I woke up in the middle of the night to see an email from my good friend, Helena, and felt my heart skip a beat in my chest as I read the words.
“He has decided that he would like to divorce me.”
After more than a decade of marriage, creating beautiful children, not to mention my friend putting her own career on hold to move around the world with her spouse and support him through military deployments – her husband had coldly told her that their marriage was simply over.
I’ve had friends go through a divorce before, of course, but this was different. Our families had vacationed together, laughed and cried on one another’s shoulders, supported each other through childbirth and stressful moves. They were a couple you would envy, or at least I did; both beautiful, athletic, intelligent, funny, rooted in their church. A divorce just made no sense, to me as an outsider, or to my friend.
I never went back to sleep that night, instead praying for Helena, rereading her email, and crying. I was prepared to support her through anything she needed and to never let her forget that she was loved, wonderful, and absolutely valuable. I’ve seen people be abandoned as their marriage fell apart, both by friends and family, and I never wanted her to feel that kind of loneliness. What I wasn’t prepared for was the way my own marriage would be impacted. I don’t mean in a first person sort of way; there was no involvement between our families. I’m talking about the way I saw my husband, how I felt about our future together, and the things I took for granted.
For the first time, I took an honest look at what I would do if my world was rocked in the same way. As a military family, we have a contingency plan in place for what would happen if my husband were to die in the line of duty. Financially, I would have time to figure out a new life. But what if he just… left? What would I do for work? I stopped teaching years ago, and truthfully have no interest in returning to the classroom. Our plan is for me to stay home to raise our children, and maybe work part-time doing something once they are in school full time. What WAS I qualified to do anymore?
It triggered a new drive for me, a desire to find a career that I could potentially support my family in the event that I had to. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m more committed to finding a real job that I could actually consider a career than I have been since I graduated college. It feels irresponsible of me to have neglected this for so long, to blindly trust that things would just work out the way I planned. It’s a hazard of being a stay at home mom and even more so in the military community where we move frequently. Helena thankfully already had a job she could consider a career, and I am still completely in awe of how she jumped right back into the workforce full time – not just working but excelling and promoting quickly. It didn’t come without bumps in the road as she navigated childcare and moving into a new home, but instead of justly complaining about the unfairness of being suddenly thrust into a full-time single mom life, Helena expressed the deep gratitude for being able to provide for her kids. Choosing gratitude for what I have instead complaining about a situation that can’t be changed is a lesson I benefit from daily.
I was reminded that we never really know a person all the way, maybe not even ourselves. I started questioning my husband every time he left the house, suddenly using our doorbell camera to snoop and see if there were ever any strange cars in front of my house when the kids and I were away. Let me be clear: my husband works full time from home, we see each other every hour of every day except when I am running errands with the kids, and he has not once EVER given me pause to think there’s something fishy going on. That didn’t stop my suspicion and hints that he was looking elsewhere. To his credit, he tolerated my crazies like a saint, and I have finally, more than two years later, begun to calm down.
However, it has also brought up many valuable and deep conversations between us – ones we had perhaps put on the backburner for too long. We have asked and honestly answered the question of “Are you happy in this marriage?” and “How can we treat each other better?” It’s easy to avoid those questions for fear of what the answers might be or make assumptions that the other person is just as comfortable as you are. I know they were hard conversations for us to have, but if they could prevent either us from being completely blindsided down the road, then they are worth having regularly. There are marriages that no amount of talking can save, especially if one person isn’t honest, but if things blow up at some point, I can give myself the peace of knowing that I tried to find out if my spouse was happy and expressed to him if I was not.
After the dust settled from the initial bomb, I learned that true friendships are so deeply important and oftentimes undervalued. In a day and age where we aren’t always within a stone’s throw of our own family, leaning out on the local sisterhood we’ve built for ourselves is the best way to make it through difficult situations. In-laws who always felt like family can disappear in the blink of an eye as they do what they feel they need to do to support their family member, and it can feel like an even bigger betrayal as those relationships crumble. Helena has always invested her time in cultivating real, lasting friendships with those around her, and I watched through happy tears as her friends stepped up the plate. She genuinely cares for others, and we were all honored to be able to care for her. It’s easy to be a Facebook friend, sending out likes and comments into the internet, but building friendships with people that actually show up when you need it is worth the time. Making meals for those who need it, offering to watch kids at stressful times, and listening while someone cries in the middle of the night are all work, but it is worthy work. I’ve spent more time in the last two years cultivating a tighter group of friends to do the mundane things in life with, instead of a broad group where someone is always planning something exciting. When I needed them desperately at the passing of my mother, they were there, and I’ll be there for them for the sad times, and the happy ones. Helena and I will run a race together this fall – she dedicated a marathon she ran last month to the memory of my mom – and I look forward to the laughs that will surely happen in the years to come. And when there are more tears, we will weather that together, too.
I wasn’t prepared for the way Helena’s divorce would change my life. I’m sure she wasn’t prepared for it to change her life, either. But sometimes, divorce just happens. It’s what happens after that matters so much.
How have you supported a friend, or been supported by one, as a marriage ends?