How a Separation Saved My Marriage – and My Husband’s Life
I remember looking at him as the words came out of my mouth: “I love you, but because I care, I need to let you go.” In that moment, I realized there was nothing more I could do. I asked my husband to leave our home that day.
The night we met reads like something out of a cheesy romance novel. Girl lives in the city, flies to the Midwest for the wedding of a dear friend. Boy is a touring musician, back in the Midwest for the wedding of his sound guy. Same wedding. Our friends put two and two together, realizing that although we had all known one another for nearly a decade, he and I had never met because we were both traveling and lived in different cities. A scheming introduction led to an evening of conversation, a few cocktails, dancing, and the exchange of numbers. I had an early flight the next morning, so as I saw the clock ticking, I knew it was time for me to go. We joke that I was like Cinderella dashing out of the ball as the clock strikes midnight.
He came to see me two weeks later. That was the start of a romance that would quickly grow into something more and eventually become our future. Marriage doesn’t come with Cliffs Notes or a “how to” manual. Nobody enters a partnership with another human having all the answers. We are all flawed and bring those imperfections into what we expect to be a flawless union. Life isn’t perfect, and marriage is no exception. It is a choice to walk through the messy together, hoping the tough times will be quickly countered with amazing moments.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to go through in my own marriage.
Several weeks after the birth of our first child, my husband came to me and asked if we could talk. In between sustaining a small human’s life with these two mounds that had taken up residence on my previously nonexistent chest and trying to manage to sneak in a nap here or there, I was happy to accommodate the request for some adult conversation.
“I think I have a problem.”
I didn’t quite know how to process it at the time, coming from the person who was supposed to be my equal partner in this crazy little thing called life. My husband had broken his ankle four months before our wedding and needed surgery. Little did I know an ankle surgery and years on the road had created a problem far worse than a broken bone. That conversation was the start of a five-year roller-coaster ride with addiction that nearly ended my husband’s life and our marriage.
I stopped looking toward what the future may look like and focused on the day to day.
Shortly after the birth of our son, we found out we were expecting our second child. It was during that pregnancy, all while climbing the ladder at work with hopes of landing a promotion to vice president, that the world around us came crashing down. We attempted to check my husband into a rehab center after nearly a year of trying to “fix it” on our own. Neither of us understood addiction nor had the capacity – in the middle of raising one baby while pregnant with another – to combat this disease on our own.
He didn’t end up checking in that day. Another year would pass before that finally happened.
Meanwhile, my pregnancy landed me on bed rest for several months. I was working from home, trying to manage a 1-year-old, not be on my feet, and weave through the throes of addiction. Anyone who knows about active addiction knows it’s complete chaos and can test every ounce of sanity for those around the person struggling. Watching someone you love wither away and become a shell of themselves, of the person you once knew. Every now and again, you get a glimpse of hope and see the person who existed before addiction swallowed them whole. Those tiny glimpses became the moments I would hang onto for dear life. Moments that became few and far between the longer we tried to do it on our own.
Six months after the birth of our daughter, my husband stood on a bridge just outside of where we lived, gun in hand, ready to end his life. I don’t know what went through his head in that moment, but he stopped. He tossed the gun into the lake and called me crying. Years later, he would tell me it was a picture of our family, our children, that stopped him.
When he arrived home, a friend and her husband stayed with the children, who were sleeping at the time, while I left to check my husband into a rehab facility. It was quite late by that point. I didn’t make it back to the house until just after 2 a.m. I got the kids dressed the next morning, got myself ready, dropped them off with the nanny, and went to work as though nothing had happened the night before. I was in the middle of the biggest campaign our company would see that year. The only thing I knew to do in the midst of facing personal hell was to pour myself into our kids and into my work.
Fast forward three years and three more attempts at rehab.
We had some amazing moments as a family in the months between each relapse. We created a beautiful life for our children, the life we had talked about when we set out on this adventure called marriage. Each time life would start to feel normal, addiction would rear its ugly head. Years of watching the man I married deteriorate. Raising two children on my own. Supporting our family while trying to rise through the ranks at work. It had run its course.
But I had made a promise the night my husband told me he had a problem, that I would never let addiction define our family. I would never let it dictate our life. I never wanted the circumstances of what we were going through to be an excuse, to be a reason not to pursue our dreams, our careers, to provide a decent life for our children. I spent the better part of those three years trying to hold it all together. I worked day in and day out to make up for everything addiction was trying to steal from our family. I was exhausted. I realized something needed to change, not just for my husband, but for myself.
That is when I asked my husband to leave. As I was staring him in the face asking him to give up on our marriage, what I was really asking him to do was to believe enough in himself to decide who he wanted to be. I realized there was nothing I could do that would help him.
This was an inside job. I could stand on the sidelines and support him from afar, but after years of trying, and growing fearful of losing myself in the process, I had no other choice. It wasn’t the first time I had asked him to leave our home over the course of the years. But what changed in that moment was that I finally let go. I let go of the expectation that our marriage would work. I let go of this idea of who I thought he was supposed to be. For months, I didn’t know what the future might look like. I did our holiday trip alone with the kids that year. I hired a nanny to help with the schedule a few nights a week. I carved out time to breathe. I learned how to be me again, without the cloud of addiction constantly over my head. The separation allowed me that space.
We were separated for six months when we started seeing a marriage counselor. We worked hard to mend the brokenness that had become of our life together. We worked our way back to a place of love and understanding, knowing we were committed to one another, to this family. There were bumps along the way. Five months later, my husband returned home. What I realized during that time is that every marriage goes through its peaks and valleys. So many of us are going through life, simply doing the best we can. The struggle may not be addiction, but everyone has something they struggle with that they bring into a marriage or that they carry with them through life. I learned to focus on the important things, which turned it all around for me. I stopped looking toward what the future may look like and focused on the day to day. Here are some tips for those in similar situations.
1. Find time for yourself every single day
Make a commitment to yourself. As we get busy in life with being a spouse, being a parent, having a career, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Even if it is 20 minutes in the morning, before everyone else is awake, find the time to focus on you. I would set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. each day (thank you, coffee) and meditate, followed by a 30-minute workout. That was my time every day, where nobody else needed me. I would allow myself the space I needed to center and feel balanced.
2. Make the choice
I made a choice early on not to allow addiction to define me or our family. I refused to let those hardships become me. Instead, I turned them into strength and let them guide me to a greater purpose, to the life I knew I deserved, that my children deserved. Make the choice not to be defined by your circumstances. Turn the struggle into something beautiful.
3. Surround yourself with people
Let others love you. I learned to lean on my friends and in doing so found so much joy in the small things like an evening on the back deck, enjoying a glass of wine, and laughing. I would carve out time to do dinner with friends. Lunch became my favorite hobby. I knew my children needed me, but I needed me too. I needed to have that time away from everything else. Time with my friends allowed me the freedom to feel like me without being pulled in a hundred different directions.
4. Let go
This was the hardest thing for me, but after years of struggling, it was what finally turned things around for our family. I let go of the expectations I had for myself, for our family, for my husband. Eventually, I let go of the pain and anger. In doing so, you allow love in.
5. Create a vision
Think about what you want. Envision the future you deserve. For me, I simply painted the picture of what I wanted and let life unfold accordingly, trusting that whatever happened, it would all fall into place just as it was supposed to be. I had no idea what that might look like, and I had to learn to be OK with that.
6. Learn to laugh
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. I tend to agree. Sometimes all we can do is learn to laugh at ourselves. Don’t take things so seriously that you forget to do so. There are funny moments in everyday, simple things. Find them and allow yourself to laugh!
Five years and six attempts at sobriety. Today, my husband is healthy. We are together. It wasn’t an easy road. There were so many moments where giving up would have been easier, where walking away would have been the easier choice. Addiction, like cancer, can creep up at any given moment. Instead of focusing on the wreckage of what might happen, we have learned to live for each day, maintaining a commitment to our marriage and to ourselves as individuals.
In asking my husband to leave that day, he was gifted the dignity to make his own decision about his future. Who did he want to be? What life did he want to live? Questions only he could answer for himself. I was able to do the same for myself. What we found is that years earlier when we stood in front of our friends and family exchanging those vows, we were still the same two people who loved one another dearly and wanted to build a future, life just looked a little different than we thought it would when we first set out. We changed our mindset, we took a step back, and we realized that in not giving up, we became stronger.
While the separation saved my marriage, it did far more than that. It saved my husband’s life. It saved my family.