, which we see as shameful. This bias is unfortunate; failure is vastly more instructive than success. When we fail, we can discover what went wrong and learn from it. But it’s much harder to learn from success. We never really know if we succeeded because we were good, or if we just got lucky.
Perhaps we avoid sharing our bad news because some people don’t respond well. They might offer advice or judgment when all we need is a bit of empathy. We decry gossip, but it might be rational to outsource the spread of bad news to the gossip train when dealing with judgmental people!
With that prologue, here’s some news:
Twenty years ago today, I got married. My marriage is over. I moved out six months ago to begin the 12-month period of legal separation that my state requires before a petition for divorce. Temporary orders for child custody and post-separation support are done. Distribution of assets and the rest of the process should be settled in March.
What happened? From the outside, perhaps we seemed to have things together. We were an educated, hard-working couple, successful enough to enjoy a very comfortable life with all its trappings. We had three wonderful children, the oldest about to leave home for college. We were active, lifelong members of the Mormon church, which emphasizes the importance of families and keeping them together.
But behind the scenes I was the caretaker to a person who had little ability to regulate her emotions. She would fly into rages over the smallest things and take days, weeks, or months to recover. In recent years she became increasingly abusive. Her pouting, silent treatments, blaming, and inability to apologize escalated into frequent verbal tirades, frantic attempts to manipulate and control, and physical violence.
Three years ago, convinced that her abusive behavior was due to some failure on my part, I sought help from a therapist. I learned about codependency and emotional enmeshment. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries, though she did not receive these well at all. I came to understand that my identity was so tied to this abusive relationship, my self-worth so uniquely derived from being her emotional caretaker, that I could not leave without annihilating my sense of self. I was stuck.
It took several years of regular therapy, study, soul-searching, boundary-setting, and hard work before I could get unstuck enough to give myself permission to leave. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it until early January, when it became clear that the status quo presented an imminent threat to the life of one of my children. My therapist and attorney helped me come up with a plan, and I leased an apartment and moved out to begin the divorce process.
The following months were full of learning. I saw many things from a new perspective. I felt how painful it was to participate in the Mormon church alone. I saw no role models there who had been in my situation. The church’s culture had reinforced my codependency, and it was pulling me back into those same patterns I had worked so hard to break.
I decided that I could not heal unless I separated myself from the church, something unfathomable just a month earlier.
I communicated this decision to my bishop, adding that while I had no plans to participate in the future, I saw no need to resign my membership unless my ex made false accusations that would lead to a church disciplinary council. In that case, I would resign to a) deny her the ability to use the church to manipulate, control, or abuse me, and b) allow the church and its leaders to minister to her alone without any conflict of interest.
She ultimately made those false accusations in her court filings. When she did, I resigned my membership. And I am completely at peace about doing so.
I’ve shared this story with a handful of people who make up my immediate support system. Words are inadequate to express the love and gratitude I feel for each of them.
I share it with you now for several reasons:
- Everyone who knows me is going to hear this news eventually. It makes sense to communicate it clearly and directly.
- I’m not ashamed of this experience. I’ve learned a lot, and it has helped define who I am. There is no reason to hide it.
- I know others in similar situations. Few men are abused by their partners. It can feel very lonely, but you are not alone. Please talk to a therapist or another person who understands.
I feel no hostility toward my ex. I think she did the best she could in our relationship. We shared many beautiful times, it was not all toxic or abusive. She may never accept the reasons why our marriage ended, and that’s fine.
I feel no hostility toward the church. It taught me many good things, and some unhealthy ones that I have rejected. Overall it was a positive influence, and I am better for it.
Finally, thank you for reading and for your friendship. I anticipate more-positive news in the future :)