Ours was a classic story of getting married too young. I was unsure of my identity, and he was too sure of his. We each had something to prove. For me, it was that I could live a normal, picturesque life. For him, it was that he could do it all better than others.
We were great friends and fantastic partners when it came to the logistics of life. He brought attention to pragmatic matters, and I brought attention to adventure. Since we were both frugal and valued similar experiences, we never fought about money and generally had enough to live the life we wanted.
From the outside, we were perfect. People often remarked how well suited we were for each other, and we put on a brilliant show. We flirted with each other at parties, gallivanted across the globe, and adopted pets with adorable names. Most days, we believed our own act.
Behind the scenes, we were a disaster. Tempers soared. Our fighting was bitter and cutting and frequent. We said things we could never take back, and we intentionally aggravated each other’s neuroses. We insulted and accused. We shouted and shoved. We slammed doors. We threw objects. Once, he twisted his ankle chasing me down a flight of stairs. Another time, I threatened him with a heavy, metal poker case.
Resentment boiled over the years, and our fighting became secondary to cold indifference. We forgot how to speak to each other or how to have fun together. We shuffled through our house, on the unbearable days we both occupied it, doing anything to avoid time in the same room.
He wielded sharp, cruel words against me, and I eventually checked out. I found affection elsewhere. I turned to an affair for comfort and support, and when I came home to our marriage, I was shocked by the dearth of kindness.
After six long years of tearing each other apart, we had become resentful shells of our former selves. Our hearts were mutually broken, and we couldn’t fix the trust we’d destroyed. Our anger boiled to one climactic episode of violence, and I finally decided to leave.
Fortunately, our shared values and logistical partnership proved useful in the splitting of our lives. We both cared a great deal about privacy and maintaining dignity, so we managed to keep it a secret for months before anyone, including family, found out. We wanted to be sure we made the right call before we faced the humiliation of a failed marriage.
By sharing a secret, we began to reestablish trust. By minding each other’s dignity, we began to redevelop compassion. By listening to each other’s stories, we began to rediscover our individual identities.
During the first six months of our separation, we continued to fight. The pain was too fresh, and we each felt compelled to twist the finger of blame, to account for this disaster, to make our accusations known. Many phone calls ended in tears, shouting, and hang-ups, but we worked through it.
Maybe it was that we finally recognized the futility of our anger. We saw that we could never solve what was wrong between us, so we were forced to either accept it or not. Not accepting meant we’d be out of each other’s lives for good. Accepting meant forgiveness. It meant making the conscious choice to swallow anger and to stay calm and kind.
Oddly, I think it was when we both got into our first post-marital relationships that really cemented our friendship. For the first time, we were able to talk about our lives on equal footing, each of us happy with someone else. It was hard and strange at first, but the comfort of knowing we were both in good places—and in all likelihood, the fear of being replaced—helped us move toward a relaxed rapport.
By the time both of those relationships dissolved, we had established the kind of loving openness and acceptance that was missing from our romantic relationship. We no longer had use for lies or deception, and we started talking about everything, including sex with other people, the occasional recurrence of romantic feelings for each other, regrets, hopes, jobs, friends, movies, books, neuroses—everything. He has become the person I can call whenever I’m in the dark because I know I can count on him to tell me, “You’ve got this.” In return, I help where I can, offering insight on relationship quandaries or personal challenges.
We share stories about our families—things that only someone who’s been in the trenches with you can understand. We revisit inside jokes. We celebrate birthdays. We recommend reading.
Sometimes it breaks my heart to know we couldn’t be this good to each other when we were together. I wonder how the kind, patient people we’ve become can be the same ones who screamed and threatened and betrayed each other when we were “in love.”
It doesn’t really matter, I guess. We weren’t good to each other then, but we are now. We had to go through hell to get here, but here we are.
He has a new girlfriend now, and she sounds lovely. One day, I’ll meet her, and maybe someday I’ll introduce a partner of my own. Whatever comes our way, I’m confident that we can handle it and that we’ll be in each other’s lives a long time. It’s possible I have never had more faith in another person than I do in him right now.