the day i knew my marriage was going to make it couple embracing in front of sunset
Jana Cruder/The Licensing Project
Jana Cruder/The Licensing Project
Relationships

The Moment I Realized My Marriage Would Survive

We'd had a rough go of it, my husband and I.

That morning was no different than any other. In fact, if anything, the morning I had my epiphany was comfortingly chaotic. In the midst of yelling at my teens to collect their backpacks and trying not to step on the dog who was underfoot because she needed to be let out, I ran up to my room to grab a sweatshirt before heading to the bus stop. As I barged into our bedroom, I caught a glimpse of my husband brushing his teeth at the sink.

We’d had a rough go of it, my husband and I. Over the previous 18 months, we found ourselves sitting on a therapist’s couch, trying to sort out almost 20 years of hurt and resentment. We’d lost our way somehow, in the throes of raising kids, managing careers and house projects that never seemed to end. On that fateful morning when it all came crashing down around us, he’d looked deep into my eyes with a pained expression on his face when I told him I wanted a divorce.

“Don’t you think you owe it to us to at least try therapy before you walk out the door?” he’d quietly asked. Though the gap between us seemed insurmountable, I agreed to join him in couples therapy. But I was dubious.

And so, that’s how we found ourselves in the sunny Victorian office, with its soaring windows and comfortable suede couches. I was there, with one foot out the door; he was resigned to the fact that I might leave, even after we’d talked things through; and our therapist was willing to help us make sense of the shattered mosaic that our marriage had become.

For 18 months, we’d talked. We’d cried. We’d reached new understandings about who we were as individuals and where we were going as a couple. As my husband was fond of saying, 18 months in, the forest fire had been put out and the hot spots had been extinguished one by one. We were rebuilding our charred remains, unsure of how it was all going to turn out.

Eighteen months in, I worried that we hadn’t done enough to plant the seeds of understanding and forgiveness. Had we done enough to ensure that we were both in this marriage for the long haul? Had we made it through the worst of it?

I still wasn’t sure on the morning I was searching for a sweatshirt.

As I dashed into my closet to quickly grab it, I caught a glimpse of a beige cable knit sweater, one of my favorites for a cold winter morning. I stopped and ran my fingers over the cables and thought about having to pack that sweater into a moving box. As I scanned the closet — and the clothing I’d worn for all of our family milestones — my eyes filled with tears.

In all of the bickering and arguing and talking things through, I’d never considered the permanence of moving out of our shared family home. I’d never considered what it would be like to actually move out of my marriage.

Though my mind told me to hurry because bus stop duties were calling, my heart clung to the moment in my closet. I stood there, rooted in the memory of the night I wore that cable knit sweater years before on an anniversary trip to New England with my husband. We’d had clam chowder and we’d stayed at a bed and breakfast that was impossible to find on a map. And we’d walked on cliffs by the ocean, hand in hand.

My eyes glanced over and saw the black dress I’d worn to my father’s funeral. My husband’s arms had enveloped me as I’d dissolved into sobs I thought would never end. That black dress would have to be packed into a moving box, too.

I quietly took in the contents of my closet and realized that leaving a marriage is as physical as it is emotional. It had never dawned on me that the life we’d created, the home we’d lovingly decorated together, would have to be dismantled, piece by piece, picture by picture.

As I wandered out of my closet, I looked at the family portrait on the wall, taken many years before on a beach in Florida. Who would take that picture? Would every picture we’d taken as a family suddenly be tossed into a box, never to be displayed again? The weight of dismantling our lives was crushing.

I turned and looked at my husband, his towel casually wrapped around his waist, his hands washing off the toothpaste from his face the way I’d seen him do every day for over 20 years.

Sure, we’d lost our way.

But, as I stood in the doorway of our bathroom, I knew that I wasn’t ready to send him packing. I wasn’t ready to pack up our memories and start over in a new home. And I wasn’t ready to wear that cable knit sweater in a home where he didn’t live, too.

My husband glanced at his watch on the counter, looked over at me and said, “Hey, don’t you have to get going?”

“Not just yet,” I said.

Our eyes met and I smiled.

And I walked back to my closet to exchange my sweatshirt for my beloved cable knit sweater on my way to the bus stop.

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the day i knew my marriage was going to make it couple embracing in front of sunset
Jana Cruder/The Licensing Project