Reflections on life after divorce

I miss my wife.

I thought that as time went on, it would get easier. Maybe in some respects, it has. I don't have the emotional valleys, the breakdowns, that I once did. But there's a general sense of sadness that I feel of no longer being able to "do life" with my best friend. I miss her humor, her intellect, her ambition, her tenderness. I miss our conversations over all manner of subjects from serious to silly, and I miss the things we'd do together - shopping dates, brunch or cocktail dates, walks, or just spending time together with our favorite shows. While I'm fortunate to have two of our three dogs, I miss seeing the happiness they brought her.

In some respects, I feel like it might have been easier to move on were it not for the way things ended. That fateful weekend I moved out, she said she loved me, held my hand tightly, tearfully told me she didn't want me to move, kissed me tenderly, and said, "I have a feeling this isn't the end for us." How do I move forward with that? How do I abandon hope for the love of my life? It might have been easier if she'd said she was done and never wanted to see me again.

An acquaintance of mine recently posted something that really hit home: that she finds strength in gratitude. I realized that throughout all our difficulties over the past years, I never stopped being grateful - for our friendship, our love, and for the countless small moments of happiness we shared even as our marriage marched toward its end.

Looking back, I feel strongly that her desire to end our marriage wasn't at its core about me, or us. We certainly didn't have an idyllic marriage, but I'm confident that if you surveyed couples and asked them questions like "Do you wish you had more quality time together," or "Do you wish you had a more fulfilling sex life," or "Do you wish you better communicated your financial outlook and goals," you would find a lot of answers in the affirmative. Partnerships aren't about avoiding problems or even "fixing" them so they're gone; they're about working through those challenges together, as a team. Compromise, communication, understanding, patience, and most of all good faith are all essential components to a strong relationship.

During counseling, I was repeatedly told not to react defensively, so I didn't stand up for myself when I should have. I felt like the fault of our difficulties was being placed squarely on me and, worse, that I was expected to fix them all just for the mere chance that she would stay and affirm our partnership. I felt that her grievances were fair, however, and did my best to make meaningful changes. In retrospect, that feels absolutely absurd. While I did make mistakes and I was right to make changes, I was not the cause of our relationship difficulties. She contributed to them as well, and working through them as partners would mean she would have to acknowledge her failures while seeking to understand and meet my needs just as I did for her. Those challenges can only be navigated together, as partners. Our partnership, our commitment to one another, should never have been contingent on any issue being "fixed."

As the end neared, I felt taken for granted. I felt that we had so many wonderful things to be thankful for. While we had difficulties, I never doubted that as a team we could navigate them and, over time, grow closer and stronger. I could not understand why she felt compelled to end our relationship. She would often say that I was her best friend, even in the worst of times toward the end. I remember telling that to my counselor, who looked puzzled and said, "That's the foundation for a wonderful marriage."

The day after we went to mediation - unquestionably a horrible day - I took her out on a dinner date. We had a blast. That month, we went on quite a few dates. We'd talk when I got home from work, and vent about our days or laugh or talk about random things. It was nice. At one point toward the end of the month, she said, "I have to admit things have been really good lately." I felt a glimmer of hope. But it wasn't long after that she coldly told me she still expected me to move out, that nothing had changed. And yet I still chose to treat her with love, and remember that sense of gratitude every day for the short time we had left.

That last weekend, as I was moving out, I saw in her what had been missing from her gaze for a long time: that same sense of gratitude. In those last moments, she saw how much beauty we really did share together. What she perhaps didn't realize, and what I didn't have the clarity of thought to tell her in the moment, is that I had been fighting for that the whole time. It might sound pop-psychology simplistic, but I genuinely believe that gratitude underpins any strong relationship. All partnerships will go through deeply challenging times - and that is when it's critical not to let yourself be consumed by resentment, but to remember the many wonderful things you share together.

I've resolved not to contact her unless I have to (such as sorting out financial details), and I think that's the only healthy thing I can do. Despite my hopefulness - not held without good reason, I believe - the reality remains that she did go through with the divorce and I do have to do my best to move on. Right now, I mostly want to be alone. I need time to reflect and become accustomed to my new normal. I am, for now, open to a conversation with her. But I don't know how long that openness will last because, deep down, I know that I am worth fighting for. I won't wait around forever. So I pick up the pieces a little bit each day, and move forward one step at a time. For now, though, I miss her. I miss us.

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