The Truth about Divorce: I Didn't Quit, I Survived

Crystal Jackson

I was recently in a cafe, minding my own business and working on my book. Across the room, I could hear an elderly man, in a voice none too soft, expounding at length on the flaws of the American female. I could hear him lecturing his contemporaries on how these women are often divorced at least once with multiple children and working full-time jobs to the detriment of their children. In his view, we- these divorced mothers- are the downfall of society--or the evidence of it at any rate.

It reminded me of the experience of going through my own divorce, and how I would often hear talk about how people “just give up” on their marriages. As if somehow we just weren’t willing to make it work and didn’t give it everything we’ve got. The total lack of compassion or even understanding of the traumatic experience of divorce was everywhere. It made going through an already difficult situation that much harder.

While there are those who treat marriage and divorce casually, I would say that most of us went into our marriages filled with hope and ideas of forever. We never intended to be divorced, and yet here we are. But here’s the truth about marriage and divorce:

Every woman I know who is now divorced fought like hell to save her marriage — before finally deciding to save herself instead.

While I understand that this doesn’t universally apply to women only, it does apply to the women I know. At a certain point, we realize that the ship is sinking, and so many of us have children who need rescuing. We get off the damn ship and start looking for a lifeboat — a whole new life that we have to create out of little more than grit and the knowledge that our children deserve better than the example of a marriage that’s broken. We didn’t give up. We saved ourselves, and we saved our children.

We didn’t quit our marriages; we survived them.

When we realize that we can’t single-handedly make a relationship with another person work, we have to choose ourselves. We begin to hear our hearts screaming for us to get out. We begin to honor our intuition, which tells us that this situation isn’t healthy for us. We realize that it’s our responsibility to do whatever it takes to make our lives better.

We come to a point of understanding that we cannot save our partner. We begin to understand that they are no longer our partners when they choose not to fight for the relationship. We realize the relationship is over already, and we begin to take the steps to make that final.

We take the steps toward divorce, no matter our circumstances, no matter how difficult it will be to live without this relationship or the financial support of being coupled. We leave no matter how counterintuitive it is to walk away from something in which we’ve invested so much of our lives. We leave, all the while grieving what our children will have to experience as the children of divorced parents.

This isn’t a matter of giving up or quitting. It’s not that we didn’t fight for our marriages or just wanted the freedom that comes with divorce. This is a matter of accepting things as they are and choosing to live the best life that we can under the circumstances.

I’ve found that many of us come out of these trials only to be painted as the villains. We become the bad guys in another’s story. The ones we leave often find it easier to play the victim than to accept responsibility for their role in the demise of the marital unit. When we go through a divorce, we often lose the support of people we had long considered family as they choose to believe this story. Even friends can be lost, as they pick their sides.

Divorce isn’t easy, no matter how it may seem from the outside.

It changes us in so many ways, and it often makes it more difficult to trust others. It’s important to support one another through these difficult times. Sometimes all the support we need is a listening ear.

What we don’t need is unsolicited advice or the secret to how your relationship has worked. We don’t need judgment or commentary about how easily people leave their marriages these days. We don’t even need encouragement about our future relationship prospects at this point. We need our support system to stand strong with us through the process, letting us move through it at our own pace.

I was deeply private about my divorce when I went through it. No one can completely understand a relationship from the outside, and I’ve been mindful of respecting the relationship between my ex and our children. I share the story of my journey through — and coming out on the other side — in hopes of helping others hold on through the difficult days that seem impossible to manage. If I can offer a lifeline to someone who feels like they’re going down with the ship, then I’ve turned my struggle into something strong and beautiful.

Divorce has been transformative for me. It’s been the catalyst for many new life choices. I’ve been able to dream again and to create the kind of life with my children that I’ve always wanted. It’s allowed me to be strong, and perhaps more authentic than I’ve ever been. I’ve certainly lost my ability to tolerate any level of bullshit. In losing that particular filter, I’ve been able to be real and raw about my struggles, which has allowed me to build closer relationships with the people I love.

I processed all of the old stories I once relied on to define me and began to create a new life story for myself. I started unpacking my baggage and traveling a hell of a lot lighter, endlessly manifesting joy and turning my pain into beauty.

We can allow our struggles to define us or to transform us.

In the difficult process of simply bearing up under them, it’s essential that we feel love and support around us. In the end, we did whatever it took to save ourselves when we could no longer save our relationships. We come out of it under the weight of our own disappointed hopes and the judgment of all the people who look at divorce as an easy solution rather than the gut-wrenching nightmare that it is.

When I see another man or woman struggling through that process, I often offer a kind word and a listening ear, knowing that they would certainly rather have a happy marriage with the promise of forever than divorce court, legal fees, and the heartache of a dissolving union.

We’re not giving up. What we’re doing is choosing to live the best lives we can under challenging circumstances. We choose ourselves. We choose our children. We choose not to surrender the rest of our lives to a marriage that isn’t healthy. We choose to let our children see healthy ways of managing divorce and co-parenting, and maybe one day they’ll have the opportunity to see us in happy, healthy relationships that serve as a model for their own future relationships.

We’re not quitting. We’re choosing to survive, to thrive, and to create joyful lives.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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