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Was Your Marriage a Waste of Time?

Dali's The Persistence of Memory

The end of the year, with all of its auld lang syne hoopla, reminds me of a couple of recurring thoughts surrounding divorce that you've probably had too. They are compelling enough to cause us to "go there" for a few minutes until we realize they really shouldn't be the main concern. I'm not going to say the feelings are unfounded, because all thoughts have some reason to be explored, but if you're like me, you tend not to explore this. I just sort of feel the rising anger or despair and then put the feeling on the back burner ASAP.

1 (Before divorce) "I've already put in ____ years into this marriage. it would be a waste of all that time to get a divorce."


2 (After divorce) "I wasted _____ years on that marriage. (Or maybe, "I wasted ______ years with that %#$@^$ bum...")

In either case, these thoughts swirl around our minds creating anger, fear and resentment. Here is a by no means exhaustive list of thoughts that arise before the feeling gets successfully stuffed back into a category like: can't do anything about it, or, too painful to think about.

1- "I wasted the best years of my life to my ex, and now I'm all washed up."

2- "I gave up my dream of ________ when I married my ex and now I've wasted my life."

3- "I should have seen this coming and divorced years ago so I wouldn't have wasted all this time."

4- " ______ years was so long- why wasn't my ex willing to stick it out so all that time didn't go to waste?"

5- "If only I had done (or not done) _________ we would still be married and all this time would not have been wasted.

These thoughts are all firmly based in the "what might have been" camp and they can send us racing back down trails that we know all too well. This is no relaxing walk through the woods, it is an uncomfortable and emotionally draining trek through questions to which there are no real answers. We are acutely aware of our own mortality; that time was precious. We usually stumble around for awhile, angry and defeated, until we can somehow merely shift our focus to something else.

There may be a triggering situation that brings up this wasted time feeling- for me, it was getting out the Christmas decorations this year. Because of travel in recent years, I hadn't opened the tree ornaments since my last married Christmas in 2013.

Ornaments from our first tree were in the box: "26 years- poof- like it never even happened. What a waste"

Ornaments made by and bought for our kids were in the box: "Those poor kids- their whole family down the drain. What a waste of 26 years."

Ornaments from when X and I were kids were in the box. (I guess I actually hadn't given back Walnut Santa yet...) "Why would we just throw away 26 years?"

Opening the Walnut Santa box was certainly a shock, it was like looking at five year old X. Regular readers of my blog know that tree decorating was not one of X's favorite events and as the years went on, he became less willing to fully participate. He even brought up during counseling that he would only agree to set the [artificial] tree up, but I would have to live with his refusal to put any ornaments on it. I felt satisfied when he agreed that he would at least hang Walnut Santa. I'm sure the counselor thought we were nuts- no pun intended.

It is easy to get sucked down one of the what if trails, and if you're like me, you poke around in the discomfort, then quickly put the feeling away and move on, only to uncover it again some other time. That evening, with tangible pieces of Christmases past staring me in the face, stuffing the feeling was impossible. It was time to fully explore this discomfort and make some kind of peace with Father Time.

What did I believe about those 26 years? What had I been trying to do? What was my failure? How was I perceived? Here is a glimpse into my self assessment- I hope it helps you when you're feeling like your life is too full of wasted time.

I believed that X and I had an indivisible bond, and it was traumatic to find that wasn't so. During my marriage, I was trying to create the traditions and memories for our family that were somewhat lacking from my own childhood. My failure might have been that I focused more on the creation and process than the enjoyment of the time together.

But truthfully, the enjoyment always seemed out of reach. I wasn't yet at a place where I felt allowed to enjoy because of the pressure I felt to "earn" whatever I had. I was always a bit envious when I heard of couples who "worked hard and played hard" because it seemed like our prevailing family culture was all about the work. If we would have played, I wasn't even sure what we would have done.

I can't speak to how I was perceived, because I'm not going to conjecture, but I know that I felt constantly misunderstood. Worse, I'd pretty much given up even trying to explain.