and surrender…

When John told me that he was leaving me, he revealed some pretty ugly things–most of which I won’t write here.  But perhaps out of those the one that surprised me the most, was when he told me that he’d basically checked out of our marriage two years ago when I was ill with that mysterious antibiotic-resistant infection.  He explained that it was just too much for him to endure–caring for me with no certainty that I would ever get well again.

He was so gracious and kind during that entire illness, I never knew that it had been so terrifically difficult for him.  Indeed, I was quite surprised to learn that that was the breaking point.  Perhaps not coincidentally, I’d been thinking myself recently about how difficult it’s been to care for John during his ongoing degenerative issues with his back and hips.  For about four years John’s been nearly-unable to walk more than a few blocks (sometimes not even that far).  When we’ve traveled, we’ve pushed him in wheelchairs at museums and altered our typical on-foot walkabouts to short jaunts to accommodate John’s limited mobility.  For a long time he was unable to even walk through a grocery store because of the severe pain that it caused him. I’d wondered how I would handle life with a spouse who had such a long-term physical limitation, and was hoping that I could do so with as much aplomb as John had done with my various health problems…but I had concerns about keeping it up–his pain made him short-tempered and frustrated. He was so much more difficult to live with than before. He lost his energetic “bounce” (I missed that part of John’s personality quite a lot).

So what I wonder is this….at what point do we throw in the towel on our relationships when things don’t turn out as we expected? And when do we hang in there, even at a high cost to our own autonomy?

Some of my thinking along these lines also has to do with recent encouragement from friends for John and I to reconcile. Part of me wants to fight and hope that we could make our marriage work again (as I have many times before), but I fear that isn’t a choice I even have the liberty to make–John seems quite sure that he’s done with us (and with me). But I wonder, have I given up too easily? Is there something more I could or should do? Or some concession or change that I could make that would make John feel happy again?

Or is it time to wave that white flag and move on, realizing that I just can’t endure it any longer?

12 thoughts on “and surrender…

  1. deb

    You’re the only one that can answer that question, although I would not try again for my friend’s sake.

    My husband and I first split up two and a half years ago. I left, he wooed me, I came back but nothing had changed. We saw a counselor for a year together and still nothing changed. We split again but I am glad that I tried, although my reasons for returning were not altruistic, I’m still glad. It made me sure of my decision.

    I do know this though, you cannot make another happy. They must do that for themselves. My husband would tell you that he tried for years to make me happy and he couldn’t do it. It was only when I decided to make myself happy that I felt better, but sadly he did not like the happy me. Ironic indeed.

  2. Chandelle

    I’ve had these doubts myself as I’ve struggled with both mental illness and chronic pain that limits my mobility. Jeremy is so stoic about my conditions, so enduring and supportive, I’ve wondered if he’s hiding impatience and regret. I’m never sure how I would feel if our situations were reversed — how much of this sort of thing I’d be willing to take.

    I’m surprised that friends are encouraging you to reconcile. Perhaps because I grew up in such a fractured family, I’ve never considered marriage an “at all costs” arrangement. I think there are definitely situations in which it’s best for a couple to part. But if I can’t presume to know anything about a couple’s inner life at the best of times, I definitely wouldn’t assume that reconciliation is either possible or desirable — or that divorce is inevitable. Whether you should fight for John is, of course, for you to decide. But I wonder, if a one-sided fight is necessary, is it worth it? How much would that take out of you? How much dignity might you lose? Of course, I don’t have any answers. 🙁

  3. Julie

    I have so much compassion for what you are going through – it’s heartbreaking when a long-time partnership fractures, and sadly, there are no easy, pat answers. One of the hardest parts about what you are going through is that it’s not just about you and John – it’s about your whole tribe. Children, friends, extended family – everyone is impacted by the choices you make, and the repercussions go on and on… Sometimes I think our society has morphed into one where *everything* is viewed as disposable – nothing is worth fixing, or worth celebrating in all it’s imperfect, broken beauty. It obviously was not ideal, but what you seem to have had (from waaaay outside, looking in) always seemed to possess a certain beauty and grace. Perhaps if you looked at your relationship and family as a whole, you might find a little something worth fighting for? I agree wholeheartedly with what Deb says above – you are not responsible for John’s happiness, and couldn’t be even if you spent the next thousand years trying. But an honest, open discussion about what you both need and want in your lives might reveal that it isn’t necessarily your relationship that is broken. Sometimes when *we* feel broken, instead of just owning it we try to deflect it outward – with the result that there is a lot of collateral damage AND the problems that precipitated the whole thing still exist.

    I am so sorry that you have to go through all of this – but I AM convinced that, whatever the outcome, you will find a way to get back to a place of beauty, grace and peace. I wish that for you sooner than later, dear brave soul.

  4. melissa

    Jana, no one can tell you what to do, or what you want. People who are not comfortable with the idea of you and John not being together will try to find ways to make themselves comfortable, by presenting you with the idea of reconciliation. Only you can decide if fighting for your relationship is worth it.
    But I will share this. My parents split, after a long period of unhappiness, when I was 11. A year and a half later, they got back together, then split for good when I was 21. The year and a half they were apart was the happiest time of my childhood, and when I saw where my relationship with JH was going — down the same path of me checking out by getting involved and leaving my daughter (me) home alone far too often with someone whose addictions made them unpredictable, unsafe, and frankly, mean, I had to take a long look at my motivations for staying. Was I repeating history? Was I trying to fix the thing that could not be fixed with my parents? Of course my situation is vastly different from yours — mine had to do with addiction and making sure The D and I were safe and mentally okay. I have taken a different path from my mother, and although I love her dearly, I held a lot of resentment for what I saw as abandonment. I refused to let The D be another generation of me. I made my choices based on that. I have been told that I abandoned JH, that I should have gotten him into treatment, blah blah blah. But I couldn’t save him, I could only save myself.
    And as Chandelle said, whatever choice you make, you will eventually be at peace with it. It may take some time, but you being you, and possessing the strength you do, I have no doubt that you will make the decision that is best for you, for your children, and yes, even for John. But amidst all of the demands from your childhood, remember that YOU are the most important person in your life, and move forward knowing that, and that alone.

  5. gs

    =So what I wonder is this….at what point do we throw in the towel on our relationships when things don’t turn out as we expected? And when do we hang in there, even at a high cost to our own autonomy?=

    It’s not a simple question to answer. Most people seem to think it’s all about “how much you love them,” as if “throwing in the towel” means you didn’t love them enough — ie.e, it’s all your fault. But in reality it’s affected by a lot of other things, including how much of your own life and happiness you are asked to give up, and whether or not you are being asked to tolerate negative moods or even abuse. If you would like to take the time, please read this account:

    http://underdogishere.blogspot.com/2007/01/measure-of-love.html

    She obviously loved him very much, which I mentioned in the post, but some things I did not mention in the post are that, being in the final years of their lives, she may have had less to lose than a younger person, and his treatment of her was probably not bitter or vexing. It’s a complicated question, and the best that we can any of us do, in any situation, is probably what Kristine (who is a poet — can you tell?) said in the final comment on that post: to hope for “the preferred outcome of an outcome they [we] didn’t prefer.”

    Take care.

  6. janaremy Post author

    I should probably add to these thoughts that I’d been begging John for couples counseling for a long time and he refused to go with me, saying that he “didn’t have time” (this was his favorite response to just about any request I made of him). I don’t think there’s probably much chance of reconciliation between us–he made sure to hurt me just about as much as possible this past year through a variety of his choices. But given that many have asked me about whether we could reconcile, it seemed like writing a blogpost on the topic could help me to clarify some of my feelings on this possibility.

  7. Nicole Fischer

    Jana, I have been reading your blog for a few years now. I love your writing and admire how you are able to share your feelings so eloquently. I have never commented probably our of insecurity of not being able to share my feelings in writing but I feel like if I don’t right now in was probably never a good friend. I don’t even know what to say except that I am so sorry for your pain right now. Watching people go through divorce has convinced me that it is much harder than grieving a death. As far as throwing in the towel. You have always been a survivor no matter what John decides (and it sounds like he already has) you will come out of this surviving and in a better place because that is the kind of person you are. Even if it doesn’t feel like that right now. Hold onto your kids and give them lots of extra hugs.

  8. Pingback: My Body, My Stories |

  9. Patrick

    Stories to tell next time we’re at the Well, maybe. But for now want to say I know — only sorta — the feeling. As my marriage was in the process of going away, she always found reasons for us to not spend time together, and in the end-game, refused to talk with a counselor. She had checked out long, long before I realized it too. Ultimately, I think she had checked about before she realized it. It makes for a perfect setup for second-guessing and self-uncertainty. It’s one thing to know that things are very difficult in the marriage, and quite another to check out. It sounds like you never checked out. But when the other person does, well,,,that might mean two different realities in conflict?

  10. Jana

    Patrick:
    I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to good conversation with you (and the rest of the #oneweek crowd) at The Well in a few months. In the meantime it’s nice to have you chiming in with your insights here & on Twitter. There’s some small comfort in knowing that others have been down a similar path…

    I think I had moments where I checked out of our marriage, but I’m not a lukewarm kind of person–I tend to be wholly in or wholly out. Perhaps that’s why I was so shocked to learn that John had left long ago–I don’t think I could have lived as he did, knowing that he was done with us but still keeping up appearances.

  11. Melissa

    Shortly after we adopted our daughter who had moderate health concerns and delays (later diagnosed as PVL and CP) my FIL said something that really hurt. He meant it as a compliment. He said that he admired us for following through on the adoption even though she had these issues. I thought it insulting that he thought we should/could treat her any differently than a biological child. In the years following that comment, my naivete of the world dissipated and I realized that it is more common than I ever could have imagined for family, birth or adopted, to turn away when life gets hard, particularly in the form of health challenges. There are admittedly days when I want to run away but I can’t imagine my life without her. It saddens me, and maybe even surprises me, to read that this was a factor in John’s decision. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as it prompts reflection on my own relationship.

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