Ken and I don’t talk publicly about the end of our marriage. The main reason is that it is none of anyone’s business. It’s an interwoven tale that took two-plus decades to write and it’s still being written. It’s been six years since we lived under the same roof – but what we don’t advertise is that we talk and text every single day, vacation with our kids, spend holidays together and remain staunchly committed to being as close as possible. It’s not something that every divorced couple can manage, and it is a little weird when I try and explain it. But it works. And it’s wonderful.
Recently a friend of mine that I like and respect a lot wrote a personal note about the transition of her marriage – similar to our situation – and she noted that she shared because there are so many people that might benefit from hearing about her journey and the love they were able to preserve and how they’re able to successfully co-parent.
That resonated with me. As a former “church leader” it occurred to me that by not sharing MY story and in some parts, with his permission, Ken’s intersectional story, it might seem like I was suffering in silence or toughing out a bad divorce – when nothing could be further from the truth. We’re still living our happily ever after and we are still committed to “til death do us part” — it just looks a lot different than what we expected when we signed up for this gig.
There isn’t just one reason why Ken and I decided to end our marriage. In fact, we’re still legally married. Only because we’re both preoccupied with other things and not because there isn’t any latent “let’s just give it one more try” impulses. Good Lord, we did that 27,918 times. It didn’t work, and that is okay. People grow, change, and evolve. It’s one reason why I can’t really judge anyone who ends a marriage that no longer serves them. It no longer made any sense for Ken, the popular extrovert who never met a stranger and wanted to live in a small town where everyone knew his name to remain married to Chelle, the socially anxious introvert who basically hated small-town life and wanted to travel and live in a place she could be removed from the gossip mill for-ev-er. My faith changed and I no longer embrace Christianity. He remains committed to his faith. It was hard to live and work together. And dare I mention how much time was spent at the theater and band gigs? Not my scene. Definitely his happy place.
We didn’t grow apart, as the cliche goes. We just grew. As people. We figured out who we were individually, and that felt selfish when it wasn’t inclusive of the other person, which it mostly wasn’t. For years, we suppressed those changes and desires. And then we both started adding activities and things separate from one another. It felt foreign and strange and a little lonely. We both tolerated the changes the other person experienced, but it was getting harder and harder to find common ground. And neither of us wanted to give up the new things that made them happy. We figured out that we didn’t have a lot of intersection beyond the kids, and they were off to college, so… it emphasized that we were very different people, with very different needs and we were trying to honor something that didn’t make sense or make us happy as a couple. And that was frustrating because we should be able to fix this. No one cheated. No one beat the other person. What was so wrong that we couldn’t stick it out and fix it?
Except, I think we can understand with the benefit of hindsight and a shit-ton of therapy, that “fixing it” meant we would have to give up the truth of who we were NOW and who we genuinely wanted to and should be. And we would have to try and pretend to be people we simply were not anymore. The genie wasn’t going back in the bottle.
There were other things, all marriages have them, but the core of marriage is two people that fundamentally fit together as a couple. And we didn’t anymore. It was excruciating to admit, and because we were tethered to a faith that had some pretty traditional rules for what we were dealing with, we just carried on. Until we couldn’t. And that was both freeing and terrifying at the same time.
I married Ken at 20 years old. I won’t claim that I was too young, because I knew exactly what I wanted, and I don’t have a single regret. None. Swear. He saved me and I saved him. It’s that simple. We loved each other and struck out to build a life together, and we did. Kelsea was born 18 months later and Cat 3 years after that. We raised them to be thoughtful, articulate, compassionate kids and they’ve exceeded every expectation we imagined as they’ve grown into adults. They had fun childhoods. We vacationed and lived in cool places. We yanked them out of school for every movie premiere of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and, yes, Twilight. #FanGirl. We built toboggan runs on the side of our house and had a full DJ and light kit setup complete with disco ball for random dance parties. We were the cool house. We were cool parents.
I wish I could say our decision to end the marriage was made in some flower carpeted meadow on a picnic blanket while we channeled Gwyneth Paltrow’s Conscious Uncoupling wisdom. That definitely didn’t happen.
We burned the motherfucker down. We broke up and got back together. We cried and tried. He moved out, then back in. I moved to California for a few months. It was ugly texting and screenshots and accusations and a lot of back and forth blame and hate. I numbed myself with anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants and gained 60 more pounds. He escaped into busyness. Therapists recommended that we split up and move to different countries. No joke.
For nearly 18 months, and some smattering occasionally since, we raged and fought and warred. Until we didn’t. I don’t remember the catalyst. I don’t remember the conversation. I just remember one day we were texting something funny back and forth trying not to be assholes to one another, and we added our girls and the #FamSpam chat was born. And it felt… right. It felt like the 4 of us were in the room laughing again, and it grew from there. We both recognized that this was precious and perfect. This connection was what we really needed to salvage.
So we started there. And then we started talking again. I moved to Austin and got my shit together. He started running and got healthy. And slowly, we unpacked the good stuff – not to gloss over the bad, but to recognize that it wasn’t ALL bad. We loved each other then – and we still loved each other. Beyond just co-parenting. Before there was a family, there was a couple. And before the couple, there were two friends.
So now, that’s what we are. Two best friends that have been able to figure out – after a lot of tears, breakdowns, and words – that we loved each other too much to stay together as a couple He loved me so much that he knew I wouldn’t ever be happy with what he had to offer me. And I knew that I loved him so much that I had to let him live his life and stop pushing him to live my version of our story.
Realizing that was like exhaling after holding your breath for a decade. A big Lamaze breath. All the bad air released from where we had been holding it. It brought new life to our conversations and we were able to laugh about things that shouldn’t be funny. But they were.
Next year we’ll celebrate 30 years of marriage. And hopefully, we’ll be divorced by then. But that doesn’t make it any less worth celebrating. Our happily ever after is ours. It’s weird and wonderful and unique. It’s hard-fought and carefully navigated. We’re proof that it’s possible for two people to change and grow and keep the very best parts of their history and love with someone, and also create a new day to day life that doesn’t revolve around the other person. I’m incredibly lucky to have kept this wonderful man in my life. I hope he feels the same. I know it’s made things much easier on our girls, but in the end, it wasn’t for them. It was for us.