Is this really what I want?
January 16, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

If this divorce is really what I want, why do I keep second-guessing myself?

A little background, feel free to skip.

My (soon-to-be-ex) husband are in our early 30's, dated for 5 years, were married for 3 and have been separated for 6 months. No kids. Our marriage started having problems around the beginning of the second year. He was drinking heavily (think drunk almost every weeknight and all weekend), we rarely did things together, and had zero sex life. I talked to him countless times about working on our relationship, and we had a failed attempt at marriage counseling about a year ago. In August, I finally hit my breaking point and moved out. The first few months after I left were insane - he quit drinking completely and sought a counselor for his anger issues (he has quite a nasty temper, which was made worse by the fact that he was drunk all the time). We went to counseling together for 4 sessions, and things just went from bad to worse. He felt that he was making major life changes and I wasn't responding appropriately or fast enough. To be fair, I didn't handle things perfectly, but he lashed out at me (verbally) a number of times during the separation and made me back off any attempts at working on things. I've been struggling with the decision to go through with the divorce since I left, and ultimately decided that it was for the best.

Now we are at the 6-months of separation mark, and the divorce petition has been drafted and is ready for my signature. I can't quit thinking that I am making a huge mistake. Tack on the fact that I have taken a new job and am planning a move to a new city as part of my starting-over process. It just feels like everything spun way out of control and I'm terrified that I'm doing the wrong thing. Despite the fact that the last 18 months of our marriage were utter hell for me, there were good times, at least early on, and I really thought I had married my best friend. At this point we aren't speaking at all unless it involves emails about legal stuff, and he has made it clear that he thinks I am the bad guy here. I look around and wonder how in the hell things got to this point.

So I guess my questions are:

1) If you initiated a divorce, did you know with no uncertainty that you made the right decision?
2) Is this nagging doubt a sign that I'm doing the wrong thing?
3) Thinking of the good times we had just makes me cry, and focusing on the bad stuff feels unhealthy, so what exactly am I supposed to think about?
4) Does it ever get better? I'm not a very emotional person (at all), and I think I have cried more in the last 6 months than I have in my lifetime. If I'm doing the right thing, why does it hurt so bad?
posted by tryniti to Human Relations (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've always thought there is a natural progression to events, thoughts, feelings, etc. If you're really not sure, then don't sign those papers yet. Is there any concrete reason it needs to be done right now? I think you should give yourself another six months, following through with all the plans you've already made. You just need a little more time, that's all. And there's nothing wrong with that. Give yourself permission to work through this at your own pace.
posted by raisingsand at 2:08 PM on January 16, 2012

-He was drinking heavily
-We rarely did things together
-Zero sex life
-Failed attempt at marriage counseling
-Things just went from bad to worse

Do not let dumpers remorse prevent you from getting yourself out of your failed marriage. Everyone is afraid of change, uncertainty, and loss at some point. Even if they are losing something that needs to go and changing for the better. Major life changes (whether good or bad) are scary, but that does not mean that they are not necessary.

You are doing your future self a favor.

Good luck to you!
posted by Shouraku at 2:14 PM on January 16, 2012 [20 favorites]

Is this nagging doubt a sign that I'm doing the wrong thing?

No. Shouraku describes it as "dumper's remorse" and honestly I think the majority of people initiating the end of a relationship experience it no matter how much sense--rationally and emotionally--ending the relationship makes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:16 PM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's natural to have some second thoughts before making a big life change. But that doesn't mean you should listen to them.

You haven't given any reasons for staying in your marriage. Why would you want to? Your soon-to-be-ex gets drunk every night and has anger issues. Don't stay with him out of some misguided sense of follow through on your marriage vows.

There are lots of fish in the sea. You can find a better one than this. Get past your second thoughts and move on with your life.
posted by alms at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've never been married or divorced, but I did date long-term someone with a substance abuse problem. The whole time we were dating all I could think was "OUR LIVES WOULD BE PERFECT IF YOU WOULD ONLY STOP DOING THAT STUPID SHIT!!" And I obsessed a lot about it, stayed longer than I should have, thinking if only, if only, if only. If only he did this, things would be better. If only he did that .... Perhaps you're feeling just a teensy bit of hope that hey, maybe he'll get over his issues and we can go back to the way things ought to be.

Unfortunately, it never works that way, and we need to accept the fact that people just don't change that drastically, ever. Best of luck to you.
posted by Melismata at 2:18 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

people who wait until you've reached your breaking point to make any of the changes you'd been begging for aren't people who are serious about making you happy. they're people who won't change unless their comfort is threatened. these kinds of people are also often masters of manipulation and diverting blame.

only you know if you should sign those papers, but i give you permission to take care of yourself and ignore any blame shifting.
posted by nadawi at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2012 [37 favorites]

I have never been married, divorced, or in a relationship that's lasted longer than a year or so, but I can say something about point 3 on your list despite all that.

I think the mind has an inherent desire to romanticize things that are failing in an effort to soothe the wounds that have been left by the decaying presence of a relationship that is no longer working. That may be why you still have this nagging feeling that's preventing you from giving yourself fully to the process of divorcing this man you've loved and probably still love. The bottom line is that even if there were good times, even if you felt like you married your best friend to start and that somewhere, that guy is still around, the fact of the matter is that the relationship paradigm you have right now does not work. It sounds like both of you are miserable. That's not what love is about. It's not. Love is hard, and marriage is even harder, but if your soon-to-be-ex has both a drinking problem and a temper problem, those are big things to bring to an already challenging situation. It doesn't sound like he's making changes in good faith either. Resentment leads to contempt. Partners should never reach that level with one another.

The nagging feeling you have right now might be a mixture of missing what you once had, loving him still, feeling remorse over sunk costs, and the general feeling of "what the flying fuck just happened" because relationships not working out are pretty much the most illogical and shitty thing our brains can encounter and that's okay. The real thing here is that it's just not working. Listen to your gut. As for what to think about, start thinking about the future. Envision yourself as fearless, as safe, and as embarking on a new part of your life. You can and will move on. Just start focusing on transforming your own life. It will be okay.

Ultimately, you are the expert on you, him, and your relationship. Do what's right for you, though. The rest will fall into place.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

You have mixed feelings because life, relationships, and marriage are complex, and bring so many different emotions and experiences. It'd be insane not to have some conflicting issues.

I did the "married my best friend" thing too, and it didn't work out. After seven years I initiated the divorce. She didn't want it, but after several attempts at marriage counseling, I decided it wasn't ever going to be what either of us signed up for.

I was conflicted for a while, and like you I cried more during that time than I had my entire life. But we went through with it, and I've never regretted making the decision to split. She took it pretty hard, but I think she's better off without me too, and she's put her life together in a way that never would have worked for me. I went my own way and am now in a much better, mutually satisfying relationship.

And FWIW, my situation was nowhere near as bad as yours sounds, with the drunkenness and meanness. You sound as justified as anybody who's ever sought divorce.

If I were you, what I'd be thinking about is making a new life for yourself at your new job in a new city. Good luck.
posted by Rykey at 2:23 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) If you initiated a divorce, did you know with no uncertainty that you made the right decision? It came down to me knowing that he will never truly change, so yes, it was the right decision.
2) Is this nagging doubt a sign that I'm doing the wrong thing? No, you're just scared that the flurry of "changes" he did might pan out and he'll turn into the husband you wanted. The fact that he got mad that you didn't believe in instant change makes me doubt he changed at all.
3) Thinking of the good times we had just makes me cry, and focusing on the bad stuff feels unhealthy, so what exactly am I supposed to think about? Focus on yourself. Think about your new job, etc.
4) Does it ever get better? I'm not a very emotional person (at all), and I think I have cried more in the last 6 months than I have in my lifetime. If I'm doing the right thing, why does it hurt so bad? Yes. It gets better, but it really will take time.
posted by Eicats at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2012

Thinking of the good times we had just makes me cry, and focusing on the bad stuff feels unhealthy, so what exactly am I supposed to think about?

You're supposed to think about the future and focus on how it will be healthier and happier for you. Think about your move to a new city and what you want to accomplish there. Focus on your new living quarters--how will you express yourself in the way you furnish them? Look up information about your new city. What is there to do there? Which activities are you going to participate in? Where do you want to go; what do you want to do there? Plan what trappings from the past you will shed, and what will be taken with you for your new future.

When you start obsessing about your ex and old relationship, divert yourself with the thought of a new and happier beginning with someone who will treat you as you deserve.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:41 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I broke up with someone I loved very much and had a very serious relationship with. It took me many months before I could really look at the good and bad parts of our relationship, objectively and as an 'outsider,' and say, yeah, I definitely made the right decision. At the time, I just sort of felt like I had to end it, and that feeling was ever-so-slightly stronger than the feeling that said I wanted to stay. It was extremely difficult, I second-guessed myself daily, and I am very, very glad that I stuck by my decision.

People don't talk that much about how hard it is to be the dumper. But it totally gets easier. You just have to stick with it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:06 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you someone who constantly second guesses themselves and thinks they do things mostly wrong? Do you find yourself taking responsibility for things because no one else will?
posted by anniecat at 3:11 PM on January 16, 2012

I have never been married or divorced, but I still thought I'd chime in to say...
The reason why you are doubtful is probably because you are making more than a few life changes which is difficult and scary for you. Things have been hell (your words) and yet you are doubtful because of familiar everything is. You know how things operate when you are in this city, with this person, and in this familiar environment. But, you are unhappy and that's why you need to make these changes as scary as they are for you.

Now in response to your questions...
1. I always follow my gut feeling and would advise you to do the same. What does your gut feeling say? Personally, I only know when I've made the right decision after I have made the decision and experienced a certain aspect of that decision. Sometimes you look forward to something and think "wow, that was such a terrible experience!" But, there are other times where you think negatively and have positive things happen which changes your perspective.

2. This nagging feeling is a sign that you are scared of change (in my opinion). This doesn't mean that you are doing the wrong thing, it means that you are scared and probably because you know that you are doing the right thing. The scary part is that it will lead to new things, unfamiliar things, and that it will change many things.

3. I've been through quite a few traumatic experiences, yet I would much rather think about something until it can no longer be thought about. The trick is not to regret things, but try to develop a better understanding of his side and your side rather than who was right and who was wrong. Perhaps you can even create a list of why you think this is a good idea (pros) and reasons why you have that nagging feeling (cons), but develop rebuttals for those cons.

4. I think most things get better with time. Allow yourself time to feel what you feel even if it's uncomfortable and allow yourself time to heal because this isn't easy, but it's what you both need (based on what you've written here).
posted by livinglearning at 3:28 PM on January 16, 2012

I can't see anything in your question that says that the two of you should stay together except for the fact that you a) married your best friend and b) things were nice at the beginning.

Well, he's not your best friend anymore and things aren't nice now. Focus on that.

You feel bad because change is bad and hard and you feel like you've failed. But you only fail if you continue to accept less than what you are worth and stay in the place where everything is miserable simply because that's what exists now.
posted by mleigh at 3:42 PM on January 16, 2012

One way to look at it is nothing is permanent. Nothing is black and white. Give it time. If you go and sign the papers it doesn't mean that you will not meet up with him in 10 years after he has really implemented his changes and you reconnect, fall madly in love and have a perfect life.

Then again, in 10 years, you will probably have moved on, met someone awesome and just don't care anymore.

My bet is on the second.
posted by Vaike at 3:57 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

he thinks I am the bad guy here.

If, after everything, this is still the case, then you have made the right decision. It also tells me that his recovery is going to take a lot longer than either of you might ever have imagined.

The hardest parts are over. Think of it that way. Of course you'll start to feel all these emotions you weren't letting yourself feel when there was still a hangnail of a chance that things could straighten out. You are mourning the loss of all the dreams you and he had together, and the dreams you had for yourself. Accept and explore these feelings, and then let them go. You've done the right thing.
posted by hermitosis at 4:33 PM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Divorce is one of the hardest, most unpleasant things you're ever likely to go through, right up there with the death of a loved one. It's absolutely natural that you're second-guessing yourself. I initiated a divorce, and I knew that it was the right decision, but I doubted it anyway, and kept backsliding. And, yes, crying. There are no magic remedies; you will be thinking of the good times and focusing on the bad stuff for a long time to come, so you might as well grit your teeth and brace yourself for a year or so of feeling rotten. But:

4) Does it ever get better?

Yes, it does. Trust me on this: once you get past that mandatory feeling-rotten phase, you will feel much better, ready to confront life and love again, and grateful to yourself for having done what needed to be done. In that, it's very unlike the death of a loved one. So look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel, and in the meantime, spend time with friends and do whatever you can to make yourself feel better. (On the advice of my brother, I spent a lot of money on jazz CDs; your mileage may vary.) Hang in there—you're doing the right thing.
posted by languagehat at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have not been married, but I have had a long-term, serious relationship breakup and my boyfriend has been through a divorce. So here's a take:

1) No.

2) No.

3) For me, I thought about both. But I also thought a lot about myself - what I learned about myself and what I wanted, where I wanted to go, what was next. How this was not the worst thing I'd ever have or would endure.

4) Yes. I don't know your ex, but it doesn't sound like there's anything left here. It hurts because frankly, it sucks. You're disappointed, hurt, angry, anxious, sad... you're all over the place. You didn't get what you signed up for - this time - and just because your ex is making strides to change doesn't mean you are obligated to stick around to see what comes out of it. You already gave it your all but the damage was and continued to be done... and now it's time to just put it behind you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point you will sign those papers and at some point after that, you will probably think "gee, what took me so long?"
posted by sm1tten at 5:05 PM on January 16, 2012

I've never been married, and cannot imagine how much more difficult this must be for you. But FWIW I recently broke up with my boyfriend, and have had the same doubts as you. And what made me sure that I did the right thing was the way my ex reacted after we broke up, pretty much exactly what you've described here: He felt that he was making major life changes and I wasn't responding appropriately or fast enough. To be fair, I didn't handle things perfectly, but he lashed out at me (verbally) a number of times during the separation and made me back off any attempts at working on things.

Translation: he made no changes to his own life until his own comfort was threatened, and then he felt entitled to demand that you come back to him as soon as he started to make changes. Everything on his terms, yes? This does not show genuine concern for you, only self-absorption - he's making changes only to get you back, not to make you happier or to be a better person in general. If you were to go back now, that would only get worse.
posted by jlibera at 5:41 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he is blaming you because you didn't accept some good intentions as complete improvement, he is nowhere near ready enough to accept the responsibility for his part in absolutely wrecking your relationship with his drinking. Even if he were to stop drinking completely it would only be the first step in dealing with the underlying problems he has with his anger and whatever other issues are keeping him from being the mate you saw the potential for. The two of you cannot make this work, ever, unless he is willing to take that whole long journey to sobriety and emotional good health.

I applaud your courage in getting out instead of trying to patch over this and prop him up until all that's left is going down with the ship.

This hurts like crazy because he is someone you love; you picked him and married him and that was real and it's something you've lost that's worth grieving over. Now he's listening to his disease and he's not who is was much less who he might have been. You had to leave so you can live. We can hope losing you might even serve as a wake-up call for him.
posted by Anitanola at 5:41 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) not initially, but much later, yes
2) no
3) anything else. For me, it was new hobbies plus more time at the gym.
4) you will never believe it til it happens to you, but it does. It really does.
posted by AV at 5:43 PM on January 16, 2012

Someone on AskMe wrote this line, and even though I've forgotten who or where to find it again, it seems to fit. When you're struggling with a decision like this, think about it from the perspective of you, talking to your future self. And keep repeating this: "Future Me with thank me for doing this now."

It's going to suck. But if you go back or even leave the door open a little, it will only suck more. And you're doing this for Future You, so don't let Present You, in the midst of an emotionally devastating time, sidetrack what should happen.

Good luck. Feel free to memail me anytime if you need someone to talk to.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:45 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My separation and subsequent divorce was absolutely the right thing for me, it's 7 years later, I am in a relationship with someone who is a much better fit on so many levels and I *still* sometimes have brief periods of wondering if getting divorce was the right choice. I know it was- but there is still the whole "what if" and the trying to tease out where and when things went so wrong. And I did awful things during my divorce too. There is a book called "Crazy Time" all about divorce and that pretty much sums up how I felt for years. Like a pp said- divorce is hard, and I would add it is messy emotionally for all involved and part of that is redrawing boundaries that you didn't have while married- which can be very hard. My advice is to put one foot in front of the other, to be gentle with yourself and know that it will take time to get to a better place.
posted by momochan at 6:24 PM on January 16, 2012

1) If you initiated a divorce, did you know with no uncertainty that you made the right decision?
No, I was not without uncertainty at first. Then I moved across country and got involved with someone else fairly quickly (which was great in some ways but also problematic in others, as it put my grieving for my marriage on the back burner), and while I still had some ups and downs and moments of second-guessing myself, it eventually became clear that starting a new life for myself was the right thing.

2) Is this nagging doubt a sign that I'm doing the wrong thing?
No way anyone here can say that. It is definitely possible to feel nagging doubt about doing the right thing, precisely because it's hard and it leads to the unknown.

3) Thinking of the good times we had just makes me cry, and focusing on the bad stuff feels unhealthy, so what exactly am I supposed to think about?
There's something to be said for distractions, but there's also something to be said about thinking about this stuff. It's how you grieve, which is necessary to get through it. Like I said, I put off a good deal of my grieving the end of my marriage for several years (until my immediate post-marriage relationship ended), and it didn't make it any easier on me. The end of a marriage is a great loss -- it's naturally filled with sadness, anger, fear, uncertainty, regret, ambivalence. Just because something hurts doesn't necessarily mean something is necessarily wrong, you know?

4) Does it ever get better? I'm not a very emotional person (at all), and I think I have cried more in the last 6 months than I have in my lifetime. If I'm doing the right thing, why does it hurt so bad?
YES. It absolutely gets better, even as that is literally unbelievable to you right now. My ex-husband and I have both moved on to wonderful, loving, healthy, amazing, supportive relationships with the partners we both know we're really meant to be with. It took time and pain for both of us to get where we were going, but we both did it and we're both glad we did.

The right thing is not necessarily the easy thing; in fact, the right thing is often the hardest thing. Change, upheaval, loss... these are all natural and inevitable facts of life. It doesn't mean they're easy or painless. It's so hard, what you're going through. It's a rough, rocky, steep road. You can sit down by the side of the road and cry all you want; it's totally okay to do that. And then at some point you get up and take another step, and then another. I know you can't believe it will get easier. It won't get easier right away. But it will get better. I know, it's crazy to even dare to think that. It's still the truth.

Hang in there, be gentle with yourself, and let yourself feel what you're feeling. The only way to get past it is to go through it. You can do it.
posted by scody at 7:36 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

  1. Can't answer, too complex. Generally "no" is the most common answer.
  2. No, it's a sign you have a heart still beating in your chest.
  3. You think about today and today only. Tomorrow you think about tomorrow only.
  4. Yes.
It sounds to me like there was nothing left there. I'm so sorry.
posted by ead at 9:37 PM on January 16, 2012

No, I don't think divorce is what you want. I think what you want is for your relationship to have worked. But it didn't. You didn't break it, and you can't fix it.

I think moving on is the right thing.
posted by macinchik at 11:02 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think I was married to this guy (not literally, but the type). He was an angry drunk, counseling didn't help, I was always the bad guy, etc. For a couple of years afterwards, I was a MESS.
Now things are AWESOME! It is ok to be scared and sad but you are doing the right thing and your awesome is on its way to you.
posted by pointystick at 5:45 AM on January 17, 2012

1) Not completely -- but I was more sure about the divorce than I had been about the wedding. What about you?

2) No, it's part of the mourning process, I think.

3) Think about you and the new life you're setting up for yourself. Think about the future.

4) It gets better. From my experience, it gets worse, then it gets better. Do what you have to do to take care of yourself through it all.

You cannot take care of another person and make things better for him. You cannot make this relationship work because, despite your hardest efforts, he doesn't seem to think there's anything that needs changing -- except for you to debase yourself completely and like it when he drinks and gets angry.

You can only make things better for yourself. Years after my divorce (not very many, but lightyears in terms of my emotional growth and stability) I still sometimes wish that I hadn't had to file for divorce. I don't wish I didn't divorce, mind you, but that I hadn't had to.

I know it's hard. Memail me if you'd like. It does get better.
posted by motsque at 6:22 AM on January 17, 2012

Just wanted to second everyone above who said that Future You will thank you for making this brave decision. I have never been married, but I DEEPLY understand how hard it is to sever ties with someone you love. The thing is, though: if you don't leave someone who has demonstrated over and over again that they are wrong for you, you will end up squandering even more of your limited time on this crazy planet. You owe it to yourself to move forward, towards your next big love.

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.
posted by jessca84 at 4:35 PM on January 17, 2012

I was in a long-term relationship with very different issues, but about which I felt the same thing. It was terrible being in it, and it was terrible ending it, and i just want to echo what everyone else wrote above.

The fact that he blames you for everything is a sign of HIS DYSFUNCTION, not your fault. Healthy, mature people are able to take blame for problems and try to address them. They don't expect the world to clap its hands and praise them for beginning to make an effort in the world.

You are feeling bad for a lot of reasons:
- You wanted the marriage to work and it didn't
- You are going through a lot of changes

and not least
- This guy is telling you awful things about how it's all your fault

Removing the last cause will help things get a bit better and let you get on to grieving and then the rest of your awesome life!
posted by 3491again at 4:48 PM on January 17, 2012

A relationship that exists in the context of alcoholism has its own unique features and complications; it has its own psychological dynamics that are sometimes really hard to see from the inside (and even the outside).

Might I recommend attending an Al-Anon meeting? Al-Anon is a support group for friends and family members of alcoholics; the premise is that the sickness of alcoholism is a family illness and that you, as the wife, are affected in many ways by it. You may find that there are people there who share your experiences in a way that friends who are leaving (or have left) marriages in which drinking was never a problem, don't quite.

I myself was in a marriage with an alcoholic and didn't attend Al-Anon until six years after the marriage broke up. It was only then (in these meetings) that I was able to make sense of a lot of the dynamics and behaviours that therapy and even conversations with the most well-intentioned friends could not make sense of.

This site can help you find a meeting in your area.

Bon courage, whatever you decide.
posted by Clotilde at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2012

PS: Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk more. I'm a woman in her mid-thirties; I was the one who initiated the separation and divorce, and like you, was nowhere close to 100% certain I was making the right decision, and like others on this board, had doubts for years, but finally have come to peace with my decision as the best one I could have made for my health and sanity. My ex and I are now friends.
posted by Clotilde at 6:36 AM on January 18, 2012

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