As the fifth of eight children growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother struggling to make ends meet, I concluded early in life that taking care of myself was mostly up to me. Thirty years later and in an unhealthy marriage I still clung to that childhood belief.
As my marriage continued in a desperate decline, I remained cautious with confidants. Countless kind friends were willing to give a listening ear or a bit of advice, but the combination of my fear of being found out and my shame for being in a bad marriage kept me acting like the little girl with no one to help her with her homework.
In the sorrowful season leading up to my divorce, I kept a journal to help keep my sanity. Looking back on my words, I see the powerful influence of friends and family who refused to wait for me to reach out.
They helped me see. My blind spots. The places where I lost perspective because I was too close. The truth that I didn’t want to look at because it was too horrible to see.
His brother says it is a shame that I had to take all of the “abuse” that I did. I make note of his choices of words.
She says she has flashes of fear for my personal safety.
“You’ve already decided. I can hear it in your voice.”
They spoke courageously. They spoke truthfully about their observations, despite the risk of upset to me. They were more interested in my welfare than avoiding offending me.
She referenced my being “Soft Shoe Sue.”
“You’ll be horrified at what people will say about him after you separate.”
“Things haven’t changed, even though you may have changed.”
They encouraged me to act. Beyond listening generously, they invited me to take the next step. They didn’t make me wrong, but they didn’t let me alone either.
She asked me what I am doing to prepare. She told me I don’t worry enough. That he’s more clever than I am.
“You’re being set up. See a lawyer.”
My sister Diane said, “Get a mean lawyer. If there’s anything I can do…”
They were there for me. Without my even asking, they offered. They were present, kind, loving. Despite years of my being in a situation that wasn’t improving, they didn’t give up on me.
She listened until 3 a.m.
“Here’s the key to my house.”
“What can I do?”
Lucky for me, friends and family members didn’t wait for me to enlist their help. They stepped up and spoke up. They offered support instead of judgment. The loved me through it.
Gretchen, Melodee, Carole, Diane….all who saw me through the divorce decision journey taught me that I was no longer that abandoned child. I was a grown woman capable of letting in the help that was offered. I could take the next step to move forward with my life. And for the rest of my life I can remember with gratitude the extraordinary impact of empowering family and friends.
If someone you care about is experiencing a troubling time in their marriage, don’t wait for them to ask for your help. Reach out. Show your concern. Ask thoughtful questions. Offer your support. Acknowledge them for doing their best.