In July of 2009, as we packed to go to a July 4th pool party, my husband announced, “I don’t love you. I don’t think I have ever loved you.” After 13 years of marriage and three children, this was the reality we now had to deal with. What do you do when your life comes crashing down?
For many reasons, we had grown apart. We both worked and took the kids in a hundred directions that the time and space apart built walls, resentments, and barriers that would be tough to break through. Taking care of ill parents and helping to financially support family added layers of bitterness to the large wall between us. It was clear with his resignation to the marriage that there was someone else involved and that added more fear, insecurity, and pain to the process of rebuilding or separating. After six months of counseling and trying to put the pieces of the marriage together, Chris decided that his desire to leave the marriage was firm. He made it clear he would not reconsider his decision, and he planned to move out.
But how to tell the children? What do you tell the children? When? Where? While I was an adult and I could take responsibility for my part in the failure of the marriage, the children were the victims of our failures. Chris was certain that the children would be okay, but I knew better. I knew after years of teaching teenagers that the effects of divorce were deep and painful and difficult for children to manage and overcome. Because both of us are non-confrontational people, the children had never seen us fight, bicker, much less disagree. We both worked to keep the peace and give the children a safe and comfortable house to grow up in. How could they possibly be prepared to deal with a house whose foundation had crumbled without ever having to deal with a minor crack or a small rip in the simple structures of the frame? The answer: they weren’t.
We sat the children down together to explain that we were separating. The twins were 6 and our oldest son was 9. The twins did not really understand what was going on or what this new knowledge meant for them. But Quinn had friends whose parents had divorced. He knew this new reality meant moving, switching from home to home, different rules at different houses, no more family vacations. He understood the gravity and seriousness of the announcement, but it made no sense at all. He kept asking why? Saying, “I don’t understand. Why is dad moving out? I haven’t even seen you argue. This doesn’t make sense.”
Chris was confident that over time the kids would adjust just fine and learn to embrace their new reality. I wanted to believe he was correct but knew deep down that it wasn’t going to be so simple. I prayed for God to put our family back together. After many talks and failed attempts to reconcile the marriage, I knew that only God could heal the marriage. I believed in miracles and prayed that He would put our family back together for the glory of His name. I trusted in Him alone.
The first few months of separation, we traded off time in the house so the children would not have to be inconvenienced by our failure to stay married. The main change for the children was that they were never with us at the same time. This new situation was actually not much of a change because we often “traded” off and took turns parenting due to our hectic schedules. However, one evening after about one month of separation, Quinn was convinced that the separation was his fault. He knew that a lot of conflict in the house was usually triggered by something he said or did. Quinn is an extremely strong-willed child, head strong, stubborn, outgoing, and active. We often disagreed on how to manage him or discipline him. The logical conclusion for a nine-year-old then was that the current problem must have been caused by him. While eating dinner one night, Quinn declared to me, “This is all my fault. I caused dad to leave.” He cried and sobbed, and there was absolutely nothing I could do or say to console him or convince him that he was wrong. He firmly believed in his heart and soul that the he was the main reason for the failure of our marriage. He ran to his room and cried. No amount of prayer, no soothing words, no tender touch could reach his place of pain. I was helpless, and I was to blame for my child’s suffering.
Often Quinn would repeat the belief that he was to blame. It was not a one-time event, and no amount of arguing or explaining could change his mind. The twins adapted to the changes with not many outward signs, but teachers noticed at school that their moods were more solemn and quieter than before. I just had to sit back and watch my children in pain with absolutely no remedy. Chris continued to be firm in his belief that the children would be fine. He believed that leaving would be the best for our family because now he would be happier and the kids would have a better father. He did not believe me when I said that his leaving was impacting the children. He refused to see it.
After three months of separation, Chris found a condo close by to rent, and the children began to move back and forth between us. The reality that I would never spend Christmas as a family together, that I would miss birthdays and key milestones in their lives became all too real. The hectic schedule became even more difficult as I had to find ways to get them to all of their activities on my own when I had them. I had little help from family and found it difficult to be joyful around the children when they needed me to be strong.
One day as I was taking Quinn to his football game, he asked a question that must have been haunting him for months. “Mom, is there any chance that you and dad will get back together?” I am sure this is a question that has been asked by thousands of children of divorce. I am sure there is nothing new or unique to our situation that countless of other mothers and fathers have faced. As I drove the car, I prayed to God for wisdom, patience, and strength. I prayed to say the right words with honesty but tenderness. I had asked Chris the same question for the past six months, and his answer was always steadfast and firm: No. I knew I must not lie and I must speak from a place of truth. I answered, “No, Quinn. There is no chance that your father and I will get back together.” However, no amount of time, no movie, no book, no therapy could have prepared me for his response. “Then I just want to die. I want to take a knife and stab myself in the stomach.” And he sobbed. And I sobbed. My son was suicidal. My son wanted to die.
I prayed again for the right words to say to this hurting nine-year-old boy who was getting ready to go play on a field and throw a ball around to his friends. When everyone’s life around him was moving forward, his was crumbling. How scary for him. How unfair, like an earthquake that brings your house down but all the homes around you remain intact. The tornado that comes sweeping through your town and the only home that is destroyed is yours. And you are left asking why? Why me?
Quinn took full responsibility for the failure of our family, and he didn’t want to live in a home that he believed he had destroyed. He would rather die than face a day without both of his parents. And I was to just drop him off and hand him over to his dad, sit on the sidelines, and watch the boys tackle, throw, and score touchdowns. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t act like everything was fine when nothing was right. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and make small talk with the other moms and know my son was crumbling to pieces. I had no first aid kit for this injury. I had no tools to fix this broken equipment. I was at a loss, at the end of myself. And so was my son. All I could say was “I am sorry Quinn.”
I confronted Chris and told him that the children were not okay. That he was wrong, and his choice to leave our family was destroying our children. He refused to believe me. However, the next evening, Chris called in tears. The reality of the situation—the fact that our children were wounded by his choices—began to sink in. He began to see the effects of his behavior on his children, and he felt lost.
A friend told me about Relationship Lifeline, an intensive program that we could attend. I was willing to do anything to put our family back together, but Chris had no intention of saving the marriage. He wanted to figure out how we could help the children through the pain of divorce. I suggested the Lifeline program to him as a way to give us the tools to communicate and help our children. He agreed to attend the four-day intensive workshop, while I prayed for a miracle.
In May 2009, after the first day of of the program—where Chris had missed the opening half due to work—I was convinced that he would not return for the remaining three days. He was confronted by Tina, and I thought for sure he would refuse to come back. However, the next morning Chris showed up. After several days of digging deep into our pasts, our resentments, our pain, our habits of mind, our motives and insecurities, we emerged to a new place where we could look at each other with new eyes, new perspectives, and new understanding. We attempted to forgive ourselves for our failures and mistakes and to forgive each other for the actions that led to the failure of our marriage. By the third night of Lifeline, we had decided that we could work together to rebuild our marriage: to put the past behind us, to use the past as a stepping stone, and to move forward as one.
We could not wait to come home and tell the kids the good news. They did not really know where we were or what we were doing. We knew the news of our reconciliation would be shocking but welcome words. We came home to separate homes and waited for the right time to tell the children. We were encouraged to wait a month to make major changes to make sure that our decision to reconcile was firm and grounded. But we did not want to wait thirty days to let our kids know that our family would be back together. We sat down in the same den where six months earlier we had announced our separation. Now, we had joyous news of a miracle. That God can take something that is dead, not just a person, and He can resurrect it to new life. When we explained to the children that there would be no divorce and dad would move back in soon, they literally leaped for joy. Quinn was the first to scream, and he jumped into our arms with tears of happiness. The only words that could possibly heal his pain and hurt had been spoken.
We knew that the reconciliation would not work unless we made changes to our lives. The key to our new marriage was that the wall of bitterness and resentment that blocked the love from moving between us had been destroyed. We had moved to a place of forgiveness, but now began the work of never rebuilding that wall. The small, daily disagreements and misunderstandings of marriage can become large boulders that stop the flow of love from one partner to the other. We had to daily forgive each other for any pain and learn to understand each other instead of blame or ignore what the other said or did. We couldn’t bury our hurt anymore and had to admit it and accept it. For several years we attended Lifeline and continued to volunteer as trainers. We knew that our story, our journey, could give others hope, but we must also continue to learn and grow. Forgiveness isn’t always instantaneous, but it is essential to having a loving and thriving marriage and family. A crucial tool is to seek to understand each other’s behavior instead of reacting, blaming, or running. It is a tool we use daily in addition to being grateful for who our spouse is, scars, brokenness, and all.
The twins do not remember much from those days, except the new beds they had and a few things they did with just daddy. Quinn remembers much more and was witness to the power of God and the work of two committed people to give mothers and fathers the tools, wisdom, and opportunity to grow, change, and start anew. Chris and I easily say that the best decision we have ever made in our marriage was attending Relationship Lifeline. We retell our story often and have watched at least 25 couples go through Lifeline as a result of the healing of our marriage. God never wastes a hurt. He collects our tears and holds us close to Him as we journey forward. It is not an easy journey, but we take it step by step, together, with God, and the people who love us and help us along the way. Thank you Ron and Tina!!
Chris and Dawn June 11, 2015