I’ve been a relationship therapist for nine years. More often than not, couples who find themselves coming to me, sometimes desperate for a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, are actually just having the same fight over and over again without even realizing it. So it’s my job to help them recognize that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel; that I can make their underlying issues more obvious and easier to address.
You’d think that constantly being that person for a couple – someone who’s able to spot an issue before it snowballs into a bigger problem – would translate into my personal life. But that’s not always the case, and it wasn’t for my marriage. My now-ex and I met through mutual friends, and when we stood in front of nearly everyone we knew and vowed to be together forever, I really believed it. I even thought we had an advantage. I mean, I give people the tools they need to succeed every day: learning how to communicate effectively, how to fight fair, and how to show your partner that you do in fact love them. If I was an expert in showing other people how to use those tools, surely I’d be able to apply them to my own life.
But then issues cropped up between me and my ex, and like so many other couples, I couldn’t see the total picture of the destruction happening within our relationship. I tried again and again to make our marriage work, using the same tools I told so many couples about. But it wasn’t getting better. I didn’t understand why – how could these techniques work for the numerous couples I had helped throughout my career, but not for myself?
That eventually led to me feeling a lot of pressure. Even though the problems in our marriage weren’t going away, I felt this seemingly insurmountable need to force the marriage to succeed no matter what. After all, I was a relationship therapist. I doled out love advice day in and day out, helping people achieve their own happily ever after. I just needed to to practice what I preached! Plus, we weren’t dating – we were married. It wasn’t just a “dust off your hands and walk away” type of situation. Getting a divorce felt like a very big deal, one that I wanted to avoid at all costs.
I was a relationship therapist. I doled out love advice day in and day out. I just needed to to practice what I preached!
But then I realized that there was a huge component missing in our relationship: teamwork. I wasn’t naive – I know that some people invest more in relationships than others – but I thought the two of us were in agreement that we wanted to work as hard as we could to make our partnership a healthy and happy one. But it was an assumption, and a pointless one at that. I realized that I could throw every tactic I could think of at my marriage, but it wouldn’t do any good if I didn’t have someone who was willing to work with me.
Eventually, I walked away from my ex. And at first I felt like a total failure for doing so. In all honesty, I never expected the avalanche of emotions that came with the experience, even though I had coached countless people through them. There was depression, anxiety, sadness, and mourning; it almost felt like there had been a death in the family and I was trying to figure out how to move forward. But the most unexpected feeling was complete and total shell-shock. I felt very overwhelmed, and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I was scared about my future and what life would look like as a single woman.
Still, I had my work to turn to. My failed marriage didn’t mean that I had failed as a therapist, and I relied on that notion when the days felt really tough to get through. I remembered that I had helped many, many couples save their marriages and and just because I couldn’t save my own didn’t mean I wouldn’t continue to do that. In fact, having the experience of a failed marriage only made me able to help my patients more. I now had a deeper level of understanding that you really can only get by going through it yourself.
And eventually, I let go of those feelings of grief, anger, and failure. I realized there was a lot to gain from my divorce: It helped me reconnect with my independent spirit and reset my priorities. It allowed me to really evaluate what I want in a partnership, and be totally honest about that without any reservations. And it gave me an even better grasp on what a relationship requires for it to become a stable, long-lasting one that weathers various highs and lows.
Not every relationship needs saving, and I’m pretty thankful that wasn’t able save my marriage. At the end of the day, “failing” made me a better therapist, a more empathetic person, and a stronger woman.