I expected the text to say, “I love you.”
Instead, it read, “I’m leaving you.”
Only that wasn’t quite accurate. As it turned out, my husband of 16 years had already left. Left me. Left the state. And left behind years worth of deceptions that were soon to come to light.
The text left me gutted, a netted fish gasping for breath on foreign and unfriendly terrain. The lack of response to my desperate messages left me confused. The realization that the dogs had been left without food or water for days left me furious. The discovery of the financial abuse and shocking lack of funds left me panicked. And finally, the revelation that he had committed bigamy left me laughing. At that point, what else could I do?
In a matter of weeks, I had gone from planning a beach weekend with my beloved husband to planning to serve my now-despised husband divorce papers while he was behind bars (after being arrested for felony bigamy). It made no sense to me then. And still brings more questions than answers with it today.
I had always thought that divorce was something that slid in slowly on the heels of fading attraction and increasing animosity. I naively thought that my marriage was immune. That since we talked and laughed and loved that we were okay. That we would always be okay.
I learned a very painful lesson that day. The marriage I thought I had was a façade. The love, an illusion. Although I had known my husband since childhood, I was married to a stranger.
And a stranger he was. When I searched through the items he left in our home, I discovered evidence that he had been living an entirely separate life. When I saw him again in the courthouse hallway 8 months on, I walked right by without recognizing the man whose body I could still remember under my fingertips, tracing every well-known inch.
The police kept telling me how lucky I was to be alive because most of these types of cases they had worked on ended in murder-suicides. I initially discounted their comments until I talked with his other wife and learned just how far he was willing to go.
I performed a post-mortem on my marriage that first year after the text, searching for answers to the unending questions. I discovered hints of addiction. Evidence of gaslighting and a perverse enjoyment of manipulation. Pervasive elements of shame that kept his true self-hidden. I finally confronted my own fears that had made me a willing and pliable marionette in the stories he created. I have a working theory now that I have settled on. I wouldn’t quite label it “closure,” but it’s been enough for me to find peace.
In the beginning, the way my marriage ended was everything. I believed it set me apart. Made my pain, my experience different. Unique. In time, I learned that the pain of betrayal cuts through the same well-worn rivets no matter the details of the affair. That divorce brings with it the same questions and voids and opportunities regardless of its form. That the nuances of our stories matter much less than how we experience them and what we learn from them.
I’m a true believer in the power of learning from whatever is thrown in your path. Viewing challenges as an opportunity to grow and adapt give you purpose and power beyond your pain.
You can read all about the crazy details of the end of my marriage and discover what I learned from it all in my book, Lessons From the End of a Marriage.
Lisa Arends is a moved-forward, re-center, re-purpose divorcee working to inspire others to do so as well. She has written the “How-To-Thrive Guide.” You can learn more about “thriving” and get other inspirations at her blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com.