Roughly three weeks ago just before the holidays, I was about to call it a very long holiday season when a client entered my office with bloodshot eyes and a tan.
I sat her down on my couch and prepared her a cup of hot coffee. It took her awhile to get settled in and then she started out with an apology. She apologized for walking in without an appointment. I waved it off, saying it was no big deal. I then asked her what was wrong and her answer was very simple.
“I’m leaving my marriage.”
I thought of divorce or annulment at first, but she meant something else.
Leaving a marriage meant something else. So what does it mean?
Let’s call her Angela. Angela and her husband were married for seven years, but the last four years were very troubling for her. Her husband, let’s name him Andrew, let alcohol take control of him. One moment he was whipping her up a romantic dinner and the next moment, she found him with a brandy in hand and flat out told her “I have to drink to deal with you.”
Every day for the last year, Angela struggled with her husband’s alcoholism. She treaded carefully so as not to trigger an alcohol-fuelled outburst. They had gone on to marriage counselling but it only helped a little bit. A trial separation did nothing for them, or at the very least, break alcohol’s grasp on Andrew.
It wasn’t until the night before their trip to Borneo when Andrew, in a drunken stupor, walked up to the living room and said “We’re not married anymore and I’m not going on this trip.”
Heartbroken and on the verge of tears, Angela kept it together. She was unsure about what had happened. She was hoping the trip to Borneo would break him out of his alcoholism.
She boarded the trip to Borneo on her own and during the trip, it was she who had entered a moment of clarity. It was a trip that changed everything.
How to leave a marriage
As a counsellor, it’s rare for a client to say that he or she “is leaving the marriage” and I don’t think that you may equate this to being divorced or annulled.
At the very least, this is the equivalent of falling out of love. For Angela, the trip to Borneo gave her the insights that gave her the courage to walk out of her negligent husband and his frightening state.
Over the course of one weeks’ worth of counselling, I was able to narrow down these insights that allowed Angela to leave her marriage.
A moment of clarity
A moment of clarity is somewhat like an epiphany. You enter into a deep state of realization that some things are not the way they are anymore. A moment of clarity reminds you of the things that you enjoyed and the things that used to be a part of you long before you were married.
For Angela, the trip to Borneo gave her just that. Though alone, she was never really lonely. She had met new people and made new friends, something that she enjoyed doing and missed doing. She was reminded what it was like to go back into this happier and more independent way of living.
Living through the guilt and brokenness
Just as much as clarity can help you positively, it can also open you up to negative feelings. For Angela, she had to deal with the feelings of guilt and brokenness associated with a broken marriage. She had wanted their marriage to work, like she told me numerous times in our sessions, but she realized that the marriage needed more than her effort for it to survive. Andrew needed to contribute too.
Angela dealt with guilt and brokenness as she learned to navigate the world on her own again. Through the guilt and brokenness, she had found a deep belief that no one needed to struggle as much as she did. She was inspired to go on and continue living. Her journey had just begun.
Transforming into a new person
Tragedy does remarkable things to a person. For Angela, she was inspired to help other people who dealt with the same issues as she did. She became a divorce coach, in the hopes of helping women avoid what she had gone through in her marriage.
She used what she had learned in Borneo to transform divorced women into the whole, healthy person that they were meant to be. She used her marriage as an experience, as a navigational guide for others.
A marriage ending
There can be no happy ending when a marriage ends. A friend of mine once said, “maybe it’s not meant for everyone. Maybe some people are meant to settle down while others are meant to live alone.”
After hearing Angela’s story, I couldn’t have agreed with him more. As a counsellor, I never advice for separation or divorce – these are acts of last resort, when the marriage is beyond redemption. The sanctity and the wholeness of marriage goes beyond what two people can do to keep it together. Sometimes, marriage can also be survived with the help of our friends and families.