Words by Alexandra Lang
The occurrence of my first marriage is something I keep close to the vest. It’s easy, considering the marriage lasted less than two years and ended before my twenty-fourth birthday. But when I do let someone in on that part of my life, they always ask, “What happened?”
It would be easy to number the ways that my ex-husband fell short of what I needed in a spouse. But what good would that do? It didn’t take me long after we split to realize that if I didn’t take a good look at my own hang-ups and shortcomings, I would never truly heal.
As a teenager, I listened to the arguing and witnessed the tears that resulted from the divorce of my parents. I reassured myself that I would never find myself in the same situation. But despite my best efforts to avoid the conflict, those experiences left scars on my heart. The tumultuous relationship that developed between me and my father in those years, as he dealt with his pain by way of addiction and schemes, probably left the most sizable wound. Sure, sometimes the pain would creep up when I wasn’t expecting it. Some mention of fathers and daughters would bring hot tears and a tightening in my chest, but I thought I was okay. I thought I had gotten through relatively unscathed.
I, unknowingly, was using my relationship as a bandage to cover a wound I didn’t want to have to look at or admit was there. I couldn’t have been that affected by my family’s situation, because, after all, I had this great, healthy relationship, right? It didn’t matter that my family had fallen into disrepair because I was forming a new family. And because my husband didn’t tear me down verbally, or choose other women over me, or threaten to kill himself if I didn’t do as he asked, I thought we were good. I didn’t just want our relationship to work, in a way, I needed it to.
The discord in our home while I was growing up was unsettling to my introverted and quiet self. Therefore, rather than cause any more strife, I became as agreeable as possible. I learned what to say to each member of my family, and more importantly, what not to say. This “skill” carried over into my interactions with people outside my family. I realize now that I became so agreeable in my relationship with my ex-husband, that I did not even realize how often I let him make decisions for us. Allowing him to make the decisions worked out okay for a while. However, when we eventually graduated from college and started our adult lives, it became harder for me to ignore how little say I had in my own life.
Only a few months after we married, I found myself going down an inappropriate path with a male friend. I can distinctly remember a text message that he sent me, and as I replied, I looked over at my husband and it may seem strange, but it was the first time I realized that I was capable of doing something without his consent. I had grown so accustomed to including him in my decision-making process I had forgotten that I could do it on my own. The friendship in question ended soon after, but that new knowledge stayed with me. And as I realized its implications, my resentments grew.
That resentment is eventually what brought about the end of our marriage. My desire to assert my independence from him manifested itself in heated, often alcohol-fueled, arguments. I found myself lying about things just to prove I could. And just like that, the relationship that had been acting as a bandage for the wound on my heart unraveled and I was left to face my afflictions.
Through that experience, I learned that it is okay to admit when I’m hurting. When a majority of our friends stopped including me after the split, I realized how surface-level my friendships were. Stifling my own emotions had left me with an inability to be transparent and therefore, develop true connections. Learning to acknowledge my wounds and be vulnerable helped me to heal. This shift didn’t happen overnight. It’s something I am still working on. But I am happy to report that when I find myself crying over a father-daughter dance at a wedding, I have people I can call and talk to.
Also, seeing where my agreeableness had gotten me in life, I realized I needed to find my own voice. I lived through a divorce, and the loss of most of my friends, therefore, I reason, I can handle a disagreement or two if they should arise. Learning to speak up for myself leaves little room for resentments to grow in my relationships with others.
Following my divorce, I began dating a co-worker. We didn’t admit we were dating at first. We actually often listed reasons why us dating would never work. But as it turns out, we were wrong. It worked so well that we are now happily married with two children.
So “what happened” is that a heart-breaking situation led to the mending of my heart. And a failed relationship made way for me to develop healthy ones where I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Alexandra Lang is a Christian and young mother living in Western NY. She is beautifully outnumbered in her house as the sole female, introvert, and only one with the ability to sit still for longer than two minutes. Her days are fueled by coffee, bear hugs, and belly laughs. And when she has a few spare minutes, she writes.